death to jargon

Jargon is a plague eroding the sanctity of language. Every field of specialization has its own filthy corral of jargon that its writers pluck from with glee and force on anyone unfortunate enough to have to read the literature these hacks have regurgitated onto the page. And actually…I do wonder about their intentionality in selecting these despicably false words. How does one ultimately decide to use the word ‘learnings’ as a plural noun? Could that honestly be a conscious decision? [If so, there may be no hope.] Or does a person read an issue of Businessweek or any other waste of paper and ink (or pixels) dedicated to the field of ‘business’ (upon which we can squarely place the blame for the majority of jargon that has infiltrated the English language) and simply internalize all these awful excuses for words? I mean, I can’t imagine someone writing a report about a meeting and thoughtfully choosing to insert ‘convening’ as a euphemistic noun in place of ‘meeting’. And yet I see that disgusting ‘word’ in many reports I edit. What kind of so-called writer does this? A lazy one.

Now, I’m not one of these people who believes languages are frozen in time and has a minor coronary every time the Oxford English Dictionary adds a few new words. A living language should gain words throughout its history—admittedly at a conservative pace—in order to meet the needs of a changing society. This normal and necessary process is not what I’m talking about, though. Jargon dilutes the effectiveness of language because it serves to replace perfectly acceptable words with trendy, idiotic terms designed to obfuscate a person’s negligible writing skills and/or their lack of comprehension of the topic about which they’re writing. It allows someone to generate paragraph upon paragraph of sentences that mean absolutely nothing. If you boiled these paragraphs in a pot until all the meaningless jargon sloughed off, you’d be left with a vapid slurry.

There is an important resource called a thesaurus, the regular use of which can help a writer build their vocabulary. Maybe it won’t completely cure the jargon plague but it can alleviate its symptoms. I’m not too proud to say I use both the thesaurus and the dictionary a lot, both in my editing work and in my personal writing. You can also learn a lot just from flipping through the dictionary at random. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the dictionary to look up a specific word (often to simply verify appropriate line breaks while proofreading) only to become lost for several minutes in its gloriously delicate thin pages. (And don’t get me started on those charming little pictures in the margins…)

mole crickets

mole cricket (mōl) n. Any of various burrowing crickets of the family Gryllotalpidae, having short wings and front legs well adapted for digging and feeding mainly on the roots of plants. (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed.)

External notes: Three species are invasive in the southeastern U.S. where they are noted garden pests. The Northern mole cricket is native to the eastern and central U.S., where it lives in grasslands, meadows, and prairie ecosystems.

Internal notes: After the fact, I heard about a cricket census in my geographic area. Citizens and scientists walked around one evening and noted all the singing crickets and katydids. I wonder if mole crickets sing when they are underground.

Anagrams into: Lick more, etc.

This was another fortuitous dictionary find. The dictionary continues to be a welcome source of solace. I want to crawl inside its pages and stroll around, maybe set up a lean-to near the binding and camp out for a while. There is so much to see! So many interesting little photos of wondrous things of every variety under the sun. So many new words to devour.

of dic·tion·ar·ies & den·tists

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

This row of dictionaries looms over me as I work, though I don’t have occasion to consult them as much these days. I used to do a lot more translation work as I cataloged. But my job has changed over the years, perhaps for the worse…it’s hard to say. I leave the dictionaries there to comfort me. I do still use the English one a lot (favored escapist technique). Sometimes the French and Spanish, rarely the Portuguese, and never the Swahili.

From the edge of the deep green sea, we open our arms, raise them high and trust, even when apart. Cut to end. Many nights, many years ago, I fell asleep to that. I like to think it informed my dreams. These days it’s everything.

It is Monday and I have a dentist appointment. Every time this happens I am unsettled by the bracketing of my life into six-month periods between dental appointments. I look back and wonder at the flatness of it all. Is this the right way to be going about it. Is it. Isn’t there some wormhole I could squeeze into instead. Some squirrely nautilus-shaped thing?

People are always leaving. And I miss them in a slow aching way. It’s been some time since I was the one leaving. A long time, actually, when you consider how often I used to leave before. It is doing something to the typewriter ribbon of time, I think. The dental appointments, the ink fading with each tap of the keys. The things we do at the changing of each season. Subtle adjustments absorbed, tarnishing the new, loss of notice to the details.

I like my dental hygienist. She is Eastern European—Polish, I think. I went to Poland once and in the short time I was there I found it to be a sad and beautiful country. That may have been due to my choice of activities while I was there. I like my hygienist because she’s quiet. I come in, we exchange cursory greetings, and then we get right down to work. Or rather she does; I just lie there and stare at the painting on the ceiling of a rowboat floating in the clear blue shallows. There is no banter. I hear the other hygienist and patient nearby chatting up a storm and I wonder how they can carry on such steady conversation while one of them has both hands in the other’s mouth. I wonder about my hygienist sometimes. Does she have a family, what does she do in her free time, that sort of thing. I often find myself wondering in this fashion about people with whom I have a narrow single-faceted relationship like this. But I would never dare ask her these things. And besides, most people’s lives are less exciting in real life than in imagined life. I hope they don’t take my hygienist away. At my last dentist they were always switching hygienists on me and it irritated me to no end. Then one time I totally spaced on my appointment because I always count on those reminder calls and they didn’t call this time. I realized about two weeks later or so that I’d missed it and that they’d never followed up. So I figured if they didn’t care that much about me as a patient that I’d find a new dentist. So far I’m pleased.

If I left, I’d have to get a new dentist and therefore, a new hygienist (I care less about the actual dentist because one rarely sees much of one’s dentist unless one’s teeth are terrible). If I left, someone else would claim my stack of dictionaries. If I left, these particular mosquitoes and their vile descendants would find someone else to bite. If I left, I’d be somewhere else, like I often think and dream about, but it wouldn’t be somewhere else for long. It would be like here, except there, because that is always what happens.

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