Jargon. You know we hate the stuff.

Linguists prefer the term ‘occupational dialect’. And depending on the context, it may actually be useful. Let’s see what we mean.

Imagine you go 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.

Not so useful. You still have a cough and little idea of what to do about it. Now, onto scenario two--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.

Without the jargon, the surgeon would waste precious time – so in this context, it might actually save your life.

Wait. Did The Writer just give me permission to use jargon?
Not exactly. (How often are you conducting open heart surgery, really?) But jargon isn’t the enemy. In the first encounter with the GP, the real culprit is a lack of empathy and respect. The ‘doctor talk’ only creates confusion and delays what you need to do for yourself.

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 their fans, jargon is effective, because everyone in the conversation speaks the same occupational dialect.

But if you’re talking to non-experts, steer clear
You could be talking to people who work in the same industry – even the same organisation. But they might not have the same occupational dialect as you do. So our advice is to keep it as simple as possible, unless you really know your audience.

We laugh at jargon. But it isn’t a joke.
For most business writers, corporate jargon tends to play the role of the comedy villain in our working lives. We love to hate it.

But in a lot of cases, jargon is the real villain.

Banks often put their customers at a disadvantage by writing in ways they don’t understand. So in the UK, the FCA is clamping down on financial jargon.

When doctors use medical terms with patients, they run the risk of causing stress where it isn’t needed. Or worse, not properly communicating how grave a situation might be. In a recent study into medical jargon, 67% of patients didn’t realise that ‘positive lymph nodes’ meant their cancer had spread. So while it might be OK to use jargon with a close colleague or an industry expert, chances are, most people won’t know what you mean.

Three questions to ask before you use jargon

  • Who is my audience?
  • Will they know what this means?
  • Even if they will – is there a simpler way of putting it?

We talk about tossing out jargon for a living
Our Writers Secrets training can help you do it too.