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Communicating or confusing?

When you’re writing about a subject you know well, it’s very easy to slip into using a specialised vocabulary. But when you do that, you risk bemusing or alienating a chunk of your readers.  
Specialised terminology – jargon – is a mark that you’re in the know; that you understand intimately what you are talking about; that you’re part of the club. It’s how teenagers show each other how cool they are (though nowadays I suspect they say sick, rather than cool), while keeping the old folks out of the loop. And just like a teenager using the ‘wrong’ word for their trainers can be exposed as a nerd who doesn’t belong in the group, so using the wrong bit of jargon can expose you as an impostor, who doesn’t really know about silicon epitaxy. 
It might not get picked up by the marketing department who are reading your copy, but you can bet the engineers who are your target audience will see right through you, and the credibility of the brand you’re writing for will be diminished. Sucky, as those teens say (I think). 
I’ll be honest, I’ve sat in too many meetings feeling my brain bubble as I tried to work out what on earth someone was talking about. Trust me, whoever that person was, my brain ache didn’t dispose me kindly towards them or whatever they were trying to tell me. I have been guilty of playing business babble bingo. When I’ve heard phrases like touching base, singing from the same song sheet, going forward, state of the art, the bleeding edge… I’ve come close to shouting ‘house!’ on occasion. Because jargon is more than just acronyms and buzz words, it’s also those ghastly opaque metaphors that are overused and degraded until they lose their meaning.
And why am I holding forth about all this? Because I love reading plain English. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it has an enormous vocabulary thanks to borrowing words from the dozens of languages it has encountered over the centuries – from Latin and Anglo Saxon, through Norse, French and Dutch to Arabic, Hindi and Urdu. It has a richness and power that is remarkable. And it can communicate so well that it doesn’t need to be messed with.  
Yes, by all means add new names, new ideas, new words, but don’t use them to hide behind.  Instead, use clarity to let your message shine out.
 
October 2012
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