News update
  • Cyclone Remal: Ctg Port alert 3, Payra Port danger signal 7     |     
  • 'Remal' likely to hit Bangladesh by Saturday evening     |     
  • Fresh rainstorms, floods kill 17 in Afghanistan     |     
  • “Decision to provide expensive cars to DCs, UNOs a waste of money”     |     

Communication by using less Jargons

Columns 2024-05-13, 11:16pm


Prof. M Zahidul Haque

Prof. M Zahidul Haque

GEOFFERY Chaucer who is regarded as the ‘Father of English Literature’ was the first to use the term “Jargon” in his ‘The Canterbury Tales’ – a collection of 24 stories. In Chaucer’s words, January is “full of Jargon like a flocked pie”—that is, a magpie. By the word “Jargon’, Chaucer actually referred to birdsong, i.e. the chattering sounds of birds. So, jargon was originally a word of birdsong.

As we cannot decode the chattering sounds of birdsongs, so, it’s unintelligible to us. In the mid-1300s, English adopted the word ‘Jargon’ with the meaning birdsong and nonsense talk! However, in the mid seventeenth century, modern sense of language full of technical terminology plus esoteric vocabulary was emerged when uses of jargon got its way into our scientific as well as daily languages.

Jargon is defined as a specialized language used by professionals in certain disciplines or fields, e.g. science, education, medicine, legal, etc. Jargons often help experts communicate with clarity and precision within the group. For example, ‘agonal’ is a medical jargon used to indicate a major negative change in a patient’s condition. This word is understandable to the people in medical profession but to other; ‘agonal’ is an unknown and confusing word. Hence, it’s a jargon to them. In this way, lawyers use legalese, academics use academes, etc.

‘Dek’, for instance, is a journalism term, indicates a ‘subheading’ which is a jargon to people other than journalists. Agriculturists use a jargon-“Chemigation’ which means- “application of Chemicals to crops or fields in irrigation water” while Engineers ask for ‘Ballpark’, that is, ‘to make an estimate’. ‘Significant’ is a word which most people mean ‘important’ but to scientists, it is a statistical significance to distinguish random chance.

In scientific and technical writing, a lot of jargons are used which are not understandable to ordinary readers. The purpose of a scientific/technical article is to inform research outcome or science information in a simple language so that every reader can understand the content. So, use of jargons in scientific writing for common readers should be avoided as far as possible.

Lately, we are habituated to use ‘Internet Jargon’, such as, BTW-By the way, FAQ-Frequently asked questions, etc. Sometimes pronunciations create jargon, i.e. becomes difficult for the listeners to distinguish between correct and incorrect pronunciation, for instance, some people pronounced ‘Almond’ as Al-mond but in pronouncing Almond, the ‘L’ sound is silent—just ‘aa•muhnd’ (in both British and American English).

Some scientific writers have a tendency of increasing the length of their stuff by using redundancies, that is, use of words more than necessary to express some ideas, for instance, ‘true facts’. In reality, something which is a fact is true. 

Extra word is redundant, for example, “in those areas where” can be replaced by simply saying-“where”. Redundancies are mostly considered as a jargon which reduces clarity and creates noise in communication. Redundant words/phrases make sentences sound repetitive. Editors including technical editors while editing manuscripts usually pen through such lines containing redundancies, not only to make expressions understandable but also to save spaces. Perhaps it is better to avoid jargons as much as possible.

A scientific article not necessarily should contain lengthy discussion; the writer should be confined only to essentials. Short articles with necessary information are easy to read and understood. For instance, the world’s shortest Physics paper “The Ratio of Proton and Electron Mass” by Friedrich Lenz published in 1951 contained only 27 words, 1 equation, 1 number and 1 reference.

A good article is usually written in simple and soft language using euphemism—polite expression avoiding words that might sound harsh or unpleasant, for example, in place of ‘died’ ‘passed away’, instead of ‘jail’ ‘correctional facility’ may be used.

After jargon comes the generation and application of ‘buzzwords’. Buzzwords are originated from technical terms and jargon and widely used particularly in the corporate arena, e.g. artificial intelligence. In international travel--‘ecotourism’, ‘medical tourism’ are very popular buzzwords.

Often jargon and buzzword turns slang. Slangs are informal expressions, often carries bad impression. For example, technical jargon-“Bandwidth” is now familiar to many people including Internet users. Bandwidth measures the amount of information that can be transmitted over a connection. But Bandwidth is now also used as slang—a person having a slow Bandwidth means low or weak in mental capacity and intelligence, Use of jargons in scientific seminar or symposium creates difficulty in understanding terms by the general participants. But they would not go for clarification for fear of looking stupid.

Jargons are no doubt useful in scientific communication but it is better to avoid jargons as far as possible. Rather plain and common language should be used in writing and in presenting scientific articles.

Of course, it is essential to train people working in scientific and technical disciplines learn how to use jargons for effective communication and how to avoid jargon and redundancies. It may be mentioned here that the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) have been running a useful training program on “Technical Report Writing and Editing” for the technical editors plus other related scientists. This author had also the opportunity to delivering lecture as a Resource Person on the topic titled--“Words and Expressions to Avoid” for some time. Meanwhile it is felt that such training should be arranged at least twice a year for all the scientific professionals to make them well conversant with technical writing and efficient use of words including jargon.

(Prof. M Zahidul Haque is retired Professor and former Chairman of Department of Language, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka)