Modern America, 1914-Present 



By Paula Caudle,Kim Courtney, Heather Guyton, Michelle Keller and Carol Kind Students, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke  

Introduction of Jargon 

Generally speaking, jargon, in its most positive light, can be seen as professional, efficient shorthand. The word "jargon" can be traced to 14th century Old French, but the actual origin is unknown. “Jargon” is derived from the fourteenth century term for “twittering or warbling of birds,” which in turn has the root ‘garg’ from which also stem such words as “gargle,” and “gurgle.”  The original meaning was “to make a twittering noise or sound,”but by modern standards, it has three derivations. One current or modern definition of jargon is “an outlandish, technical language of a particular profession, group, or trade.” Another meaning is “unintelligible writing or talk.” Yet another definition is “specific dialects resulting from a mixture of several languages.” Since the reoccurring problem with jargon is that only a few people may understand the actual terminology used by different groups, this may explain its origin from “twittering” which, of course, would be misunderstood by most people. However, a jargonaut, one who studies jargon, may claim that jargon was invented simply as a professional shorthand, developed out of convenience rather than intentional trickiness. 

Jargon vs. Slang  

What is Slang?  
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, slang is defined as “An informal vocabulary composed of invented words, arbitrarily changed words, or extravagant figures of speech.” Slang is a compilation of words that have been labeled as “unruly, unrefined, and illogical.” The word “Slang” derived, according to etymologists, obscurely.  The general consensus it that it is related to the standard word “sling” as used in archaic expressions such as “to sling one’s jaw,” meaning to “speak rowdily or insultingly.”  Others believe it to be a derivation from the French word for language, “langue.” 

Examples of Slang and Jargon: 
A word can be both slang and jargon as is seen in the use of the word “say.”  The word “say” is not slang unless it is used at the beginning of a sentence as in “tell me.”  For example, the following uses of the word “say” are considered slang: 

“Say, how much does that cost?” 
“Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light.” 

Jargon, on the other hand, is “technical talk.”  As stated earlier, it may be used as a barrier to keep outsiders from understanding something, but not always.  An example of how close slang and jargon are may be seen in the  use of the following medical terms: 

Bilateral probital hematoma (JARGON) 
A “black eye”, or “shiner” (SLANG) 

Who Uses Jargon? 
Jargon is commonly used by groups that have a similar interest, like trades and/or professions. However, it can be used by people involved in sports or other casual groups. Most people associate jargon with the medical or law professions rather than everyday conversations. People may use jargon to leave an impression of intelligence or to confuse a person. 

An example of jargon in the medical profession:  
agonal- used to describe a major negative change in a person’s condition, usually preceding immediate death. 

Some medical slang can be misinterpreted as jargon:  
scoop and run - used by EMTs and ER personnel for a situation where no  treatment is possible. All they can do is ‘scoop’ the victim up and ‘run’ with them  to the ER. 
(This is an example of slang because the terminology is less formal than jargon. For example, "scoop" is another way of saying "pick up" and this terminology is not specific to the medical field.) 

Examples of computer/lnternet jargon:  
~BTW -By The Way 
~CYA - See You Around 
~FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions 
~HTH - Hope This Helps 
~IMHO - In My Humble Opinion 
~MOTD - Message Of The Day 

Commonly we may use  jargon terms from  NASA such as: "countdown," "all systems go" and "lift off."  Jargon can be used by anyone, but for someone to understand what you talking about, they must also know the jargon terms. 

Plain English 

What is Plain English? 
While jargon is understood by those who know the terminology; plain English is common words everyone can understand.  People who use plain English can easily converse with other people because they do not use exaggerated words which may confuse the listener. The plain English movement is growing daily because people want jargon, doublespeak, and other professional terminology taken out of government, law and the medical field. People want to understand what they are reading  and hearing without being undermined by ‘fancy’ terminology. There is such a desire to limit "gobbledegook" language, that a Plain English Campaign has been established for this purpose. 


Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Jargon 

Jargon is here, and it is not going anywhere. According to Peter Ives, “For those who use it, it is a language which describes the world in which we live.” The occupations of today almost demand their own jargon. Jargon is an aspect of everyone’s life in some way be it a job, a hobby, or a sport. Jargon is a way for groups in society to have their own specific language. There are advantages and disadvantages for using jargon. People usually tend to focus on the disadvantages. Using jargon can be fun, and it can be an advantageous. For instance, Jargon can give a person a sense of belonging to a specific group. Today’s society loves to show off and using jargon is a way for people to do this. Jargon can also make it easier for a person to communicate with their fellow employees and/or their friends.  For example, someone going for a job interview at a bank or financial institution, would use banking terminology, thus banking jargon to show their expertise in the field.  

Using jargon can also be a disadvantage. Jargon can leave someone feeling excluded from a conversation. The military, advertising, teachers, and politicians have all been criticized for using jargon. Using jargon in these four areas leaves people wondering if they have a hidden agenda. Jargon can be a good thing as long as it is not abused. It is easy to just slip into a jargon of your own making it difficult for other people to understand what is being said. According to Peter Ives, “After all, jargon is only jargon for those who don’t use it.” 
Doublespeak:Type of Jargon 

According to Alfred Fleishman, doublespeak is a form of jargon often used to mislead or confuse listeners. There are two main variations in doublespeak that relate to jargon: persuasive and inflated doublespeak. Both of these types of doublespeak misdirect intentionally, therefore leading to misconception. 

Some examples of persuasive and inflated doublespeak are seen often in many workfields. For example, a politician speaking to the voting public may use persuasive doublespeak in his campaign in an attempt to mislead the elderly about Social Security issues.  Inflated doublespeak on the other hand, is quite different and the most widely used form of doublespeak. An example of inflated doublespeak would be calling a garbage collector a sanitation engineer.  The changed name created an entirely different image of the garbage collector by using inflated doublespeak. When comparing persuasive doublespeak to inflated doublespeak, one can clearly see that both types are altogether a big misconception of jargon usage. Doublespeak is used daily in various professions and often destroys the real intent of jargon usage. Doublespeak may lead to utter confusion, which is the opposite intent of effective jargon usage. 
 Here are some additional examples of jargon: 
AP students
IAP kids
Loser space


Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Cambridge University Press. 1996. 
This book is timely and evidentally a well researched book. The format is a little hard to follow at times though. It contains several examples of occupational jargons.  

Dickinson, Paul. Slang: The Topic-By-Topic Dictionary of Contemporary American Lingoes. Pocket Books: New York, NY. 1990. 

Fleishman, Alfred. "Doublespeak," St. Louis Business Journal 19 (May 1999): 28. 

Green, Jonathan. The Dictionary of Jargon. Routledge & Kegan paul, Inc.:New York, NY. 1987.  

Ives, Peter. "In Defense of Jargon."1999. Sept, 1999. 
The article on this site is timely. Ives is a Ph.D candidate in the Programme of Social and Political Thought at York University. Ives is writing his dissertation on "Vernacular Materialism: Antonio Gramsci and the Theory of Language." 

Jargon Exercise (Group Work) 
Each of the following sets of words will come from a particular occupation. Determine which occupation would use the words and what would you think each word would mean. 

1- Alfalfa, Butcher, Cats, Horse, Possom Belly 

2- Bibles, Heralds, Jonah's Luck, Lot, Sky Boards 
3- Larry, Jill, Joey, Hey Ruby, Big Bertha 

4- Layout Man, Main Guy, Spec Girl, 24hr Man, Web Girl 

  • Jargon
  • Jargonaut
  • Doublespeak
  • Slang
  • Plain English
Relevant People  Various Types 
  • advertising
  • banking
  • broadcasting
  • journalism
  • legal
  • medical
  • military
  • news media
  • political
  • religious
  • scientific
  • sports
  • teaching
 Relevant Links 
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Updated June 27, 1999 | | © Mark Canada, 1999 | University of North Carolina at Pembroke