A to Z Day 10: Jargon

Click for A-Z blog list.

Click for A-Z blog list.

Jargon is specialized language, usually either of the technical or academic varieties. It serves a very important purpose: it allowsspecialists to communicate among themselves with a high degree of precision. The problem with jargon, though, is that it’s so precise, and includes so many terms, it sounds like a foreign language to people who don’t know all the concepts. There just aren’t that many specialists in any given field. So you want to stay away from it if you’re attempting to communicate clearly with a large audience.

Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, famously suggested that scientists from different disciplines need translators just as much as people who speak different languages. This problem is compounded more by the fact that people sometimes use jargon for the following reasons:

  • Just to seem smart.
  • To prove they are actually as educated as their credentials indicate.
  • Because they’ve forgotten that people outside their field find that sort of talk incomprehensible.
  • As a cynical ploy to win an argument by confusing everyone else into agreeing (specialists who are also politicians are especially good at this one).

I am fluent in several of these specialized languages. I was once asked in a job interview “do you speak nerd?” And I said “yes, yes I do.” Because I know what SSL stands for and what Fortran was. I have a reading knowledge of theology, philosophy, geography, history, and economics; am conversant in the language of literary criticism and rhetoric/composition; and am fluent in the grand dialect of the social sciences.

If just want to bust out with some writing that makes perfect sense to people who understand technology and four academic disciplines, and  is completely incomprehensible to everyone else, I can do that. But really, what’s the point? I’ve never met a theologian/programmer/literary critic/sociologist. Not even once.

My point with all this goes back to day 1. Think about who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to people who aren’t specialists, and you’re fortunate enough to have specialized training, don’t use jargon. Put it in plain, everyday language.

Jargon does have some artistic uses, though. If you can get a good enough handle on some technical language to use it in dialogue, you can use it to make a character seem like a know-it-all, to reveal personal insecurities, to show that they don’t have very good social skills, and to do lots of other things.

There’s even a sub-field of guerilla academics devoted to publishing computer-generated papers just to be funny and call attention to low acceptance standards.



20 Quotations from Writers about Happiness

Nice quotes here.

Interesting Literature

Today is International Day of Happiness, so we’ve compiled 20 of our favourite quotations from writers about happiness, joy, pleasure, and related emotions. We hope you enjoy them!

‘Happiness in the ordinary sense is not what one needs in life, though one is right to aim at it. The true satisfaction is to come through and see those whom one loves come through.’  – E. M. Forster

‘One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.’ – Jane Austen

‘What is there given by the gods more desirable than a happy hour?’ – Catullus

‘Happiness, to some elation; / Is to others, mere stagnation.’ – Amy Lowell

‘There may be Peace without Joy, and Joy without Peace, but the two combined make Happiness.’ – John Buchan

‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’ – Samuel Johnson


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How I do Political and Social Commentary

I haven’t done a real writing post here in awhile, and since I’ve been writing quite a bit of commentary lately, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about how I do it. It’s a little different from the other forms of writing I do, so I approach it differently.

First of all, if you take a look at the political stuff I’ve done here and at Sourcerer, you’ll notice that I try to write about issues rather than people. Now, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid writing about people, because politics is a social thing. But for the most part, I don’t talk about party politics, elections, or specific ideological adversaries if I can help it. The reason I approach it that way is because writing about people rather than issues generates conflict, and while that may be good for a few extra page views, it creates problems. Once things become personal, reasoned discussion goes right out the window and the best thing to do is find a way to disengage. I won’t pretend I’m perfect with this. Usually, if I’m writing about a political issue at all, I have an emotional stake in it. But I do make an effort to stick to issues.

This may not be as apparent unless you follow me very closely, but when I get into political mode, I tend to focus on the issue I’m writing about until I’ve done all I can with it. This means posting plans change, maintenance gets postponed, and networking takes a back seat to writing. That’s because political blogging is such a small part of what I do, and I don’t do it just to express my opinion and have a debate. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a legitimate thing to do, lots of people love it, and there are plenty of blogs that have grown huge audiences by doing that very thing. But it’s just not my style.

If I’m spending my time blogging about a political or social issue, it’s because I see something that I think needs to change, and I’m trying to have a political effect. I’m very realistic about just how much effect one small-time blogger can have, but I still put all my effort into it once I decide to take up a cause, and I use the same rhetoric I’d use if I were writing for mass circulation. Most of the political things I blog about are things that I believe demand an immediate response. Usually, when I’m engaging in politics, I’m trying to write whatever I’m going to write as quickly as possible and offer it to people who might actually use it.

Continue reading

You might want to see this.

I have a confession to make. I have no idea just how much my community here overlaps with Sourcerer’s audience. I’m posting a link to Sourcerer here tonight because I had an experience today that I find very interesting, and I want to be sure all my lovely peeps see it. This is a response to another blogger who completely mischaracterized one of my posts from earlier in the week because they disagree with my political position.

I’m proud of it for several reasons. First of all, I could have been all angry about it and over-the-top, but instead, I decided to be kind, and I do feel that I am genuinely kind here. Also, I wrote it in about an hour, which is record time for me on a post like this. And the rhetoric is good. Very, very good.

There is a political issue at play here, but the post is not about pressing the political point. It’s about insisting that evidence-based arguments be backed up with actual evidence, and about being honest with your criticism. I should warn you, the person I am responding to is a troll; but I am pretty sure that the trolling is unintentional, that they are sincere in their beliefs, and they just don’t understand how grown-up, civilized discourse works. That is why I was so nice about the whole thing.


Edit – I’m thinking I can take this incident and tell it as a story in a post with embedded tweets and other goodness. Make it interesting and dramatic. Maybe include a funny image or a video. Have it ready to go in time to send to @MondayBlogs. What about that?

Update, MAR 7 – DefyTheNarrative responded to me this morning and removed the link to Sourcerer from his post. I’ve decided not to do a post about this for Monday, and I also decided against retweeting the link to this post from Sourcerer’s account. I’ll have one more remark or two about all this at Sourcerer later this afternoon, and after that, I’ll be ready to move on, assuming everyone else does the same.

My Writing Philosophy

I am a pluralist when it comes to writing. I regard all genres as equal, whether they are to my taste or not.

I truly believe that almost anyone can become a competent writer. What I mean by “competent” is that you can learn to communicate in text in such a way that you say what you mean and you will not be socially disadvantaged by the way you use the language.

All you have to to do is practice (a lot), and read good examples of what you want to write, and convince other people to teach you their tricks. I can’t help you write The Grapes of Wrath, or guarantee you a good grade, but I can promise you that if you talk with me about writing I will be sensitive and make an honest effort to help you.

I don’t care whether your goal is to produce a piece of serviceable genre fiction, or to get published in Nature, or to write more effective memos. If you ask me a question I will do my best to answer it. If it’s beyond me, I will tell you I don’t know and try to help you find someone who can answer it.

I am not a great writer, but I am a great editor, and I know what good writing looks like. I know how to go though a manuscript and eliminate all the unnecessary words while leaving the author’s voice intact. I am also a pretty good tutor (though real teaching is beyond me).

I am here for other writers. If you drop a comment on one of my threads, I will answer it.