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A BRIEF LEXICON OF JARGON
SCHOLAR • Jargon
for those who want to speak & write verbosely and vaguely
By Richard K. Redfern
K. Redfern (b. 1916) was born in Dixon, Illinois. He received his
PhD in English from Cornell University in 1950. Between 1968 and
1981, he was professor of English at Clarion State College,
Through verbal irony this "Lexicon" tells how to avoid the vagueness and verbosity in much of today's bureaucratic language.
first rule about using area is simple. Put area at
the start or end of hundreds of words and phrases. The
area of is often useful when you want to
add three words to a sentence without changing its meaning.
particularly in speech, use area as an all-purpose synonym. After mentioning scheduled
improvements in classrooms and offices, use area for later references to this idea. A few minutes later, in
talking about the courses to be offered next term, use area to refer to required courses, to electives, and to both required
and elective courses. Soon you can keep three or four area's going and thus keep your audience alert by making them guess
which idea you have in mind, especially if you insert, once or
twice, a neatly disguised geographical use of area:
"Graduate student response in this area is gratifying."
temptation arises to say "clothing executive,"
"publishing executive," and the like, resist firmly.
Say and write "executive in the clothing field" and
"executive in the field of publishing." (Note that the field of like the area of) qualifies as jargon because it adds
length, usually without changing the meaning, as in "from
the field of literature as a whole" and "prowess in the
field of academic achievement" (which is five words longer
than the "academic prowess" of plain English). With
practice you can combine field with
area, level, and other
|INSTEAD OFcivil rightsin spelling and pronounciationproblems, topicsmajor subjects
||SAY OR WRITEthe area of civil rightsin the area of spelling and
pronounciationproblem areas, topic areasmajor subject (or
In the sportswear field, this is one area which
is growing. (Translation from context: Ski
sweaters are selling well.)
[The magazine is] a valuavle source of containing
information for educators at all levels and for
everyone concerned with this field. (Plain
English: The magazine is a valuable source of
information for anyone interested in education.)
of jargon can produce a sentence so vague that it can be dropped
into dozens of other articles and books: "At what levels is
coverage of the field important?" Even in context (a
scholarly book about the teaching of Englush), it is hard to
attach meaning to that sentence!
sign of the ability to speak and write jargon is the redundant
use of in terms of. If
you are a beginner, use the phrase instead of prepositions such
as in ("The
faculty has been divided in terms of opinions and
attitudes") and of ("We think in terms of elementary, secondary, and higher
education"). Then move on to sentences in which you waste
more than two words:
the masters of jargon. They have the courage to abandon the
effort ot shape a thought clearly:
|INSTEAD OF The Campus School expects to have
three fourth grades.I'm glad that we got the response
||SAY OR WRITE In terms of the future, the Campus
School expects to have three fourth grades. (5 extra
words)I'm glad that there was a response
to that in terms of what we wanted. (6 extra words)
A field trip should be defined in terms of where you are.
They are trying to get underway some small and large
construction in terms of unemployment.
When we think in terms of muscles, we don't always
think in terms of eyes.
Although level should be well
known through overuse, the unobservant young instructors may need
a review on some of its uses, especially if they are anxious to
speak and write on the level of jargon. (Note the redundancy of the italicized words.)
shorter of two similar forms is adequate, choose the longer;
e.g., say analyzation for
"analysis", orientate for "orient",
origination for "origin", summarization for "summary."
Besides using an unnecessary syllable or two, the long form can
make your audience peevish when they know the word has not won
acceptance or, at least, uneasy ("Is that a new word that I
ought to know?"). If someone asks why you use notate instead of "note" (as in
"Please notate in the space below your preference..."),
fabricate an elaborate distinction. Not having a dictionary in
his pocket, your questioner will be too polite to argue.
With practice, you will have the confidence to enter unfamiliar
territory. Instead of the standard forms (confirm,
interpret, penalty, register, and scrutiny),
try confirmate, interpretate, penalization,
registrate, and scrutinization.You have
little chance of making a name for yourself as a user of jargon
unless you sprinkle your speech and writing with vogue words and
phrases, both the older fashions (e.g., aspect,
background, field, level, situation) and
the new (e.g., escalate, relate to, share
with, facility, involvement, limited, minimal).
An old favorite adds the aroma of the cliche', while a newly
fashionable term proves that you are up-to-date. Another
advantage of vogue words is that some of them are euphimisms. By
using limited, for
example, you show your disdain for the directness and clarity of "small," as in "a man with a limited education" and "a
limited enrollment in a very large room."
some vogue expressions are shorter than standard English, but
their obscurity does much to offset the defect of brevity.
|INSTEAD OF She teaches fifth grade.Readers will find more than one
||SAY OR WRITE She teaches on the fifth grade
level. (3 extra words)It can be read on more than one
level of meaning. (4 extra words)the writers on my level of concern
(5 extra words)
word to novices: dozens of words and phrases have been omitted
from this brief lexicon, but try to spot them yourselves.
Practice steadily, always keeping in mind that the fundamentals
of jargon-verbosity and needless vagueness-are best adorned by
pretentiousness. Soon, if you feel the impulse to say, for
example, that an office has one secretary and some part-time
help, you will write "Administrative clerical aids implement
the organizational function." Eventually you can produce
sentences which mean anything or possibly nothing: "We
should leave this aspect of the definition relatively
operational" or "This condition is similar in regard to
other instances also."
|INSTEAD OF The children live in a camp and
have both classes and recreation outdoors.She reads, writes, and speaks
German and has had four years of Latin.Many hospitals now let a man stay
with his wife during labor.
||SAY OR WRITE The children live in a camp-type
situation.She has a good foreign-language
background.The trend is to let the father
have more involvement.