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Should Journalists Embrace Jargon?

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the use-your-words dept.

Media 184

ananyo writes "In an opinion piece for Nature, science writer Trevor Quirk argues that researchers use jargon to 'capture the complexity and specificity of scientific concepts.' Avoiding jargon might mean that a piece ends up easier to read, but explaining a jargon term using everyday language 'does not present the whole truth,' he says. 'I find it troubling that the same antipathy that some writers express towards jargon has taken root in the public's general attitude towards erudite language. I submit that this is no coincidence. People seem to resent not just specialized language, but any language that requires a large degree of labour to understand, appreciate and use,' he writes. 'The world increases in complexity every day, and we should not let shrink our capacity to describe it.'"

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184 comments

Yes. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771545)

However, some language prescribes different meaning within different contexts. Anonymous on slashdot is different than Anonymous in the news is different from an anonymous ftp login.

LIKE TO EAT LADYFUCK (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771749)

What's the problem?

The use of jargons (2)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771777)

Just like everything else, the use of jargon comes in several forms -
 
Use it sparingly and the jargon can "enhance" the article
 
Use it to the extreme and lay people get confused to the point of giving up reading the article altogether
 
Even the way one uses everyday language can effect the read-a-bility of the article, believe it or not
 

Re:The use of jargons (1)

arth1 (260657) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772823)

Use it sparingly and the jargon can "enhance" the article

Use it to the extreme and lay people get confused to the point of giving up reading the article altogether

Even the way one uses everyday language can effect the read-a-bility of the article, believe it or not

I may be wrong, but whenever I have seen jargon used by journalists, it's been used wrong[*]. Sometimes the public has even picked up the misnomer, with confusion as a result, until one side or the other "won".

Examples I remember include "CPU", "hard disk", "quantum leap", "mega-", "Internet", "cloud" and even "computer" (which was a human, and later an operator of a computing machine).

I think a writer should always stay away from terms he does not comprehend. Use words that both he and his audience will understand, and, if using jargon, always explain it the first time it's used.

[*] Or wrongly, for pedants who won't accept wrong being used as an adverb.

Yes, absolutely (5, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771549)

But first, please stop using "God particle", which is not jargon. It is just stupid.

Re:Yes, absolutely (4, Insightful)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771643)

That's a great example of where trying to use plain language does more harm than good. On the other hand 'black hole' rather than 'completely gravitationally collapsed object' probably conveys the concept reasonably well.

Unfortunately science has a habit of using language, and then finding out it does a bad job of describing something, e.g. atoms, and neural networks, which are, despite the names not indivisible and not actually all that similar to neuron connections in the brain respectively.

Trying to reduce everything to a 6th grade reading level makes people think problems can actually be explained at a 6th grade level, and they can't. That this has crept into economic discourse has caused us no end of grief in trying to have honest fact based discussions about the current economic crisis for example.

Re:Yes, absolutely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771927)

This has been on my mind lately--especially with the "God particle" bs, which is just another instance of bad journalism (IMHO). While it seems to be a sad conjunction of the "plain English" movement and the "cult of the amateur," it could be said that the term "God particle" is a case of argot, not jargon. It's use is meant to keep a scientifically illiterate public from knowing that many of their journalists are in the same boat.

Please don't tell me about keeping word counts down, when you can link to an earlier article that elucidates the issue(s) in online editions, or better yet, hire writers who can explain difficult theories, pithily.

Re:Yes, absolutely (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771933)

Trying to reduce everything to a 6th grade reading level makes people think problems can actually be explained at a 6th grade level, and they can't. That this has crept into economic discourse has caused us no end of grief in trying to have honest fact based discussions about the current economic crisis for example.

That seems a bad example. The credit default swaps and some other financial instruments are moderately hard to explain, but the real problems such as extremely high leverage and systemic risk aren't that complicated.

Re:Yes, absolutely (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771771)

It's better than "Cloud" or "Web 2.0".

Re:Yes, absolutely (5, Interesting)

Tr3vin (1220548) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772143)

"God particle" comes from Leon Lederman. He wanted to nickname the Higgs boson the "goddamn particle", but was blocked by his editor. So while it is annoying, it did come from a prominent physicist.

Re:Yes, absolutely (3, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772243)

But "God particle" and "goddamn particle" are not the same. While "goddamn particle" came from a prominent physicist, the actual name that people use in the media came from the editor of a prominent physicist and the bowdlerized word has none of the same connotations as the original.

It will get worse (4, Funny)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772791)

Pulling it into string theory will give you the "god string" which will be shortened to g-string.

Re:Yes, absolutely (2)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772163)

It was originally the "god damn particle" because it was so elusive but the journal editor suggested it be changed. Then after being shorted it applied a level of unintended importance when described by journalists.

Re:Yes, absolutely (1)

Crypto Gnome (651401) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772383)

Oh Yeah - God Particle is SUCH a wonderful term - pity the journo-drones don't actually understand what they're saying.

A particle is a piece of a thing.

So A God Particle would be A PIECE OF GOD.

Insert mentally-deficient worship here.

Anyhow, this being /. what everyone here is *really* interested in finding is the Oh God! particle.

(disclaimer: in the interest of retaining a G rating in this post I have not included the usually obligatory clicky-linky. It's safe to assume that everyone here has a large collection of same already.)

Re:Yes, absolutely (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772671)

A particle is a piece of a thing.

So A God Particle would be A PIECE OF GOD.

Insert mentally-deficient worship here.

This may explain the obesity problem in America, especially in the midwest . People are trying to add a bit more God to their lives.

Re:In general no (1)

stms (1132653) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772993)

First of all see Betteridge's Law of Headlines [wikipedia.org]. Secondly did no one here pay attention in their high school English class. I did I just fell asleep for the grammar portions. One of the things I do remember is one of the first things you should consider when writing is your audience. If you use jargon that your audience won't understand you will alienate your audience instead of engaging them. So unless you're writing for people who already have at least a basic understanding of the subject matter the answers is no.

Link to article (5, Informative)

mt42 (1906902) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771557)

Link to Nature article http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/487407a [doi.org] (no paywall).

How to use the DOI system ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772171)

First of all, many thanks for the link

I need to know how to use the DOI system to locate articles that are hidden behind paywall or walled-gardens

Not that I'm cheapskate or something, but there _are_ a lot of very crucial articles that are not available to the public, and I'm thinking to look into the DOI to dig out those articles

Please help.

Thank you again !!
 

Re:How to use the DOI system ? (5, Informative)

mt42 (1906902) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772501)

I'm afraid the DOI system doesn't actually bypass any paywalls. I was simply noting that this particular article was publicly available (most Nature articles are not). A DOI is just a persistent, unique "digital object identifier". It is now extremely common for academic journal articles to have a DOI assigned to them. The DOI for an article remains constant, and resolution from the DOI to the current URL at which the article can be found is handled by the DOI resolution system. The DOI for this article is 10.1038/487407a, and one way to resolve it is to prefix it with 'http://dx.doi.org/'. If you want to read more about DOIs, there is plenty of information at http://www.doi.org./ [www.doi.org]

Balance (2)

Anrego (830717) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771571)

Depends on the audience that the thing you want to say.

The first two categories are obvious:
Complex concept to aimed at people in the field: jargon away
Simple concept aimed at general audience: minimal jargon, spell out the stuff you do use

The other two categories are tricky, and in my opinion, in extreme cases, shouldn't be attempted.

Trying to write too much stuff to a differing audience results in something that is mostly useless for both. We see this all the time in software. People try to write up a design spec / user manual / whatever aimed at everyone from the customers to the project manager to the team lead to the coders who will implement it. All those people require very different information for different purposes and operate with a different vocabulary. You end up with something too technical for the customer, to "clean" for the project manager, and too verbose/lacking of details for the coders.

Better approach is to just make seperate documents.. you actually end up saving more time and a lot saner in my opinion.. and you produce something useful (which is always nice).

Re:Balance (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772463)

The other two categories are tricky, and in my opinion, in extreme cases, shouldn't be attempted.

Trying to write too much stuff to a differing audience results in something that is mostly useless for both. We see this all the time in software. People try to write up a design spec / user manual / whatever aimed at everyone from the customers to the project manager to the team lead to the coders who will implement it.

Methinks you are being too specific to "PM/customer/coder in software industry". Let's try a generalization/particularization exercise:
PM = policy makers - e.g. elected politicians
customer = beneficiary party - e.g. citizens
coder = executive/providing party - e.g. govt, juridical system, etc

Now: which ones should be "spared of jargon" and the society (in its entirety or in parts) can still be "blissfully ignorant but still safe"?

Re:Balance (1)

fermion (181285) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772939)

I would also say it depends on what the author understands. A simple example is the word paradigm. For scientists this has a specific meaning. Many writers who use this word have clue of the how to use it in the sense that it compresses communication, rather using it to indicate they have some knowledge of how scientists might speak.

Vocabulary is an issue in any writing and always depends on the knowledge of the writer and the audience. Jargon is just a instance, almost a trivial instance. In general selecting a word is a compromise between norrowing meaning and comprehension of the audience. Suppose I were writing about someone and I wanted make a clear instance of relationship. There was a time when, if I assumed I were writing for an education audience, I might be able to leave the confines of english and use conocer or saber. For a naive audience, the meaning will be lost, but to a more sophisticated audience the hair is split.

My point is two fold. If the writer is knowledgeable enough to use jargon is a precise sense, then there is every reason to use this jargon. In most cases where I see objection to jargon it is where the writer is merely trying to show a broad vocabulary and in the process creating a jumbled and inaccurate mess. Given that the writer can use the words correctly to correctly communicate the correct idea, then the question becomes can the audience be brought along to understand the underlying concepts, if they do not, and is the piece of writing the appropriate place to so do.

Should journalists understand what they write? (5, Insightful)

Agent.Nihilist (1228864) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771577)

Should journalists understand what they write?
I mean really, what possible purpose could understanding the topic of conversation possibly contribute?

Re:Should journalists understand what they write? (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771747)

I mean really, what possible purpose could understanding the topic of conversation possibly contribute?

Nothing at all, clearly.
The debate about "truth vigilantism" [nytimes.com] taught me that much.

Re:Should journalists understand what they write? (1)

postbigbang (761081) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772131)

We ask journalists to do quite a bit; some are faithful and truthful, others are not. Sometimes, even those that are trustworthy screw up. They're human, after all.

But vocabulary, especially jargon, is important and is used to convey deeper meaning-- if the audience can understand it. A target audience of engineers is different than a target audience of salespeople, third graders, and aircraft mechanics (no slime intended).

Jargon is mandatory to convey meaning to the target audience's understanding. Jargon not normally within their vocabulary might as well be fog, because it will convey no discernible information.

Re:Should journalists understand what they write? (4, Interesting)

Mashiki (184564) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771849)

Yes. It would help. Ever been to court? I mean either to watch a case, or in a legal capacity. It's a general question not directed at you. I have on several occasions, if I hadn't been in the court, then reading the news paper the following day, I wouldn't have known that the article I was reading was even remotely linked to the case I had spent the day watching. It was that far removed from reality.

Re:Should journalists understand what they write? (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772387)

... I wouldn't have known that the article I was reading was even remotely linked to the case I had spent the day watching. It was that far removed from reality.

Try listening to a Congressional hearing on C-SPAN and then read whatever the newspapers write about it the next day.
It's like someone condensed War and Peace into Goodnight Moon.

Nooo!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771599)

Then we'd have to actually learn stuff!!

Glad someone said it. (1)

thesameguy (1047504) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771601)

I am totally behind this. The reason we have jargon and technical terms in the first place is specificity, and failure to use these specially created words and phrases only causes confusion and false understandings. Investing some time on the front end so you can have an easier conversation in a couple months always pays off. We somehow managed to learn that meat could be chicken, beef, or pork, how come we can't learn that T1 could be PRI, DIA, or dark?

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771873)

But often jargon is completely opaque or worse because it often uses words that mean something different in conventional use than in science. Bur many ideas can barely be described at all without the appropriate jargon.

Re:Glad someone said it. (2)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772807)

True, and here's a good example.
Geophysicists find oil with vibrators.

Re:Glad someone said it. (4, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771891)

Comes down to audience and how much investment in time said audience is willing to make.

If it is a casual interest article, I'm probably not looking to learn a whole new vocabulary.. I'm looking for enough information to facilitate the value I hope to get out of it. As a trade off for this accessibility, I accept that I'm not getting the full story.

On the other hand if I am reading to learn something, then yeah, give me a quick overview of the jargon and then go nuts. You lose a lot of information trying to explain things with analogies and common phrasing .. and if I'm really trying to get something, I accept that I have to educate myself a little on the language that is to be used.

At the very least, keeping in mind who the audience is and what you are actually trying to drive home is important. When you try to write something to please everyone you usually end up with something that doesn't do the job for anyone.

Re:Glad someone said it. (4, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772157)

I am totally behind this. The reason we have jargon and technical terms in the first place is specificity,

There are two reasons that jargon are used. First, by a person in the field to another person in the field to convey information based on a common understanding of the terms used. That's fine. That isn't what a journalist is trying to do, however.

The second reason to use jargon is to obfuscate the information or cause the recipient to lose interest. That, too, isn't what a journalist is supposed to do.

So, based on those two reasons, the answer is "NO", the journalist's job in conveying the information to his readers includes translating jargon. And if the journalist doesn't understand the jargon in the first place, he's going to have a hard time knowing which of the two reasons his source used the jargon is correct.

and failure to use these specially created words and phrases only causes confusion and false understandings.

Ever been to a doctor? Do you want him to tell you about your medical condition using jargon or clear language? How about the side effects of your prescription? Which is clearer? "This medication may cause dyspnea, anaphylaxis, or in rare cases pheochromocytoma. If you notice any of those, call an ambulance and come to the hospital immediately". Unless you are up on your medical jargon (most of us are not), you'll either be scared to death of any little event and calling 911 all the time, or not be aware that the "shortness of breath" or "itching" you are experiencing needs immediate attention. Much better to say "when you take this, you might have trouble breathing, suffer a severe alergic reaction, or in rare cases you might develop a tumor in your adrenal glands." Oh, ok. I know "trouble breathing". I know "allergic reaction". I don't know how I'd detect the last thing. Tell me more..."

Scientists typically have a hard time conveying information about what they do to the public, precisely because they become used to the jargon and don't realize that the average reading ability of their audience is 7th grade. The next time a scientists talks to you about "subaerial" events, ask him why he didn't just say "on the land". Yes, it's longer, but almost everyone understands "on the land" while not as many grasp "subaerial" (or the counterpart, subaqueous -- "underwater"). Or how about the ones who continually refer to "anthropogenic" when they could say "human-caused"?

We somehow managed to learn that meat could be chicken, beef, or pork,

"We" did? For many people "meat" means dog, cat, snake, horse, and a host of other things. It's what you deal with daily, so you know what you deal with daily.

How many people deal with dyspnea on a daily basis and have a reason to know about it, before the doctor who uses jargon uses it with you? Other than weather geeks who glue themselves to TWC, who knows "isobars"? Thermoclines? Isohaline contours? Common mode rejection?

how come we can't learn that T1 could be PRI, DIA, or dark?

"We" can, if we deal with it enough to need to know. Most of the public who reads the product of journalists don't study every field he covers so they can be conversant in the jargon. If you force people to look up the terms when they come across them, yes, you'll have "taught a man to fish" in a way, but more likely he'll say "fishing is too hard, I'm going to McDonald's. Call me when Big Brother is on."

By the way, your use of "dark" to refer to a T1 line is questionable. T1 is a copper pair which carries no light. "Dark" refers to fiber optic lines which do have a photonic signal when activated and are dark when disconnected. As in "dark fiber".

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

thesameguy (1047504) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772413)

There are two reasons that jargon are used. First, by a person in the field to another person in the field to convey information based on a common understanding of the terms used. That's fine. That isn't what a journalist is trying to do, however.

The jargon of today is - in theory - the plainspeak of tomorrow. The reason the masses use words like "hard drive" and "engine" are because people in the past realized the best way to talk about a mechanical device that stores information or a construct that converts energy into motion was to use the jargon employed by people in a specific field. The author's point, which is spot on, is that dumbing things down has created a general sentiment that jargon is hard. If people stop learning the jargon for things, not only does communication become time consuming but it also becomes error-prone as people try to describe a thing based on their perception of its function rather than using a term which is concise.

Ever been to a doctor? Do you want him to tell you about your medical condition using jargon or clear language?

The doctor should use the medical jargon, and if I don't understand s/he can either define the terms, or I can look them up later. That is exactly the point of the article. If readers (and listeners) take some time on the front end to learn the terms, they will have an easier time in the long run. To use your specific example, do you want the doctor to tell you that you have "a heart condition" or "cardiomyopathy?" Which is going to make it easier for you to learn more about your problem? If the common sentiment is "plain English" then peoples' abilities to learn more are compromised.

Scientists typically have a hard time conveying information about what they do to the public, precisely because they become used to the jargon and don't realize that the average reading ability of their audience is 7th grade.

Got it. So let's all communicate like 7th graders, instead of educating people to the 12th grade. In fact, let's go a step further and deprive people of the jargon, speak "plain English," and deprive the 7th graders of the possibility of becoming 12th graders. Great solution. Go humanity.

By the way, your use of "dark" to refer to a T1 line is questionable. T1 is a copper pair which carries no light. "Dark" refers to fiber optic lines which do have a photonic signal when activated and are dark when disconnected. As in "dark fiber".

Your understanding of T1 is questionable. T1 is defined by a line modulation that produces a 1.544 Mbit/s line rate. A T1 can be copper or optical, and a physical optical cable connected to T1 signalling equipment that is not powered up, is dark.

Re:Glad someone said it. (4, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772635)

The jargon of today is - in theory - the plainspeak of tomorrow.

I know of no such theory that would make that claim. Doctors have had a jargon for as long as there have been doctors, and while SOME of their terms have made it into common language, most have not.

If readers (and listeners) take some time on the front end to learn the terms, they will have an easier time in the long run.

No, they won't. Just what terms do you think someone who is going to see is doctor is supposed to front load into his brain? Just which of the tens of thousands of medical terms will you need today? How about learning the jargon in today's newspaper? Got a clue, before you try reading the article, what's going to be there? Nope.

Jargon is used between people who know the terms. If you know one party doesn't know them, jargon is not appropriate. Especially for a journalist whose job is to explain things to normal people.

So let's all communicate like 7th graders, instead of educating people to the 12th grade.

I didn't say that and you know it. Let's communicate with our intended audiences so they understand what we are saying, not leave them stuck running for the dictionary because we're too erudite to actually communicate. When you say "I ordered a PRI T1 line to replace your SLIP over 56k modem, Gramma", you aren't educating her, you're leaving her behind deliberately.

The author's point, which is spot on, is that dumbing things down has created a general sentiment that jargon is hard.

Some of it is. Do you deny that? Some of it takes advanced education to understand, or depends on knowing so many other things that you aren't going to pick it up just because yuo saw the word on the front page. There's a reason why they don't cover calculus in fifth grade, or nuclear reactor engineering in ninth.

What is the purpose of a journalist writing an article in a newspaper about a technical subject? Is it to teach all the readers that subject, or teach them all the jargon? No. Of course not. It's to convey information. If your reader is a layman, use layman language. You'll save time and not drive your readers away. You're competing for his time, and you'll lose as soon as you lose him. Write an article that's too hard to understand because you're using jargon and the first reaction will be "turn the page", not "find a dictionary".

A T1 can be copper or optical,

You've just proven my point. "T1: [pcmag.com] A T1 line uses two wire pairs (one for transmit, one for receive) and time division multiplexing (TDM) to interleave 24 64-Kbps voice or data channels. The standard T1 frame is 193 bits long, which holds 24 8-bit voice samples and one synchronization bit with 8,000 frames transmitted per second. T1 is not restricted to digital voice or to 64 Kbps data streams. Channels may be combined and the total 1.544 Mbps capacity can be broken up as required." No mention of fiber. It's jargon. Your definition isn't the same as someone else's. You caused confusion instead of clearing it up. And people who don't deal with it on a regular basis aren't going to know what T1 is, so that point still stands. You say "meat vindaloo, please", to one of the Indian tech support high-schoolers, and you get dog instead of beef because "we" don't know that "meat" mean beef at all. Your problem, not mine.

Yes, let's all use jargon when we don't need to.

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

thesameguy (1047504) | about a year and a half ago | (#40773001)

I know of no such theory that would make that claim. Doctors have had a jargon for as long as there have been doctors, and while SOME of their terms have made it into common language, most have not.

What does "common language" have to do with anything? I'm a technical guy, but I don't use technical terms "commonly." I use them when they are appropriate, such as discussing technical things. And if I'm talking about a medical condition, even though I am not a doctor, I am going to use technical terms that I know, as best I know how to use them. If I use a term incorrectly, or the doctor uses a term I don't understand, I'm going to ask for an explanation or look it up later. It's not difficult. What's difficult is having a useful conversation or worse yet relaying useful information when people refuse to use the words best suited for the conversation. Your example of "meat vindaloo" below is exactly an example of that. Why would I use a vague or general term when a specific term exists that does the job better?

No, they won't. Just what terms do you think someone who is going to see is doctor is supposed to front load into his brain? Just which of the tens of thousands of medical terms will you need today? How about learning the jargon in today's newspaper? Got a clue, before you try reading the article, what's going to be there? Nope.

You are being obtuse and you know it. I was not suggesting people memorize the dictionary prior to picking up a news article, I was suggesting people have a dictionary handy when reading one. There is nothing new here - didn't they teach you that in English 101? Turns out not everyone knows the meaning of every word, and intentionally using the most simplistic terms possible to ensure people understand the words at the expense of the meaning is ridiculous. In 2012 when learning the definition of a word or phrase is a mouse click away, there is less a reason now than ever not to be specific.

didn't say that and you know it. Let's communicate with our intended audiences so they understand what we are saying, not leave them stuck running for the dictionary because we're too erudite to actually communicate.

You did say that, exactly. You said the average person reads at the 7th grade level, let's talk to them as such. I am proposing we talk to them at a 12th grade level, and let them get a little smarter than they were before. It sickens me to the core that anyone would accept the notion that dumbing down mass communication serves any other purpose than selling magazines and newspapers. It certainly doesn't actually made them smarter.

When you say "I ordered a PRI T1 line to replace your SLIP over 56k modem, Gramma", you aren't educating her, you're leaving her behind deliberately.

My Grandma would smack you for that remark, and so would everyone in my family save my drunken uncle. My grandmother may or may not know what those terms you used are, but she wouldn't look too kindly on me talking down to her. If she has a question about the terms I used or how I used them, she'll ask. Even at her advanced age, dismissing her with "I got you a faster internet connection and that's all you need to know" is nothing but condescension. She is old, not dumb. (She would also probably also ask why you you channelized a data connection, which is in fact dumb.)

You'll save time and not drive your readers away. You're competing for his time, and you'll lose as soon as you lose him. Write an article that's too hard to understand because you're using jargon and the first reaction will be "turn the page", not "find a dictionary".

So you are a publisher! Explains your bent. Get readers at all costs! How about this: We don't treat people like they're 7th graders for a while, and then find out once people are used to some hard to digest words now and again, we throw more at then, and eventually they are 12th graders! Kind of like when you teach a 7th grader algebra, and then later you teach a 12th grader calculus! Just a thought.

You've just proven my point. "T1: [pcmag.com]

I have indeed. You are a 7th grader. No doubt about that. So, in the vein of my approach, here is some information to get you started on the way to 12th grade: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-carrier [wikipedia.org]: ""T1" now means any data circuit that runs at the original 1.544 Mbit/s line rate ... During the 80's companies such as RLH Industries, Inc. developed T1 over optical fiber." There is more, of course, but that's the gist.

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

thesameguy (1047504) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772491)

There are two reasons that jargon are used. First, by a person in the field to another person in the field to convey information based on a common understanding of the terms used. That's fine. That isn't what a journalist is trying to do, however.

The jargon of today is the plainspeak of tomorrow. The reason common people use words like hard drive and engine are because they realized the best way to talk about a technical device was to use the concise word or phrase that best describes it. The author's point was that journalists choosing to use "plain English" has created or is creating a sentiment amongst the masses that jargon is hard and should be avoided. That is a dangerous sentiment. When people decide it's easiest to stop learning new words, communication becomes slow and error-prone.

Ever been to a doctor? Do you want him to tell you about your medical condition using jargon or clear language? How about the side effects of your prescription? Which is clearer?

I would absolutely prefer he use the jargon. If I don't understand a term I can ask him to define it, or look it up later. In 2012 there is even less of a reason to not use jargon than ever before. If you don't understand a word, highlight it and look it up. It's not tough. It's not like reading a newspaper fifty years ago when understanding exactly what the difference between fusion and fission took a trip to the library. To use your own example, let me ask you this: Would you rather be told you have "a heart condition" or "cardiomyopathy?" Which of those is going to get you answers about your affliction more quickly?

Scientists typically have a hard time conveying information about what they do to the public, precisely because they become used to the jargon and don't realize that the average reading ability of their audience is 7th grade.

Got it. So rather than educate people to the 12th grade, we will all communicate as 7th graders. In fact, we will go so far as to deprive people of the ability to be 12th graders by withholding "confusing jargon" and speaking complete in "plain English." Great solution. Go humanity.

For many people "meat" means dog, cat, snake, horse, and a host of other things.

Exactly, which is why we use dog, cat, snake, horse and not "meat," We are using the most specific term available to reduce confusion. That's why "we" went a step further and have ham and bacon, and not just pork.

By the way, your use of "dark" to refer to a T1 line is questionable. T1 is a copper pair which carries no light. "Dark" refers to fiber optic lines which do have a photonic signal when activated and are dark when disconnected. As in "dark fiber".

By the way, your understanding of T1 is questionable. T1 is a signalling method used to produce a 1.544 Mbit/s line rate and has nothing to do with the line over which the signal travels. T1 can be optical or copper, and an optical line with T1 signalling equipment at each end that is not powered up is dark.

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772825)

Even refering to a T1 line is questionable if you are writing to an international audience.

Re:Glad someone said it. (1)

bbartlog (1853116) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772899)

But the problem is that *because* the use of jargon implies that the speaker has mastered some technical and difficult subject, there is an incentive to use (even invent) jargon when it is totally unnecessary, just for the extra cred. Your doctor examples kind of suggest this. Other good medical examples are 'cryptogenic' or 'of unknown etiology', fancy ways of saying we don't know what caused it. There's also jargon as a way of signaling group membership, but that's a whole other can of worms. Maybe that's not even technically jargon.

Perhaps it's just the summary, but... (1)

Twisted64 (837490) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771645)

What? What is the problem? Is antipathy regarding jargon an issue for journalists?

If a language requires a large degree of labour to understand, there's no point using it in an article intended for the general public. Oooooh, this isn't about journalists (as I understood it from the title), it's about researchers acting like journalists.

My fear is that the percentage of people who use language correctly seems to be diminishing. I reassure myself with the thought that I can't pinpoint when this started happening. Our caveman ancestors would no doubt have torn The Reader Over Your Shoulder to shreds, metaphorically.

Speak the Reader's Language (4, Insightful)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771655)

Why is this sort of non-sense continuing to come up? If your audience is highly technical, and knowledgeable in the field then speak the language. If they are not, then bring it down to their level. It's common sense. The real question that should be being asked is whether or not to use non-technical, attention grabbing "buzz" words that add no value and are more likely to distance the reader from and hinder their understanding of the subject being discussed.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (0)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771797)

...annnnd seconded. It does not make sense to use terminology that will confuse and alienate your readers, and most people will go all idiocratic on you if you hand them a glossary. Give them as much news as they can be interested in and move on. The issue of educating readers is a valid one, but you shouldn't try to go too far in one step.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (5, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771825)

Why is this sort of non-sense continuing to come up? If your audience is highly technical, and knowledgeable in the field then speak the language. If they are not, then bring it down to their level. It's common sense.

There is nothing wrong with educating the reader. In fact, I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that was the whole point of writing.

When an author needs to explain parts of some THING or some THEORY, using the terms that the reader is likely to encounter in further reading is of benefit to the reader, and shouldn't be avoided. Nothing wrong with explaining your terms. Nothing wrong with providing a quick glossary/appendix (or links thereto) either.

No scientist or college course explained to me what Ullage Motors were. Walter Cronkite did.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771861)

Educating the reader is one thing. Speaking gibberish that leaves the reader confused, or worse (and more common) gives them a false sense of knowledge are entirely different.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (1)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772269)

Educating the reader is one thing. Speaking gibberish that leaves the reader confused, or worse (and more common) gives them a false sense of knowledge are entirely different.

...which would be exactly what I would call jargon, and explains succinctly why it is to be avoided.

Technical terms are not necessarily jargon, but they become so when the text starts to look like it was written in some private argot.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772401)

And jargon is a whole separate thing that could easily be either depending on how it's used.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771925)

I agree, if the terms are introduced judiciously and glossed for those unfamiliar. I often see pseudo-erudite writing for popular audiences using "technical" terms gratuitously, though, sometimes in places where a less-jargony term would have actually been superior. Also, failing to explain the jargon terms that are used. That kind of usage often, imo, serves more as a dialectal marker intending to indicate the writer's background, as opposed to a good-faith communication strategy.

But Orwell already wrote about all this [wikipedia.org] a while ago.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (2)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772331)

I often see pseudo-erudite writing for popular audiences using "technical" terms gratuitously, though, sometimes in places where a less-jargony term would have actually been superior. Also, failing to explain the jargon terms that are used.

Right. I think some of the confusion here arises from the fact that, for a guy who's complaining about journalists not using the right terms for things, he seems to have chosen his terms poorly.

My dictionary defines jargon as, "The specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group, especially when viewed as difficult to understand by outsiders." As a secondary definition it has, "Nonsensical or incoherent language."

From those definitions, the real meaning of the term is clear. Words aren't jargon just because they're technical terms. Words become jargon when they start to obscure the meaning of the text, intentionally or otherwise.

Just the other day I had someone email me to explain to me the "logistics" of a conference session I was to attend. By "logistics," however, he really meant directions -- he was literally telling me to take the elevator to the fourth floor, go past the concierge desk, and it would be the third room on the left. That's pure jargon -- it's not even a correct usage of the word -- and in my experience, business communication is rife with it. Business people who are trying to sound important will never use a simple word when a three-syllable one will do.

As a journalist who covers companies, I have to wade through that kind of crap every day, and it's my job to rescue readers from it.

Technical terms, on the other hand, usually have their place, and because I write about technical topics for professionals, I use a lot of them. Knowing when and where their place is, however, also part of the job.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (2)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772941)

Business people who are trying to sound important will never use a simple word when a three-syllable one will do.

They are simply interfacing with you to build consensus and team cohesion, working toward common goals and meaningful milestones. This requires sharing broad vision and shared sacrifices. By facilitating your gaining context, they hope guide you to greater synergy.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771903)

A friend who is involved in the production of public service-type adverts tells me that they work to a comprehension age of 8 when preparing media for adults. Between this and the time limits of both attention spans and TV style media if becomes almost impossible to introduce new ideas. The old ideas can be repeated as people already have a mental hook to hang it on but new ideas cannot be explained.

And over time people come to expect everything to be as easy to understand. If we operate at 80% of capacity for long enough that becomes the new 100%. Then we have to work to the new 80%,

On occasion we should be challenged. And then identify if the challenge is worthwhile.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (4, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772049)

If your audience is highly technical, and knowledgeable in the field then speak the language. If they are not, then bring it down to their level. It's common sense.

Not everything can be dumbed down.
And not everything should be dumbed down.

Here's a lengthy rant from Richard Feynman when being asked about magnets (how do they work?)
Watch the first minute, then skip to 3m 56s [youtube.com]
He more or less says that some questions are too complicated to be explained in terms "that you're more familiar with".

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772277)

He more or less says that some questions are too complicated to be explained in terms "that you're more familiar with".

If those things are too complicated to be explained in terms that the listener is familiar with, then the concept is probably not of any importance to the listener to start with. And if the listener isn't familiar with your terms, you're going to have to bring him up to speed before you can slap all the technical words on him anyway.

"Why do magnets work" doesn't need a full quantum mechanical lecture with Maxwell's equations and tensors and Feynman diagrams and chromodynamics tossed on for good measure to get the point across to a lay audience who might ask that question. Eleven dimensional string theory, hypothetical subatomic particles carrying the "field"? To one of his advanced physics classes, yes. To Joe Sixpack, no.

It's like a five year old asking "where do babies come from"? You don't go into genetics and meiosis and fallopian tubes and all the gory details to answer that question. You don't need to. Nor do you need to go into a full fluid dynamics/thermal transfer/equilibrium discussion to explain why CO2 keeps heat trapped.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772141)

It can be difficult. Jargon is often well defined only within a particular field, and can mean something entirely different in another field, or, more typically, nothing at all. Judicious use of jargon makes sense though.

"I instrumented and characterized a high speed buffer as part of the silicon validation strategy" - This is a sentence people would use at my job, and while many of the words are approachable to the uninitiated, it sounds awkward and some of the words are near fits that don't mean what the dictionary says they mean while others are just inscrutable ("A buffer? What, is your paint scratched?"). This sentence could be converted to "I tested the chip" to the least educated of audiences, it doesn't quite mean that, but it's close enough. Chip is jargon, though widely enough known that you probably could find it in a dictionary, but it's easy to include Figure 1 "A Chip", and instantly everyone would know what I mean, and not a potato chip, a french fry, a piece of stone broken off a larger piece of stone, or that chocolate thing in cookies.

Re:Speak the Reader's Language (1)

formfeed (703859) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772789)

bring it down to their level. It's common sense.

Which reader?
The average reader? an interested reader? a reader willing to engage his/her brain? or the majority of readers?

Yes! The majority of readers! Majority good. Masses makes advertising money. Jargon bad. Long sentences bad. Writing for 3yos good.

Journalists should do their research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771659)

Yeah, I know this is offtopic and so on, but instead of worrying about the terminology, journalists should make sure they are writing non-false statements
Case in point [fox2now.com]

The Senate Democratsâ(TM) bill would extend the tax cuts â" which are now set to expire at the end of the year â" just on incomes under $250,000 for a couple and $200,000 for an individual. ... The GOP bill would extend the tax cuts for all taxpayers

As I understand it, the Democrat bill will also extend tax cuts for all taxpayers, just not for the amounts above 200K/250K. Most articles make it seem like if you earn 251K, then you are going to get no tax reductions at all (rather than tax reduction on 250K and no reduction on the remaining 1K).

Re:Journalists should do their research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771807)

Same thing about US drones killing "militants" vs "suspected militants" vs just "people". It's a lie to say that what the US military reports is militant deaths (because everyone killed by a drone is defined by them to be a militant), yet many mainstream press publications repeat this lie without a second thought. "Suspected militants" is misleading. Very few news sites actually call those killed what they really are: unidentified people.

Re:Journalists should do their research (1)

tragedy (27079) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772399)

My favorite is how mercenaries are always called "contractors", with the nature of their contract left unexplained. You're left to wonder how all these people who are presumably there to hang drywall based on their title keep getting in so much trouble.

JOURNALISTS KNOWING WHAT THEY TALK ABOUT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771689)

How about that for a change? If you don't know about it, learn 1st - it doesn't have to be a degree, at least good laymen's know-how with citable material from reputable sources. I.E. - Brush up yourself on it as well as possible on your part before writing on it. What's the point otherwise??? You can't sell product, even news/ideas, without believing in it. You can't believe in it if you didn't know it well enough in the first place. Yes, lastly, it's simple enough to tell as the consumer of said ouputs as to what is what on that account as to whether the deliverer of it knows what he's on about.

Re:JOURNALISTS KNOWING WHAT THEY TALK ABOUT (1)

clemdoc (624639) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771865)

You can't believe in it if you didn't know it well enough in the first place.

I fear you'll find many people who ardently believe one thing or another without having any clue whatsoever.

This is what sources are for... (2)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771701)

If you don't have relevant qualifications, credit and refer to someone who does. Quote them explaining what the jargon means. It's the most honest way of saying 'I don't know what it means exactly, but I took the time to find someone who does'.

It's not like we're filthy primitives who live in caves and don't know how to hyperlink.

Re:This is what sources are for... (1)

Crypto Gnome (651401) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772485)

+1 as per the above

The issue is that journo-droids spend SO MUCH TIME dumbing-down their story for "the unwashed barely literate masses" that instead of actually INFORMING them they're just spouting mindless rubbish which ONLY VAGUELY relates to the actual issue/story at hand.

That, my friend, is nothing more than media-hype!

UNFORTUNATELY the dictionary-entry for 'journalism" describes *exactly* this problem.

journalism [jur-nl-iz-uhm] Show IPA noun 1. the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business. 2. press1 ( def. 31 ) . 3. a course of study preparing students for careers in reporting, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. 4. writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing: He calls himself a historian, but his books are mere journalism.

Nothing there at all about "informing" or "educating", it's nothing more than "make shit up and yak on about it".

Audience (1)

LordLucless (582312) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771841)

If you're writing for Nature, yes, you should use scientific jargon. Your audience are scientists, or those interested enough in science to buy Nature. Maybe include a glossary, or a quick definition in an aside, but your audience is looking for technical details, not a quick summary.

If you're writing for the Times, don't. Your audience doesn't care about the ins-and-outs, they want to hear about practical effects.

I did one single subject in Journalism at university almost ten years ago and I know this. This is not rocket science.

Re:Audience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772329)

That's taken for granted. But the issues are:

1) There's a huge grey area between the two. A sure fraction of readers will be able to understand the basics. Just as you would expect someone reading the sports section to have a basic understanding and knowledge of the sports and teams your covering
2) Avoiding technical sometimes becomes the bigger chore, especially when your intention is to write about something technical. This creates text which is either more convoluted or lacks meaning.

Unnecessary (3, Insightful)

Chemisor (97276) | about a year and a half ago | (#40771843)

How about we not create so much unnecessary jargon in the first place? Is it really necessary to say "Mr.Smith, you have a serious condition called 'pneumothorax'", followed by an explanation when you could simply say "Mr.Smith, your lung has collapsed."? If there already is a simple descriptive term that adequately expresses what you wish to say, stop inventing argot just so you can look smart. Yes, people tend to think you are smart when you speak of things they don't understand. When you take advantage of that, you're just being a pompous jerk.

Re:Unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771907)

THIS.
A thousand times this.

Every time I hear such a gigantic word penis being uttered, I think: "ENGLISH, motherfucker! Do you speak it??"

Re:Unnecessary (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772047)

How about we not create so much unnecessary jargon in the first place? Is it really necessary to say "Mr.Smith, you have a serious condition called 'pneumothorax'", followed by an explanation when you could simply say "Mr.Smith, your lung has collapsed."?

the problem there isn't the existence of jargon, but its misuse. It can be exchanged between professionals, and the professionals can and should use plain speech when speaking to laymen.

Re:Unnecessary (4, Informative)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772255)

Just because you don't understand it doesn't make it unnecessary.

"Pneumothorax: accumulation of air in the chest leading to collapse of the lung"

"leading to" != "is".

Also, I kinda doubt a doctor talking to a patient uses "big words" to show they're smart, since at that point that usually is established. It is simply the more correct term. Like you say "browser" when talking to someone else, instead of "the window in which websites show up". You say browser, and make sure they know what you mean by explaining what it is. But you don't say something that's technically bullshit, just to appease them.

Also, some patients actually prefer not having their diagnosis watered down for them. Them being adults and all that. If that's not you, why not shut the fuck up? If you don't understand what they're saying and can't be arsed to learn, just tell them "I'm too dumb or lazy too understand, just do your thing please". And don't forget to say thank you, either, when they fixed your boo-boo.

stop inventing argot just so you can look smart

Argot? Bullshit. You're the conspirator in this case, by being proud of being ignorant.

Re:Unnecessary (0)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772327)

If you don't understand what they're saying and can't be arsed to learn, just tell them "I'm too dumb or lazy too understand,

Problem is, they're telling you things that you need to make decisions about now, in many cases, not after you've gone home or to the library to look it all up.

As for being "lazy" or "dumb", you're just a flamebait spigot, aren't you?

I'd say that the "intelligent" fellow who uses jargon with someone who isn't expected to know it is the lazy one, since he's supposed to have a grasp of the concepts behind the jargon and can't be arsed to use simple words for his intended audience. If you know what pneumothorax is and cannot convert that to "air in the chest that is causing a collapse of your lung" then I doubt you have a full grasp of what it means in the first place.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772989)

Problem is, they're telling you things that you need to make decisions about now, in many cases, not after you've gone home or to the library to look it all up.

Oh yeah? The post I replied to:

Is it really necessary to say "Mr.Smith, you have a serious condition called 'pneumothorax'", followed by an explanation when you could simply say "Mr.Smith, your lung has collapsed."?

Notice that "collapsed lung" and "pneumothorax" are NOT the same thing.

Also, I'm personally not aware of cases where something a patient needs to make a decision about isn't explained to them, and they've certainly not been part of this discussion until you went ahead and made them up.

As for being "lazy" or "dumb", you're just a flamebait spigot, aren't you?

Learn to fucking read, then get back to me on that.

If you know what pneumothorax is and cannot convert that to "air in the chest that is causing a collapse of your lung" then I doubt you have a full grasp of what it means in the first place.

I see what you did there, namely wanking over strawmen.

However, the post I replied to didn't say "X can lead to Y", but "X IS Y", and moaned. They, and I, assumed that "jargon" being followed by an explanation. See the stuff about "browser".

Nobody argued for using jargon and not explaining it, you nitwit. Have a dumb fucking day.

Re:Unnecessary (3, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772367)

Is it really necessary to say "Mr.Smith, you have a serious condition called 'pneumothorax'", followed by an explanation when you could simply say "Mr.Smith, your lung has collapsed."? If there already is a simple descriptive term that adequately expresses what you wish to say, stop inventing argot just so you can look smart.

Actually, I'm pretty sure they give diseases specific names so that they can match the cure to the disease. You might not really need to know that you have pneumothorax, but your doctors, nurses, and pharmacists do.

Saying "your lung collapsed" is not sufficient. That's like diagnosing you with "an infection." It might be all you care to know, but that much knowledge isn't enough to get you cured.

P.S. Pneumothorax doesn't mean you have a collapsed lung.

Re:Unnecessary (2)

Guppy (12314) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772971)

P.S. Pneumothorax doesn't mean you have a collapsed lung.

Absolutely correct, it refers to air in the pleural cavity (which would normally be not so much a cavity, as more of a "potential space").

In explaining a medical condition to a layman, I would have no problem telling him he had collapsed lung. But if I were to read "collapsed lung" in some de-jargonized medical record, I would have no idea if the writer meant Atelectasis [wikipedia.org] instead.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

godrik (1287354) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772433)

"Is it really necessary to say "Mr.Smith, you have a serious condition called 'pneumothorax'", followed by an explanation when you could simply say "Mr.Smith, your lung has collapsed."? "

I think it is important for a specialist to give you the actually name of your disease. You might see another doctor later that will be happy to know the actual name of the disease. Or you might be interested in knowing the disease you have. Or you might actually know what pneumothorax is (which I don't). Here is a case where I believe jargon is actually relevant.

Re:Unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772617)

Medical terms are about the worst example of "unnecessary jargon" you could have possibly picked. Maybe it's not completely necessary to introduce every bit of jargon to your patient in the cases where simple English will suffice (as in your example), but using precise terms is hells of necessary when medical professionals are trying to communicate efficiently with each other. That you dismiss it all as "trying to look smart" says more about your insecurities than anything.

Re:Unnecessary (3, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772727)

Stop reveling in your ignorance. Technical terms exist to differentiate between similar ideas that have important differences. That you don't know what those differences are does not mean that they're not important.

Twas wirble, and the slithy toves did gyre ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771855)

Of course they should embrace jargon if they want to stay ahead of the curve when the paradigm
shifts are coming faster than the speed of a proton in the CERN basement, and thicker than
the skull of the past two CEOs of HP.

But muhfggaz gotz ta be hip to use the shit right, so they beez cold-lampin'
with the laptop and serenading the Sirens of Titan.

Too complicated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771893)

Bear in mind that most publications are intentionally written at a fifth grade reading level, so that the average reader can handle them. Using jargon would probably be too much for the average reader.

Better yet report the truth (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771915)

and stop sucking obama's micro dick.

throttle, break, gear? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40771923)

Why do I have to learn all these technical terms, I just want to drive a car!

Especially... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772161)

When the jargon comes from military or political pundits who use Newspeak to obfuscate and manipulate an information and analysis starved public, jargon provides the impression of tacit agreement and/or approval. And just as 'embedding' reporters with troops interferes with objectivity, unless a reporter can maintain some degree of separation and objectivity, by continually using more neutral terms, the reporter runs with risk of falling away from a less educated audience.

I find this to be particularly insidious in politics where the continual repetition of a term encourages the adoption of point of view as well. George Lakoff explains this tactic in his book, Don't Think of An Elephant.

Blame marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772209)

...or Canada. :)
"People seem to resent...any language that requires a [tiny] degree of labour to understand, appreciate and use."
Concepts that govern copywriting, like KISS, dumb down not only language and content, but the dormant inquisitiveness that I prefer to assume lies deep within most readers. As long as we keep dumbing everything down (warning labels, copywriting)...IDK...we might fucking up people's mirror neurons in a roundabout way.

Who will read it? (2)

pegasustonans (589396) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772211)

Readership of large magazines and newspapers declined rather drastically since the Second World War.

In recent years, large media organizations are often using even simpler language than in previous decades.

So, I have to ask, while there will always be a small segment of the population with the desire to both be 'well-informed' and the discipline necessary to attain that goal, how are you going to bridge the gap between this small audience and the far larger one which primarily seeks non-educational entertainment?

While journalism with solid evidence and sophisticated language is an excellent ideal and a noble goal, the reality of a population with minimal desire to understand issues on a deeper level constrains the business side of things.

While the news media is partially to blame for the situation where many people are minimally educated and willfully ignorant, our education system, politics and cultural values all play a part as well. Are we going to change all of these facets of our contemporary society in order to make journalism with sophisticated language successful, and, if so, how would we go about doing so pragmatically?

Re:Who will read it? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772923)

Sometime around Reagan's term there was a proposal to save money in depressed areas by only teaching a vastly reduced sort of pidgin English called Ebonics. It appears this was seen as racist so it was applied across the board and all you poor sods ended up with an education inferior to what you'd get in Nigeria.

So that's an exaggeration, but sadly it's only a slight one, and not very fair on Nigeria where standards have been improving.

A consequence of education cuts in the USA and other parts of the west is we get idiots here that thing the height of language is a spelling bee and not getting an idea accross - in a more complete education Shakespeare and Chaucer and given to students in small doses to get the spelling obsession out of their systems.
Anyway, we've ended up with some sort of newspeak with only a couple of thousand acceptable words to use, with wild distortions of meaning driven by advertising and a lot of people adding private definitions of words on the fly or at their convenience if they think they are losing an argument.

Because everyone is dumber.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772321)

It seems as the world is getting more complex, the general population is becoming dumber. How many times have you seen reasonably intelligent people dismiss trying to attempt something because "It's too complicated for me"? This attitude is becoming the norm and is only being encouraged by dumbing things down for them. If it's truly too complicated for them, they probably can't contribute anything meaningful to the topic. Gettting the 4th grade version usually only leads to people opining on something they know very little about. (e.g. Almost all technology discussions)

Less is more (1)

chilvence (1210312) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772347)

I would say people should write with their intended audience in mind, but then somewhere along the line someone invented legalese and ruined everything for everybody, because the intended audience of that is no living thing.

What irks me though, is people that fish for as many big words as they can to try to sound clever, even when talking about things that should be simple. If you can't keep it straightforward, then you are just talking for your own benefit and nobody elses...

In summary, use jargon if you have to, but if you use it where you don't need to, I KILL YOU

"So-called" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772351)

Nothing irritates me more than seeing journalists use the phrase "so-called" to avoid explaining the meaning behind a technical (or simply colloquial) term. Or sometimes anything about the subject.

If people working in a particular field have a word to describe something common to that field, that IS the correct word to use. The insinuation that there is some ambiguity about what the thing should be referred to as is unnecessary.

matter of professional judgment (1)

nightcats (1114677) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772421)

Yes, it's not a yes or no answer; it's a matter of professional judgment, and there comes the rub, for there are so few professionals in modern journalism. Not because we're stupid but because we lack a culture of mentorship -- old pros are tossed aside like, well, yesterday's news, and the young are left to learn the long, hard, bad way -- often in an environment where survival is critical and ethics are optional. A recent example from what I now call Higgs-dependence Day (July 4): generally, the trend here went toward jargon. Journalists attempted to educate readers in a little of the theoretical minutiae behind the Higgs field, and ran the risk of losing those who didn't GAS in the first place anyway. Hacks and amateurs resorted instantly to the phrase "God particle" and ran with it. In politics, it's perhaps worst of all, because the hacks own the field, and even at places like the NYT, usualy reduce everything to what I call a common "de-numb-inator." I read Grist regularly and see the frustration amid their editors at the trained ignorance in matters like climate change/climate science. Again: the problem is in the culture, not in the people. Folks who want to keep their jobs know that you have to work from the outside in, and the further in you get the more cred you have. Professionals, the few that remain, know that the journalist's job is as a critical, questioning, sometimes abrasive outsider who names virtually all his sources and engages in little or no games of push-me-pull-you intellectual commerce.

Right, but... (1)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772495)

At least as far as it relates to scientific jargon, every specialized field in science has it's own distinct jargon, that's not compatible with the jargon from any other scientific field, even when you have objects, methods, and traits that cross disciplines. Scientific journalists, unless they specialize in one very specific field should be smart enough to notice this. That's why they're hostile towards jargon. If the jargon was standard across all scientific fields, journalists would use more of it; because while all this makes perfect sense to scientists... nobody else gets it. And why should they? Seriously people.

jargon is for... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40772583)

Jargon is for jackanapes, whereas argot is for auteurs.

Jargon? (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772779)

Hell, I would be happy if they would stop using "busted" instead of "broken".

Re:Jargon? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about a year and a half ago | (#40772979)

Hell, I would be happy if they would stop using "busted" instead of "broken".

I'd vote for cutting down on the -ize words.
Ruggedized is a word, but most of the time it's used as a bad substitute for rugged.
Similar for utilized and used. By all means, use utilized, but not when you mean use.
Burglarized is another word that's almost always used incorrectly. If you are systematically being targeted by burglars, or you get trained to become one, you are burglarized. If your house gets broken into and items stolen, you've been burgled.

Oh, and "refactoring". It doesn't mean what most people who use the word (including programmers) think it means.

Overestimating the importance of your field (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40773037)

We all think the jargon of our chosen field is important and therefore should be widely understood. But really, think about this when you do your taxes and file legal documents. Do you invest the time and effort to learn the legalese? Why do you expect others to do the same for your field?

No thanks (1)

Art3x (973401) | about a year and a half ago | (#40773063)

English has unusually broad origins: Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Latin, and Greek. And for no good reason. It's entirely an artifact of its political history.

So, there is a lot of redundancy. Several words that mean the same thing yet someone says they all have different shades of meaning. Sometime true, like the difference between imply and infer. Other times, they are just all the same word, one Anglo-Saxon, one Latin, one Greek. It's like importing the Spanish word for dog, perro, and using dog sometimes and sometimes perro and claiming subtle shifts in meaning.

The author claims one advantage of jargon is brevity. Sometimes that's true. But the words of jargon typically are Latin, which always has more syllables than Anglo-Saxon. So if you measure the length by units of sound --- which more closely follows how much brainpower it takes to process a word --- and not by "words" of arbitrary length, then the jargonless version is usually shorter.

The worst is how scientists make up a new name using several long words. Then, since the phrase is too tiresome to write or say daily, they take turn it into an acronym, thus absolutely sealing its meaning. For example, when I was working as a technical writer describing a network, I remember unravelling Carrier Sense Multiple Access (CSMA). "Carrier Sense" means "listening." "Multiple Access" means several are talking. So its a way for several to talk in the same room by first listening to make sure no one else already is saying something. Had they called it Listen-First Group Talk (5 syllables) instead of Carrier Sense Multiple Access (9 syllables) then technicians and laymen alike could grasp it on first hearing, and it would less likely have been acronymized, since it's just one more syllable than a four-letter acronym.

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