Monday, March 14, 2005

The Importance of Jargon

As a writer, I try to keep things as simple as possible, at least when it comes to words and explanations. I mean a good rule of thumb has always been to treat your readers as if they knew nothing (that’s not the same as talking down though). Unfortunately, one can’t do this all the time. And sometimes, you have to use jargon, whether that means a foreign language, a technical term, or just a rarely used word.

Some people have a misconception that just because you use complex (or hard to pronounce words), you’re shrouding your intellect through incomprehensible vocabulary. That’s not necessary the case. I mean if people use jargon, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s because they want to complicate things. I think as writer (or as a speaker), it’s important to know who your audience is. The more educated they are (or rather, the more aware they are of your topic of discussion), the more tools you have available. Take, for example, this essay. If I knew my readers could only understand English, then I’d stick to English. But if I know a bulk of my readers are also aware of the other languages I’m familiar with, such as Filipino, Chinese, or Japanese, then that would be a helpful thing to know and gives me more flexibility in my essay since I could use words from those languages. Take anime for example. If I knew my readers were familiar with Japanese, instead of saying “anime fan”, I’d use “otaku” (with all the nuances that go along with it). Because while “anime fan” and “otaku” have similar meanings, the latter has some connotations that the former doesn’t have (such as the fact that “otaku” can be interpreted as being obsessive over something rather than just being a fan, or even avoid the whole topic of anime). And while I could certainly define “otaku” in English, it would take too long (as evidenced by my use of parenthesis).

Which brings me to the other advantage of jargon. It helps me be more precise and accurate without spending too much time explaining something. I mean if I were around people familiar with computer terms, instead of using the word “memory”, I’d use RAM or HD. I mean both RAM and HD refer to memory, but if the other reader was uninitiated, I’d have to explain what the differences between the two were. But if the other person is more or less familiar with computer terms, I’d just say RAM when I mean RAM, and HD when I mean HD, especially considering both can be considered “memory” yet performs two entirely different tasks. Not only does it saves me and the reader time, it also saves me space. Honestly, longer is not always better. If I can save time and space, I’d do it. I mean why bother describing that the person is jumping all over the place to get to his destination when I can use the word “hop” or “skip” to describe his or her movement?

Perhaps the third use of jargon is for the complete opposite of the second: we want to prolong our narrative. Unfortunately, it gets boring when we keep on using the same words over and over again. That’s why sometimes, we use complicated words or words not often utilized. I mean there are several ways to describe a person walking fast: briskly, quickly, suddenly, hurriedly, vigorously, rapidly. If I were to write an entire paragraph describing the same running motion, the reader would get tired if I just keep on using “fast”. And let’s face it, jargon can add color to the text. I mean the words “paradigm shift” certainly sounds more intellectual than saying “the person had a change in beliefs”. Or perhaps the movie Arachnophobia wouldn’t be as horrifying if its title was named “Fear of Spiders” instead.

Jargon, in the long run, is just another tool. I mean I certainly wouldn’t use jargon to the uninitiated. But if I know my audience (or at least most of them) will be able to understand the jargon I’m going to use, then it’s nice to have the option to do so, since it gives me more flexibility. That’s not to say I should use jargon every opportunity that I get, nor does it mean I totally avoid using jargon at all, but rather there’s a time and place for each.

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