Why jargon could save your life

Jargon. Ugh. Horrible stuff. The chattering of birds. The ramblings of nerds. As unintelligible as surds. (Maths was never my strong point.)

For all these reasons, linguists prefer the term ‘occupational dialect’. And if you put it in that context, you start to think a little differently.

Here’s what I mean. Imagine you’ve gone to see your GP and this happens:

GP: What’s your CC?
You: My what?
GP: Your CC. Chief complaint.
You: I’ve had this cough.
GP: Try some antitussives.
You: Anti-?
GP: Chlophedianol hydrochloride. Diphenhydramine citrate. Camphor. You know. Antitussives.

The main problem with that conversation is the jargon, right? Wrong.

Consider scenario two. Now you’re on the operating table.

Surgeon 1: Administer the Seldinger.
Surgeon 2: Okay. I’ve identified the right subclavian vein.
Surgeon 1: Good. Start aspirating the blood now.

This time the jargon’s vital. Without it the surgeon would waste precious time, so it’s fair to say it might actually save your life.

Jargon isn’t the enemy. As with all bad writing, the real culprit is a lack of empathy.

The golden rule is to use the most effective words at your disposal. If you’re a surgeon performing an operation, an engineer talking to other engineers or a footballer addressing his fans, jargon is effective, because everyone in the conversation speaks the same occupational dialect.

But if you’re an expert talking to non-experts, steer clear. They’ll only end up with acute cephalalgia.

Note to doctors: sorry if I butchered your dialect in the examples above. Biology was never my strong point either.

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