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The Tangled Language of Jargon | JSTOR Daily
"What our emotional reaction to jargon reveals about the evolution of the English language, and how the use of specialized terms can manipulate meaning."



"How Jargon Can Exclude and Obscure

It turns out that, far from being objective, jargon—outwardly a sober, professional kind of talk for experts from different occupational fields—has always carried with it some very human impulses, placing power and prestige over knowledge. A doctor, for example, might inappropriately use jargon in explaining a diagnosis to a patient, which prevents the patient from participating in their own care. This quality of jargon attracts those that might want to obscure biases, beef up simplistic ideas, or even hide social or political embarrassments behind a slick veneer of seemingly objective, “scientific” language without being challenged.

Latinate forms happen to lend themselves well to new terminology like this, especially technical jargon, for those very perceptions of precision and prestige, as well as detachment. But this detachment comes with a price. The alienness and incomprehensibility of new jargon words we’re unfamiliar with might sometimes make us a mite uncomfortable. It can sound inauthentic, compared to other innovative language change, from slang to secret languages. There are all kinds of innovative speech used by certain groups not just to share information easily, or to talk about new ideas, but also to show belonging and identity—and to keep outsiders out.

It’s one of the reasons people hate jargon with a passion and have been railing against it for years, centuries even. H. W. Fowler called it “talk that is considered both ugly-sounding and hard to understand.” L.E. Sissman is a little more subtle. Sissman defines jargon as “all of these debased and isolable forms of the mother tongue that attempt to paper over an unpalatable truth and/or to advance the career of the speaker (or the issue, cause or product he is agent for) by a kind of verbal sleight of hand, a one-upmanship of which the reader or listener is victim.”

Jargon, as useful as it is in the right contexts, can end up being socially problematic and divisive when it hides and manipulates meanings from those who need to receive the information. This negative reception hasn’t stopped jargon that apes scientific language from being widely produced, by economists, academics, entrepreneurs, journalists… and probably even poets. Jargon has now become the devil’s corporate middle management’s language, making information harder to share and receive. It has seeped into almost every facet of a complex modern life, giving us new buzzwords not even a mother could love, with terms like self-actualization, monetize, incentivize, imagineering, onboarding, synergize, and the like. And there’s so much more where that came from.

When Jargon Becomes Dangerous

William D. Lutz talks about how jargon and doublespeak can often be carefully designed to cover up embarrassing or secret information. For example, a commercial airline that had a 727 crash, killing three passengers, was able to pass off the resulting three million dollar insurance profit on its books as “the involuntary conversion of a 727,” which was unlikely to be questioned by confused shareholders whose eyes would probably have glazed over from the cumbersome legal jargon.

Words aren’t equal just because they mean the same thing, especially when the stakes are high. It’s not simply a matter of knowing or not knowing the meaning of these words, or if they accurately describe facts, but what Sally McConnell-Ginet calls the conceptual or cultural baggage, the hidden background assumptions the language carries with them, the ‘ologies and ‘isms that pretend to be something they’re not. Most recently in politics, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings showed how deftly legal terminology can be wielded to avoid or plausibly deny or confuse clear facts. For example, denying knowledge of stolen documents is literally not a lie if you steadfastly assume they aren’t stolen, despite textual evidence to the contrary. The statement “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land” literally defers to a fact, the meaning of which is true. The conceptual baggage the statement carries with it, however, strongly suggests the writer does not disagree with the opinion.

Linguist Dwight Bolinger suggests that this is exactly the kind of heinous abuse of meaning that makes linguistic activism critical, shining a spotlight on these egregious cases where lies are hidden by omission or avoidance of the truth in jargon, euphemism, doublespeak, and other linguistic trickery."
jargon  language  specialization  2018  chiluu  communication  manipulation  english  synonyms  williamlutz  georgeorwell  styleguides  writing  linguistics  words 
september 2018 by robertogreco
Style guide links | susan jean robertson
"As a follow up to my article on A List Apart I thought I would put together a list of links that have been extremely helpful to me as I’ve thought about style guides. So here we go:"
susanrobertson  styleguides  via:nicolefenton 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Welcome | Voice and Tone
"Before you write content for MailChimp, it’s important to think about our readers. Though our voice doesn’t change, our tone adapts to our users’ feelings. This interactive guide will show you how that works."



"Voice and tone. Tone and voice. Tone of voice. What’s the difference, anyway?

You hear a lot about brand voices and personalities in content conversations. A brand’s voice doesn’t change much. A brand’s tone, on the other hand? It has to change, depending on both the situation and the person at the other end of the content. Our tone of voice not only affects the user’s emotional state, but it should also be informed by the user’s emotional state—that means our tone is constantly changing.

MailChimp’s voice is first and foremost human. It’s familiar, it’s friendly, and it’s straightforward. We crack jokes and tell stories, but we know when to keep a straight face too. We’re helpful. And when we’re helping people, we use language that educates and empowers them without patronizing or confusing them. We have more than a million users—and millions more potential users—who experience a whole spectrum of emotions when they’re interacting with MailChimp. So we consciously adjust our tone, based on our users’ feelings.

This interactive chart takes you through the different types of content MailChimp publishes. As you scroll through the content types, you’ll get a sense of how a user might feel in each scenario, and how we’d speak to that user. This isn’t meant to be used as a lookup tool or a set of rules. It’s meant to change our perspective, and help us put ourselves in our readers’ shoes. This is really an internal tool, so its content is MailChimp-specific. But any company can relate.

Our content has power. The right tone of voice can turn someone’s confusion into trust, skepticism into optimism, boredom into curiosity. The wrong tone of voice can turn someone’s interest into annoyance, anticipation into disappointment, frustration into full-on anger. That’s a big responsibility, and the best way we can handle that responsibility is to be empathetic writers. That’s why this guide exists."
mailchimp  branding  styleguides  copywriting  writing 
june 2013 by robertogreco
For Dewey, Bellow, and Sweetness: The Story of the Chicago Comma - storify.com
"The University of Oxford no longer uses the "Oxford" or serial Comma in its own publications. Even though the serial comma is still recommended by Oxford University Press, we feel that the time has come for the torch to be passed to a new city on a new continent. We say: let the so-called Oxford Comma become hereafter known as the Chicago Comma."
timcarmody  danielsinker  oxford  oxfordcomma  punctuation  chicago  2011  manualofstyle  writing  style  ego  humor  appropriation  renaming  classideas  storify  commas  howwewrite  parentheses  quotationmarks  dumbquotes  serialcomma  language  communication  comments  styleguides 
june 2011 by robertogreco
For Dewey, Bellow, and Sweetness: The Story of the Chicago Comma - storify.com
"The University of Oxford no longer uses the "Oxford" or serial Comma in its own publications. Even though the serial comma is still recommended by Oxford University Press, we feel that the time has come for the torch to be passed to a new city on a new continent. We say: let the so-called Oxford Comma become hereafter known as the Chicago Comma."
timcarmody  danielsinker  oxford  oxfordcomma  punctuation  chicago  2011  manualofstyle  writing  style  ego  humor  appropriation  renaming  classideas  storify  commas  howwewrite  parentheses  quotationmarks  dumbquotes  serialcomma  language  communication  johndewey  saulbellow  styleguides 
june 2011 by robertogreco
Oxford Writing and Style Guide no longer recommending the Oxford comma
"The kottke.org style guide still advocates the use of the Oxford comma, but take that with a grain of salt; I also misuse semicolons, use too many (often unnecessary) parentheses -- not to mention m-dashes that are actually rendered as two n-dashes in old-school ASCII fashion -- use too many commas, and place punctuation outside quotation marks, which many people find, in the words of Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan, "bogus". Oh, and in another nod to the old-school, I also use "dumb quotes" instead of the fancier and, I guess, technically more correct "smart quotes". (via, who else?, @tcarmody (or should that be "whom else?"))"
writing  style  oxford  commas  kottke  howwewrite  punctuation  parentheses  quotationmarks  dumbquotes  2011  serialcomma  oxfordcomma  language  communication  styleguides 
june 2011 by robertogreco
BBC - BBC Internet Blog: A new global visual language for the BBC's digital services
"About 2 years ago, after printing out the site onto what has now become jokingly known as the 'Wall of Shame' we decided to embark on an ambitious project, called Global Visual Language 2.0, with the aim of unifying the visual and interaction design of bbc.co.uk and the mobile website. ... We've lived with and loved the distinctly 'web 2.0' design for a while now and it's done us proud. However, time's moved on, and in autumn last year we decided it was time to resurrect the project. We set out to broaden our ambitions; to create a design philosophy and world-class design standards that all designers across the business could adhere to. We wanted to find the soul of the BBC. We wanted something distinctive and recognisable; we wanted drama. We knew whatever we created needed to be truly cross-platform and that we needed to simplify our user journeys."
bbc  typography  design  webdev  branding  research  language  redesign  grids  webdesign  web2.0  visual  ux  ui  layout  web  styleguides 
february 2010 by robertogreco

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