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Jargon

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Jargon

In your study of English Language, you've probably come across terms such as 'slang', 'dialect', and 'jargon'. The latter is what we're going to be exploring in this article.

If you've ever had a job, or even if you've belonged to a specific sports team or club, it's likely that you've heard jargon being used before and may have even used it yourself. We'll look at some examples of jargon a bit later on in the article, which might ring some bells, but let's cover the definition of jargon first:

Jargon meaning

The word 'jargon' is a noun, and it means:

Specialised words or phrases used by a certain profession or group to refer to things that happen in that profession or group. People outside of these professions are likely to find these jargon expressions difficult to understand.

As a student, it's likely that you hear examples of jargon used all the time. Teachers use lots of educational jargon. Some examples of this you might have heard include:

  • Peer assessment - marking a classmate's work

  • Point Evidence Explanation (or 'PEE') - a method for structuring essays effectively

  • Coursework - work done throughout the year to be assessed, instead of exams

  • Critical thinking - approaching a topic analytically and with logical reasoning

Difference between jargon and slang

Jargon can be seen as a type of 'professional slang' in some ways, and that is a fairly important distinction to make between the two terms. Whereas slang refers to colloquial, informal language that is more commonly used verbally than it is written, jargon is commonly a professional language used in professional settings. Jargon is used equally in written and verbal communication.

Examples of slang

  • Salty: when someone is acting bitter or agitated.

  • Dope: a way of saying something is cool or good.

  • Peng: when something is attractive or appealing.

Examples of jargon

  • Contempt of court (legal jargon): the offence of being disrespectful or defiant during a court proceeding.

  • Myocardial infarction (medical jargon): a heart attack.

  • Accrual (accounting jargon): a strategy for recording revenue that has been earned but not yet paid.

Jargon, cartoon of two people with lightbulbs and question marks coming out their heads, StudySmarterJargon terms are not always understood by people outside of a particular profession, Pixabay

Jargon synonym

Are there any other words you should look out for that have the same meaning as 'jargon'? Let's see...

Jargon doesn't have any exact synonyms. However, there are some other terms that mean similar things and could be used in place of the word 'jargon' in certain circumstances. Some examples include:

  • Lingo: this is often used in place of the word 'slang', but if you added other words to it, such as 'botanical lingo', 'engineering lingo', or 'business lingo', then you get phrases that essentially mean jargon. It's worth noting that the term 'lingo' is quite colloquial, so it might not be appropriate to use in all situations.

  • -Speak or -ese: similarly to 'lingo', these suffixes can be added to words to refer to the kind of vocabulary used in different professions. For instance, 'medical speak' (medical jargon) or 'legalese' (legal jargon).

  • Argot: this is potentially one of the nearest synonyms for jargon and refers to the slang or specialised language used by a particular group (usually related to social factors such as age and class).

  • Patter: this is a slang term that refers to jargon or the specific language used in certain occupations.

Jargon examples

To consolidate our understanding of what jargon is even further, we'll now look at some examples of jargon used in different professions.

Medical jargon

  • Comorbidity: when a person has two or more diseases or medical conditions present in the body at one time.

  • Bench-to-bedside: when the results of laboratory research are used directly to come up with new treatments for patients.

  • Arterial hypertension: high blood pressure.

  • Systolic: relating to the process of the heart muscles contracting to pump blood into arteries.

Legal jargon

  • Injunction: a specialised court order that commands a party to do something or refrain from doing something.

  • Libel: a written and published false statement that damages a person or party's reputation.

  • Perjury: when someone intentionally gives a false testimony during a court proceeding after swearing to tell the truth.

  • Mitigation: the process by which a party that has suffered a loss takes measures to minimise the effect of the loss.

Horticultural jargon

  • Cotyledon: one of the first leaves to appear after a seed germinates and begins to grow.

  • Etiolation: the process of partially or fully depriving plants of sunlight during growth, resulting in pale and weak plants.

  • Inflorescence: a cluster of flowers growing on one stem, encompassing the flower heads, stalks, and other parts of the flowers.

  • Humus: the dark, rich organic matter found in soil as a result of plant and animal material decaying.

Accounting jargon

  • Reconciliation: the process of comparing transactions to supporting documentation to check for and eliminate discrepancies.

  • Depreciation: the process by which an asset loses value over a period of time.

  • Capital allowances: any expenses that a company is able to claim back against its taxable profit.

  • Prepayment: the settlement of a debt or loan repayment prior to the official due date.

Can you think of any jargon you use in any jobs, clubs, or sports you're a part of?

Jargon, cartoon of a piggy bank and money, StudySmarterAccountants will use many terms that you'd only hear in the financial industry, Pixabay

The use of jargon in communication

As you've likely gathered by now, jargon is language that different professions use to refer to things that exist within these professions. There are several purposes of jargon:

  • to name specialised concepts, objects, or situations

  • to facilitate communication within a workplace or industry

If we look more closely at the latter point, jargon is used by people within a specific profession or group to make communication within the group easier and more efficient. How so?

The use of jargon in communication relies upon the assumption that everyone within the communicative exchange understands said jargon and what it refers to. By using jargon terms, colleagues can make points clearer and more efficient, as there is no need to provide extensive details about a particular situation. In other words, jargon usually negates the need for very detailed descriptions.

History of the term 'jargon'

By this point in the article, you've probably built up a decent sense of what jargon is. However, 'jargon' didn't always mean what it means to us today.

One of the first recorded uses of the word 'jargon' was in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. This excerpt is from The Merchant's Tale, one of the stories in The Canterbury Tales:

He was al coltissh, ful of ragerye,

And ful of jargon as a flekked pye.

The slakke skyn aboute his nekke shaketh,

Whil that he sang, so chaunteth he and craketh.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Merchant's Tale, The Canterbury Tales (c. 1386)

In this passage, the character, January, serenades his new wife and compares himself to a bird that is 'full of jargon', referring to the chattering sound birds make. This definition of jargon stems from the Old French word, 'jargoun' meaning a twittering sound.

If we jump forward a few years to British colonial times, we can see that the word 'jargon' was used to refer to creoles and pidgins, or the language enslaved people used to communicate when they didn't share a common language (much like a lingua franca). 'Jargon' began to take on negative connotations and was often used derogatorily (insultingly) to refer to rudimentary, incoherent, or 'broken' language.

Modern use of the word 'jargon' has changed drastically in meaning, and we now know jargon to be specialised language used by certain professions.

Benefits of using jargon

As with most features of the English language, there are benefits and disadvantages to using jargon. In this section, we'll look at the benefits.

Clear definitions

One of the key advantages of using jargon is that jargon words were created to mean or refer to very specific things. Sometimes, a jargon word can be used to describe a very complex specialised concept or situation, and using jargon negates the need for this complicated concept or situation to be explained in detail. In other words, when people understand the jargon, communication becomes clearer and more efficient.

In accounting, instead of saying 'The client needs to initiate the gradual reduction of debt relating to the initial cost of the assets.' which is very wordy and confusing, the account could simply say 'The client must initiate amortisation.'

'Amortisation' is an example of accounting jargon that clarifies and simplifies what would otherwise be a lengthy and complex explanation.

Common language

Jargon is important and beneficial in various workplaces because it facilitates professional communication by creating common language. Through mutual understanding of field-specific jargon, everyone in that field will know what is being discussed, whereas people outside the field might not. This means that colleagues can talk more freely and efficiently about work-related concepts and issues, without 'muddying the waters' with non-specific or irrelevant language.

Jargon can also show how much authority a person has regarding a certain matter, as the more experienced a person is in a particular field, the more jargon they are likely to know and use.

Shared identity and workplace culture

Because most people within a profession will understand that profession's jargon (at least to a basic extent), there is more potential for a shared identity and stronger workplace culture. Just as adolescents use slang to create a sense of community and identity, the same can be true in professional environments with the use of jargon.

Suppose a group of horticulturalists are discussing the best ways to encourage more vigorous fruiting on different plants. In that case, they might use jargon terms such as 'pinching off', 'forcing the rhubarb' and 'side shoots' in their descriptions. It's highly likely that all the horticulturalists involved in the conversation will understand what is meant by these terms, which means they are included in the exchange. Inclusion leads to feelings of community and shared identity, which can create stronger professional relationships and, subsequently, better workplace culture.

Jargon, cartoon of three different people, StudySmarterUsing jargon in the workplace can lead to a stronger team identity, Pixabay

Disadvantages of using jargon

Let's now look at the disadvantages of using jargon:

It can be exclusive

Just as jargon can create opportunities for shared language and identity, it can also have the opposite effect. If someone is new to a particular profession or is less experienced than others, they might not know the meanings of all the jargon terms used by more experienced colleagues. If the more experienced colleagues continually use jargon words that others don't understand, this can lead to the less-experienced peers feeling excluded.

This is an issue for professional-client relationships too. For instance, if a doctor is speaking to their patient using only complicated jargon, the patient might be left feeling confused and discouraged as they have not been able to understand what is being said.

Doctor: 'The tests show that you've recently suffered a mild myocardial infarction.'

Patient: 'Gee, thanks for the explanation, Doc. I have no idea what that means.'

(This is obviously an extreme example, and an exchange like this would be quite unlikely to happen. However, we'll use it for the purpose of illustrating the point.)

It can be confusing for non-native language speakers

New and inexperienced people are not the only ones who might be at a disadvantage in the workplace if a lot of jargon is used. Anyone who doesn't speak English as a first language might find jargon terms difficult to understand, as they might be unfamiliar with them.

This can lead to people not being able to fully understand workplace conversations, which can be frustrating and make it difficult to complete one's duties. Non-native English speakers might require additional explanations for jargon terms, which can impede the efficiency of workplace communication.

Overuse can lead to distrust

In certain industries, excessive jargon use can lead to feelings of distrust, especially where clients or customers are concerned. If a client hears jargon terms being thrown around all the time and are unable to fully understand what is being said, they might begin to feel distrust of the company working for them. Jargon can make things unclear for people who don't understand the terminology.

Suppose a person's financial advisor continually uses jargon terms such as 'depreciation', 'capital allowances', and 'accrual' without properly explaining these terms to their client. In that case, the client might feel taken advantage of or as though the financial advisor does not respect them. The client might think that the financial advisor is trying to hide something by not explaining terms clearly.

Jargon, the word 'hmmm' written in orange, StudySmarterOveruse of jargon can lead to suspicion and distrust, Pixabay

Jargon - Key takeaways

  • 'Jargon' refers to the specialised language used in a particular profession or field to describe things that happen within that profession or field.
  • Jargon is unlikely to be understood by people outside of a particular field or occupation.
  • Jargon is mainly used to make communication simpler, clearer, and more efficient.
  • The benefits of using jargon include: creating a sense of shared identity and workplace culture, making descriptions easier and more efficient, and facilitating communication in professional environments.
  • The disadvantages of using jargon include: it can be exclusive and leave people out, it can cause distrust if over-used, and it can be confusing for non-native language speakers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Jargon

Jargon is the specialised words or phrases used by a certain profession or group to refer to things that happen in that profession or group. 

In communication, jargon refers to the language used by a particular group or profession to talk about things that happen in that profession. Jargon makes communication between colleagues easier by providing words for things that don't require further elaboration. 

Jargon is used by professionals in different fields or industries to describe different aspects of these fields. People working within the same professions are likely to use and understand the same jargon, however, people outside of these professions are unlikely to understand most jargon. 

If we look at the legal profession for instance, some examples of jargon (legal jargon) include: 


  • acquittal: a judgement made that says a party is not guilty of the crime with which they've been charged. 
  • defamation: the damage of another person or party's reputation.
  • restitution: the penalty or compensation paid to someone for injury or loss.
  • jurisprudence: the theory of law.

Jargon is important because it helps people within a particular profession to communicate with one another efficiently and clearly. The existence of jargon can simplify complicated concepts and situations, making for easier understanding and communication. 

Final Jargon Quiz

Question

What is jargon?

Show answer

Answer

Jargon is the specialised language used in a profession or field that is specific to that profession or field. 

Show question

Question

List three terms that have similar meanings to 'jargon'.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list:


  • argot
  • lingo
  • patter
  • -ese
  • -speak

Show question

Question

True or false, people outside of a particular profession are unlikely to understand that profession's jargon.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Define 'argot'.

Show answer

Answer

Argot refers to the slang or specialised language used by a particular group (usually related to social factors such as age and class). 

Show question

Question

List three professions or fields that have their own jargon.

Show answer

Answer

Any on this list (or any others you can think of):


  • medicine
  • accounting
  • law
  • horticulture

Show question

Question

What are the two main purposes of jargon use in communication?

Show answer

Answer

  • to name specialised concepts, objects, or situations.

  • to facilitate communication within a workplace or industry.

Show question

Question

What assumption does the use of jargon in the workplace rely on?

Show answer

Answer

That everyone in the workplace understands the jargon being used. 

Show question

Question

True or false, using jargon negates the need for extensive explanations of specific concepts or situations.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which of these is not a benefit of using jargon?

Show answer

Answer

Exclusive

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Jargon use in a workplace can create a stronger _____ _____.

Show answer

Answer

workplace culture

Show question

Question

True or false, jargon can be confusing for non-native English speakers.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

List two disadvantages of using jargon in the workplace.

Show answer

Answer

Any from this list:


  • can be too exclusive, leading people to feel left out.
  • can be difficult for non-native language speakers to understand. 
  • can lead to distrust if overused.

Show question

Question

How can overuse of jargon lead a client to distrust a professional?

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Answer

Overuse of jargon can lead a client to become confused, and can cause the client to feel suspicious of the professional/ think that they are hiding something. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between slang and jargon?

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Answer

Slang is colloquial language used in informal situations, and is more commonly spoken than written, whereas jargon is professional language used in professional settings and is used equally in verbal and written communications. 

Show question

Question

List three jargon words and three slang words.

Show answer

Answer

Jargon (these or others you can think of):


  • accural
  • contempt of court
  • myocardial infarction


Slang (these or others you can think of):


  • salty
  • peng
  • dope

Show question

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