Jargon - pejorative?

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JulianStuart

Senior Member
English (UK then US)
In another thread I used the word jargon, with an intent solely related to definition 3. The brief WRF (OED based) dictionary provides only definition 3, and that is the only usage I am familiar with (given my BrE background?). The other definitions support the notion that referring to something as "jargon" has a pejorative intent. I wonder whether I just led a sheltered life or whether there are others who do not automatically think "pejorative" when they hear the word in isolation or in writing. Clearly, the context where it is used could carry the nuance, as could tone, but absent that guidance, do you think that way? Is this a BrE AmE thing, given the absence from the WRF definition of the definitions other than 3 below? Perhaps it is because my career was in a sphere dependent on scientific words that were very specialized, that I accept the term as neutral.
Any thoughts?

From thefreedictionary.com
Jargon n.1. Nonsensical, incoherent, or meaningless talk.
2. A hybrid language or dialect; a pidgin.
3. The specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group. See Synonyms at dialect.
4. Speech or writing having unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing, and vague meaning.



 
  • DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I think even definition (3) is somewhat negative. The implication is that the private language of the group (a) has the effect of making themselves unintelligible to outsiders, and that (b) this is due to either a desire for exclusiveness, or else is because they lack the capacity to express themselves in plain English.
     
    Last edited:

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I'd give "jargon" a '7' on a pejorativity scale of 1-10. :D

    The problem with jargon is when users confuse it with real English and allow it to escape from its native environment.

    (This applies especially to the American "education" environment)
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    I'm afraid that most of the jargon I hear and read is type 1 and 4. In my case it would have been type 3, but as we all know, many a person hides behind technical jargon instead of using it correctly within their field or trying to "impress" the "outsiders".

    GF..

    I don't recognise definition 2.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I've heard it used as a pejorative like this:

    There is no substance to this reply; it's nothing more than a lot of jargon.

    I would guess that "jargon" in this case is synonymous to "double talk" that sounds impressive but means little.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think even definition (3) is somewhat negative. The implication is that the private language of the group (a) has the effect of making themselves unintelligible to outsiders, and that (b) this is due to either a desire for exclusiveness, or is because they lack the capacity to express themselves in plain English.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

    It is a bit difficult to say "The altered pharmacokinetics of transcarbamylated glycopeptides" in "plain" English! Perhaps it is the person who is not in the "in-crowd" that brings the feeling of being deliberately excluded froman area that others have specialized in!? There is no alternative to such technical language in such disciplines - and those who use it are usually as capable of "good" English as any other group and have no desire to exclude, other than by their choice of field! I suspect it is my comfort with the use of such "technical language" (only with colleagues in my field, of course) that allows me to feel the term jargon can be neutral.
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would venture that it's not your BE background but rather your scientific background that has lead you to this accommodation with 'jargon'. I'm afraid that to the non-initiate, the exclusivity afforded to those capable of wielding 'the jargon' is all too often perceived as a protective veil behind which all manner of skulduggery may be quietly unfolding.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Note the following from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Style Guide for authors.

    Avoid jargon which, to the astute reader, betrays a muddled and insecure writer. What is jargon? Many -ize words: prioritize, utilize, definitize; also many -ments words, e.g., advancements. If you are tempted to use a word because you think it will give an authoritative ring to your writing, or because you think it will put you among an in-group of specialist readers, don't .
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I use jargon both pejoratively and technically - there really isn't a better word to describe "words used by a particular group or descipline that have a specific meaning within that discipline" - but I agree that to most people, it has a negative connotation.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The OED certainly sees it as a pejorative term, even when used for its later meaning (my emphasis):

    Applied contemptuously to any mode of speech abounding in unfamiliar terms, or peculiar to a particular set of persons, as the language of scholars or philosophers, the terminology of a science or art, or the cant of a class, sect, trade, or profession.
    It's earliest meanings are twittering, chattering and unintelligible talk, so any attempt to make it a kindly way to refer to specialised-vocabulary English is doomed.

    jargon, n.1
    Second edition, 1989; online version March 2012. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/100808>; accessed 05 June 2012. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1900.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    For me, the word jargon is not negative at all -- it is a linguistic term, but I have linguistic education. The jargon itself may sometimes turn out a disgrace to the language it is a part of.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thanks all!

    I sort of knew it was often used "contemptuously" and was a little surprised that the WRF entry did not note this, probably its main, use. Hence the thread.
    Thanks Beryl, I think you're right and the abbreviated dictionary entry here is just coincidentally suggestive of an AmE BrE thang.
    Kate, you are right, there is no other suitable word - perhaps we can start a movement to call it mumbo-jumbo which has more of a humorous than pretentious connotation for the necessarily-precise vocabulary employed by groups listed by Andy from the OED :D
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I'm afraid to say, Mr S, that, though I do occasionally use it with the intention of it meaning nothing more than 'specialized language used by X', behind that intention is always the hidden intention that it means 'specialized language used by X which is intended to sound grander, seriouser, or cleverer than it needster'. In other words, it's always pejorative to me, though the pejorativitude might not be quite as strong as in terms such as journalese, policemen's twaddle, or politicians' unspeakable doublespeak.

    If I want to be explicitly neutral, I use the term specialized language etc. E.g. your stuff about transobarmalated peptoglyptides I'd just call 'specialized (erm) chemical terminology':)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Note the following from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Style Guide for authors.

    Avoid jargon which, to the astute reader, betrays a muddled and insecure writer. What is jargon? Many -ize words: prioritize, utilize, definitize; also many -ments words, e.g., advancements. If you are tempted to use a word because you think it will give an authoritative ring to your writing, or because you think it will put you among an in-group of specialist readers, don't .
    Okay, "definitize" should be banned, but "advancements"? They should follow their own advice and call it the Space People's How To Write Good Lesson. ;)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thanks Prof. E.

    It has to have been a sheltered upbringing and a comfort developed over decades using the stuff that made me unaware of the strength of feeling some folks can have when they utter this word! In those same circumstances I would utter strong words, just not this one. Technical terminology seems pretty innocuous for stuff like the "cryptic obamarmalades" you noted already :D (And if you get it wrong, you crash land on Mars - that's why NASA is so against "jargon")
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I would tend to distinguish between standard "technical terms' used in a specific field and more 'in house' jargon, such as shorthand words used within a company or agency that are well understood internally but that are not necessarily obvious to an outsider and then generalized babble type of jargon that involves fairly meaningless words (e.g the -ize words) strung together to say something simple in a complicated-sounding way. In my own work group there are certainly shorthand terms that we use to mean something quite precise in our context but that we have to take out of written reports because they are our own jargon. That's not an insult, just a statement of fact.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    That was the fault of the metric system, not jargon! ;) The miscommunication involved units of measurements not words.
    It was the wrong jargon!! Hence the pale type colour. However, the names for both units would probably fall within the realm of "jargon" as in the specialized words sense.

    Do we blame the metric system or the so-called Imperial system?
    The MCO MIB has determined that the root cause for the loss of the MCO spacecraft was the failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, “Small Forces,” used in trajectory models. Specifically, thruster performance data in English units, pound-seconds, instead of metric units, Newton-seconds, was used in the software application code titled SM_FORCES (small forces).)
     
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