04. Jargon

Jargon. What do you think of when you think of jargon? 

I can tell you. Long words, business lingo, a bunch of five dollar words that sound like gibberish.

But I'll challenge you that that isn't what jargon is. Jargon is great, jargon is wonderful, jargon is necessary! But jargon isn't for everyone. Implicitly

An excerpt from The Scientists Handbook for Writing Papers and Dissertations:

Most scientific terminology is comprehensible only to those in the discipline and related disciplines. Critics view the long, unfamiliar, complex scientific terms as jargon, that is, as pretentious words used to mystify, obfuscate, exclude, and impress readers rather than to communicate with them. Such criticism indicates confusion about the denotative and connotative meanings of jargon, and about the nature of language.

That last sentence is crucial, and it underlies the first section of that book's second chapter. We're encountering the challenge of the gaps and synchronization of meaning (denotation) and nuance (connotation) The preceding paragraph summarizes:

Words must be found or developed for the new entities and concepts revealed by scientific research. One of the inevitable consequences of research, therefore, is the addition of new scientific terms. If they cannot be found among existing words, new words must be developed or invented. The new terms become part of the scientific vocabulary or terminology that scientists in a discipline share.

Again, the last sentence is crucial. "The new terms become part of the scientific vocabulary or terminology that scientists in a discipline share". In a discipline is the connotative wall that general audiences bash their heads against when they talk about jargon. Jargon isn't intended for general audiences, it's intended for specialist audiences. Where one might feel that these single, seemingly clunky words could be simplified, in reality they are summarized and translated. For the sake of brevity and concision, jargon is essential in the type of Science Communication that people often forget about, the communication between scientists. Whenever someone summarizes and translates (or "simplifies") jargon, it always necessitates the use of a definition, or more often, a reduction or generalization. Those definitions are usually a significant chunk of words, at least a reasonable sentence. So when you want to talk about a number of concepts, it gets a lot easier to use jargon, they're shorthands, they're a way to say a lot without saying a lot.

Jumping back to denotation, we have a lovely definition "characteristic idiom of specialists or workers in a particular activity or area of knowledge". These idioms make sense in the proper context just like more common idioms. "Two birds with one stone; A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging". You know what these phrases actually mean, their actual connotations, what they truly denote outside of their literal meaning. And so jargon is the idiom of a particular activity or area of knowledge. It's not for general audiences, it isn't even broadly for specialists. It's for people who are working in a particular activity or area of knowledge.

What does this mean? What it means is that if you encounter jargon, one of three things is happening.

A) You're a specialist communicating with another specialist in the same field, and jargon is making your life easier

B) You're observing a specialist communicating with another specialist, both in a field you don't belong to, and the jargon they're using seems intentionally obtuse

C) You're communicating with a specialist, and they're neglecting to recognize that the setting is inappropriate for jargon

Scenario A is a professional setting, a conference, a laboratory, maybe a classroom where the students are well familiar with field too.

Scenario B is when you encounter a scientific journal, or the proceedings of a think tank, or congressional hearing, or literally every courtroom ever. The experts in the setting are either doing all the work, or are hopefully providing some useful support and translation to you. A challenge remains that the nature of jargon isn't well communicated to the general (outside) audiences. It feels exclusionary, not by intent, but by result of the nature of the streamlining of language that jargon entails.

Scenario C is, in my opinion, THE problem. Scenario B certainly doesn't help with perception of jargon, but C is when language is being used in bad faith. Science communication is all about communicating ideas between people effectively, and when one person is in a place to be using idioms when it is inappropriate, it's on them to recognize this and adjust. We could say that the general audience should be able to express, "Hey, I don't know what those terms mean", but there is no situation where the specialist can deflect their responsibility. Even in a scenario like A, if someone approaches the interaction and wants clarification, the specialists should never say "Oh, it's very complicated".

Specialists, regardless of if they're scientists, politicians, engineers, etc. have an obligation to make sure that the specialist knowledge they have can be communicated to those that the specialist knowledge affects. And while research on pelicans or deep ocean vents or the viscosity of tar may not literally affect people, ignoring people's desire to understand these things does.

02. Oxymoronic, the Gamification of Games

01. Readability