Sunday, January 20, 2008

Word of the Week: change

When I give plain language seminars I always include a discussion of jargon. I usually define jargon as a term that has special meaning in a particular field. I think most people think of jargon as fairly exotic or unusual words or phrases -- but common words also can be jargon when they take on special meaning in certain contexts. The example I often give of a common word that can be jargon is “sheet”. If a sailor says, “pass me the sheet”, she’s likely talking about a rope; if hotel housekeepers are making up a room and one says, “pass me the sheet”, the other will pass them a bed linen.

Unless you specifically define how you’re using particular jargon, you risk confusing your audience because you may have one meaning in mind and the audience may have another meaning in mind.

This week’s Word of the Week is another great example of a common word that can be jargon. Many of the U.S. presidential candidates are throwing around “change”, but you can bet that it means something distinctly different to each of them and to voters. (Of course, I suppose we all know that politicians have their reasons for not defining what they mean ...)


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