I. What is Jargon?
Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession. Jargon (pronounced jär-gən) can be used to describe correctly used technical language in a positive way. Or, it can describe language which is overly technical, obscure, and pretentious in a negative way.
II. Examples of Jargon
There is a wide variety of jargon, as each specific career or area of study has its own set of vocabulary that is shared between those who work within the profession or field. Here are a few common examples of jargon:
A common dictum in allergy practice is that the patient’s medical history is the primary diagnostic test. Laboratory studies, including skin and in vitro tests for specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, have relevance only when correlated with the patient’s medical history. Furthermore, treatment should always be directed toward current symptomatology and not merely toward the results of specific allergy tests.
This excerpt from a PubMed research paper is a prime example of medical jargon. In plain English, a dictum is a generally accepted truth, the laboratory is the lab, and symptomatology is simply a patient’s set of symptoms.
I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the 2nd of April. The purpose of my suggestion that my client purchases an area of land from yourself is that this can be done right up to your clearly defined boundary in which case notwithstanding that the plan is primarily for identification purposes on the ground the position of the boundary would be clearly ascertainable this in our opinion would overcome the existing problem.
This is an example of legal jargon, taken from a clause within a commercial lease schedule. In plain English, it states that a letter was received on April 2, concerning exactly which plot of land a client hopes to purchase.
This man was an involuntarily un-domiciled.
Whereas the previous two examples concerned technical and acceptable jargon, this third phrase is an example of unwanted, unnecessary jargon: jargon in the negative sense. Here, “involuntarily undomiciled” is a jargon-addled term which allows someone to avoid saying the less attractive phrase “homeless.”
III. The Importance of Using Jargon
Jargon has both positive and negative connotations. On one hand, jargon is necessary and very important: various specialized fields such as medicine, technology, and law require the use of jargon to explain complicated ideas and concepts. On the other hand, sometimes jargon is used for doublespeak, or purposely obscure language used to avoid harsh truths or to manipulate those ignorant of its true meaning. An example of doublespeak is “collateral damage,” a phrase used by the military to describe people have who been unintentionally or accidentally wounded or killed, often civilian casualties. The phrase “collateral damage” sounds a lot nicer than the reality of “innocent person killed.”
IV. Examples of Jargon in Literature
Often, literary writers make use of jargon in order to create realistic situations. A well-written fictional doctor will use medical lingo, just as a medical writer will use medical jargon in a creative nonfiction piece about the profession. Below are a few examples of jargon in literature.
The poisonous molecules of benzene arrived in the bone marrow in a crescendo. The foreign chemical surged with the blood and was carried between the narrow spicules of supporting bone into the farthest reaches of the delicate tissue. It was like a frenzied horde of barbarians descending into Rome. And the result was equally as disastrous. The complicated nature of the marrow, designed to make most of the cellular content of the blood, succumbed to the invaders.
This excerpt from Robin Cook’s medical thriller called Fever makes use of medical jargon like “molecules of benzene,” “spicules of bone,” and “cellular content of blood” but writes of such topics in a literary fashion, comparing the spread of benzene to a horde of barbarians invading Rome.
The worst scenario would be for Bruiser to get indicted and arrested and put on trial. That process would take at least a year. He’d still be able to work and operate his office. I think. They can’t disbar him until he’s convicted.
In John Grisham’s legal thriller, legal jargon is used by those working in law. In plain English, “being indicted” is being formally accused of a crime and “being disbarred” is being prevented from practicing law as a failed lawyer.
As these examples show, the use of jargon creates a richer narrative landscape which realistically represents how certain professionals communicate amongst one another within their selected field of work and study.
V. Examples of Jargon in Pop Culture
Just like literature, pop culture uses jargon to accurately represent real life. Here are a few examples of jargon in pop culture:
In “Mission Statement,” Weird Al Yankovic mocks business jargon with jargon-addled lyrics which make fun of business English:
We must all efficiently
Operationalize our strategies
Invest in world-class technology
And leverage our core competencies
In order to holistically administrate
In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods’ admissions essay to Harvard Law presents the blonde beauty queen attempting to use legal jargon with “I object!” expressing disdain for cat-callers.
I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life:
VI. Related Terms
Just like jargon, slang is a specialized vocabulary used by a certain group. The similarities end there. Unlike jargon, slang is not used by professionals and is, in fact, avoided by them. Slang is particularly informal language typically used in everyday speech rather than writing. Because slang is based on popularity and the present, it is constantly changing and evolving with social trends and groups. Here is an example of slang versus jargon:
Whoa, that’s sick!
The slang phrase “sick” has a much different meaning than an illness when used by skaters. Rather, it means that something is cool or appealing.
The patient is ill.
In this example of medical jargon, a patient is described as ill rather than more common colloquial phrases like “sick” or “feeling under the weather.”
Lingo is often used in place of both slang and jargon. The reason is this: lingo refers to a specific type of language used by a specific group. In other words, lingo encompasses both slang and jargon. “What’s the lingo?” could be used to casually ask what the jargon is or to ask what the slang phrase is in a certain situation.
Jargon is professional language used by a specific group of people. When used to confuse or mislead, jargon is considered a negative thing, but it is acceptable when used within a specific profession or area of study. From the toilet salesman to the gardener to the mathematician, jargon is used in a wide variety of professions.