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What is Jargon – Why Can’t we Bust it?

July 28, 2010

People who attend writing skills training courses, or receive advice about their writing from colleagues are often told to ‘avoid jargon’. The intentions are good, and jargon is infuriating but the matter just is not so simple.

    Motivations of Jargon Users

First of all, jargon users have a variety of reasons for using language that confuses – which is why even the Plain English campaign has not succeeded in waving a magic wand and making it go away.

Here are some jargon-using types:

Sheep – follow everyone else in the department and don’t think very hard about the purpose of the writing or who is going to have to read it.
Obfuscators – have no intention of telling you what is really going on and hide behind jargon when forced to “explain”.
Insiders – need to prove that they are part of the club.
Bewildered – genuinely don’t understand the subject they have suddenly been required to write about – so they copy content that makes no sense to them either.

Of these, only the obfuscator could stop doing it just by choosing to make himself clear. So avoiding jargon is not a simple matter. Jargon is deeply ingrained into organisations and employees no longer remember that these words once had no meaning for them.

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