Keep it Jargon-free
by Nick Wright
Someone once defined a sales fax as a ‘high-ranking digital envoy.’
Jargon is the language of specialized terms used by a group or profession. It's common shorthand among experts and used sensibly can be a quick and efficient way of communicating. Most jargon consists of unfamiliar terms, abstract words, non-existent words and acronyms and abbreviations, with an occasional euphemism thrown in for good measure. Every profession, trade and organization has its own specialized terms.
cost-push inflation, marginal-cost pricing, J-curve
ASCII, RAM, disk drive, intranets
annuitants, arbitrate, debentures, gilts, sum assured
ASA rating, f-stop, teleconverter, TTL metering
Jargon is a strange creature. We all complain about jargon, yet everyone writes it and no one ever admits using it. The reason? Jargon can be the worst form of communication--and the best.
A minicab driver picks up the radio and calls base.
Passenger: Excuse me, could you explain what that was all about?
Cabbie: I just wanted to know where to pick up my next fare.
At the Office of National Statistics
Statistician: Each Geographical Statistical Output (GSO)depicts an enumeration district.
Manager: Do you mean 'each map'?
Statistician: No. We cannot call it a map because each GSO also contains a table.
Manager: OK. It's a map with a table.
Examples of jargon
Human resources departments never sack or fire anyone. For example, an American company called firing staff: "a refocusing of the company's skills-set". Here are other examples of human resources-speak.
- career alternative enhancement program
- career-change opportunity
- dehiring staff
- derecruiting resources
- downsizing employment
- employee reduction activities
- implementing a skills mix adjustment
- negative employee retention
- optimizing outplacement potential
- rectification of a workforce imbalance
- redundancy elimination
- right-sizing employment
- selecting out manpower
- strategic downsizing
- vocation relocation policy
If the human resources department uses one of these phrases to fire you, take heart, you're not unemployed. You're simply "in an orderly transition between career changes while undergoing a period of non-waged involuntary leisure during your temporary outplacement."
|arbitrarily deprive of life||kill people|
|render non-viable||kill people|
|terminate with extreme prejudice||kill people|
|armed reconnaissance||bombing enemy troops|
|servicing the target||bombing enemy troops|
|terrain alteration||bombing enemy troops|
|accidental delivery of ordnance||bombing your own troops|
|friendly fire||bombing your own troops|
|incontinent ordnance||bombing your own troops|
|meaningful statistical downturn||recession|
|period of economic adjustment||recession|
|negative economic growth||recession|
|interruption of economic expansion||recession|
|the involuntary undomiciled||the homeless|
|the economically marginalized||unemployed|
|vehicle appearance operative||car-washer|
Readers see through such dressing-up of the truth. If you want to hide the truth, don't tell a categorical inaccuracy, a counter-factual proposition, an inoperative statement, a strategic misrepresentation, or a terminological inexactitude —simply tell a lie.
Acronyms and abbreviations
The English Defence Minister, George Robertson, tried cuttingout abbreviations and acronyms at the Ministry of Defence. "I soon realized solving Bosnia would be easier."
Avoid as many as you can.
Try to keep them to a maximum of two a page.
Use them only if they are convenient for your readers.
Make sure all your readers know exactly what they mean.
Use them if spelling them out would annoy your readers.
Convert as many as possible into words.
Use full words—Vice President, not VP
Use a shortened word form —each camera, not each CCTV unit.
Use an alternative—computer memory, not RAM.
If you must use an abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time you use it. —Computer-based training (CBT)
If your readers know the abbreviation or acronym, there's no need to spell it out.
Other problems with Acronyms and Abbreviations
- They are often inconsistent, even in the same document.
- For example: IBM and I.B.M.
- BACS system—Banks' Automated Clearing System System.
- PIN number—Personal Identification Number Number.
- ATM machine—Automated Teller Machine Machine.
- The three PCs in the RDU's conference room need new screens.
- Writers go to the trouble of defining an abbreviation, never to use it again in the document.
The last word
"Let abbreviations and acronyms RIP"