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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

Richard 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, Pennsylvania.

Through verbal irony this "Lexicon" tells how to avoid the vagueness and verbosity in much of today's bureaucratic language.

AREA

The 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.

INSTEAD OF

civil rights

in spelling and pronounciation

problems, topics

major subjects

SAY OR WRITE

the area of civil rights

in the area of spelling and pronounciation

problem areas, topic areas

major subject (or subject-matter) areas

Second, 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."

FIELD

If the 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 standbys:

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.)
A master 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!

IN TERMS OF

A sure 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:

INSTEAD OF

The Campus School expects to have three fourth grades.

I'm glad that we got the response we wanted.

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)

Emulate the masters of jargon. They have the courage to abandon the effort ot shape a thought clearly:

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.

LEVEL

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.)

INSTEAD OF

She teaches fifth grade.

Readers will find more than one meaning.

My students

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)

LONG FORMS

When the 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."

Unfortunately, some vogue expressions are shorter than standard English, but their obscurity does much to offset the defect of brevity.

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.

A final 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."

   
 
Copyright 2001 Northwind