Jargon: a) makes you sound intelligent. b) makes you sound important. c) impedes your communication.
If jargon kills your interest in reading, you are not alone. If you often find that you need a translation while reading your mother tongue, you are not alone. If you want to do something about jargon, get some copies of Tony Proscio’s pamphlet, In Other Words, and send them (cowards may wish to do this anonymously) to writers you observe committing dastardly acts of jargon in your professional life.
Early in the pamphlet Proscio gives an example of the horrifying slop philanthropoids commonly write and read:
Comprehensive community building naturally lends itself to a return-on-investment rationale that can be modeled, drawing from existing practice,” says a paper lately making the rounds in a foundation trade group. The paper goes on to argue that “[a] factor constraining the flow of resources to CCIs is that funders must often resort to targeting or categorical requirements in grant making to ensure accountability.
On the next page, Proscio helpfully provides a translation.
His charming handbook is a primer for correcting errors of jargon, genteelisms, “meaning-less” words, or just plain “annoying” ones.
Recipients of his book could browse through the index of 42 words and phrases on his hit list and benefit from the commentaries and explanations succinctly and wittily presented about their favorite groaners. The inherently dry topic of eradicating jargon is handled deftly and humorously. But although even the sidenotes are just downright cute at times, don’t try to sit and read the essay straight through; take the instruction a chapter at a time. The subject is ponderous and sobering despite the writer’s skills.
This author goads sloppy thinkers and writers (read: most people) to clean up their verbal acts and become far more self-conscious about language. For instance, after reading this guide, using the phrase “all things considered” as a summarizing statement can only make one feel stupid or at least, as one teacher noted, “ambitious.”
The 63-page work is divided into six chapters in which the author certainly earns the right to counsel his readers. Using interesting similes and clean prose, he makes his case for more precise writing. He begins with a chapter titled “A Plea for Plain Speaking—How foundations obscure their own message.” He continues with specific examples in the next three sections called “Origin of the Specious,” “Foundation-Speak, ca. 2000,” and “A Verbal Bestiary.”
The concluding chapter, “A Final Thought—Some hints for avoiding tomorrow’s jargon” is perhaps the most useful, for here Proscio provides general guidelines to help the earnest writer. After having heightened the reader’s awareness with the 42 earlier examples, the proposed solutions have a much stronger impact. Graciously, the author admits in his “Afterword, or CONFITEOR” to “having abused, at some time or other, nearly every term and phrase discussed in this essay,” but leaves the reader with the challenge of vigilance.
Lydia Smithers is a free-lance writer living in Annapolis.