Amateurs often attribute the unethical intentions of individuals to the language those individuals use. Jargon is a case in point. Is jargon bad or evil or wrong? If you read my posts on passive voice and persuasion, you know I see considerable confusion between the tool itself and the intent of the person using it. So I see nothing inherently wrong with jargon. Although I’m not an expert on scuba or its jargon, I predict the words shown on the book cover here were created for benign — even positive — reasons.
Jargon words are created as shorthand. Consider the word, scuba, which originated in the 1950s as an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. The first people using the word must have found it efficient to use the two-syllable acronym instead of the thirteen-syllable noun phrase. Their use of the acronym around others would have been confusing initially. When they needed to communicate with non-experts, they had to use the phrase. Eventually, those non-experts adopted the acronym, and it has become an English word in its own right. Until it no longer serves a purpose.
Words are created. They shift their meaning. They disappear. It cannot be otherwise. We have multiple words with similar meanings available to us. Linguists say near-synonyms exist to convey four types of variation:
- denotational: seep vs. drip (where the two are essentially equivalent)
- stylistic: ruin vs. annihilate (where the latter term is more forceful)
- expressive: skinny vs. thin (where the latter term is more neutral)
- structural: die vs. pass away (where the latter term can have only a human agent)
The fact that we have so many choices for expressing the same meaning means pros choose words thoughtfully, intentionally, strategically. (That means choosing jargon after thinking about their purpose and audience.) I’m updating a video tutorial on word choice that should be ready in the next couple of days. Here’s a page from the Technology Consultant’s Report referred to in it. It was adapted by me based on a sample from David A. McMurrey’s Online Technical Writing textbook. I summarize the rhetorical context as:
- Writer: a technology consultant
- Readers: managers for the client, a commercial brewing company
- Bottom Line Message: a specific product is recommended for the company’s use