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…)

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