Wikipedia, that omnipresent source of all online knowledge, has a nice reflection on the usefulness of jargon. Jargon helps those who are members of a particular field communicate with one another. At its best, it aids communication. At its worst, of course, it is exclusionary, allowing only people within smaller and smaller circles to understand what is being said or written. The smallest circle is the circle of one, where the author/speaker only communicates with him- or herself.
When I began this alphabet, I thought I’d be discussing Academic Jargon At Its Worst, the sort of exclusionary use of language that can make outsiders resentful. (That kind of jargon is discussed and defended over here.)
I have been accused of using that sort of language myself. Once I suggested that our church youth group study be on the Pentateuch. My co-youth leader said, “But I don’t think you should call it that.” My response was why not call it that? Pentateuch isn’t a difficult word. It is used by scholars, sure, but it is also understandable to many outside the scholarly world. Why not use Pentateuch, and define it, thus expanding the vocabulary of our youth?
I try not to use language in a way that obfuscates meaning (look it up), rather to be clear in what I say, realizing that I do need to define words I use at times. I think that sometimes Academic Jargon becomes a problem when people start talking about a concept, using vocabulary that can be misunderstood. Definitions are important. Of course, sometimes Academic Jargon is used to confuse people on purpose. That sort of confuspeak should be avoided. Clarity is a part of the point of academics writing. We generate knowledge, and should pass that knowledge on in appropriately understandable language.
Jargon can be a helpful shorthand for insiders in a field. It can also impede communication. How do you use words? Do you provide definitions, or at least allow people to ask for definitions as needed?