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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Jargonese Makes You Sound Pretentious

Published May 18, 2009 9:50 PM by Glen McDaniel

I was listening to a speaker the other day and just about dozed off in boredom. The topic she was discussing was very important and she was making some valid points. But for some reason she tried to impress everyone by overusing jargon and technical terms. She also latched on to the one technical expert in room and traded terms back and forth with him that no one else present understood. Mind you, the presentation was meant to educate and persuade those present. What a totally missed opportunity.

Recently I read a magazine interview with an analyst who had been asked about his forecast for technology spending by a sprawling medical complex in 2009. His reply: "Expect commoditized processes to be optimized and varying instances to be consolidated and standardized on middleware platforms." Words like "optimized," "commoditized," and "standards" are buzzwords that mean nothing to most listeners, but the use of such language does serve a purpose-to elevate a person in his own mind!

Wikipedia says "buzzwords are typically intended to impress one's audience with the pretense of knowledge."

When individuals hear jargon their eyes glaze over, they don't see how the topic affects them personally and they assume the speaker is a showoff.

Imagine trying to promote server virtualization throughout a company by saying, "Server virtualization is the masking of server resources, including the number and identity of individual physical servers, processors, and operating systems, from server users." That's a technically accurate definition but so full of jargon that it is meaningless to most people.

Now imagine if the IT professional told the CEO, "I'd like to show you how we can save money on our energy bills by consolidating our sprawling server farms into fewer pieces of hardware."

 What's the difference? The simple version is easy to understand and clearly answers the question, What's in it for me? (in this case, for the CEO and the company). 

Jargon is not just overused when speaking to those outside the profession. Sometimes those in medicine or clinical lab sciences try to show "breadth of knowledge" by pretending to be experts in other areas like business, technology or computer science. They think they are impressing their peers, when they are just boring them.

Your goal as a speaker should always be to help listeners follow your message, not to impress them with your knowledge; and certainly not to leave them more confused.

 

3 comments

I agree that jargon is a way people try to appear smart but just proves they cant think for themselves.

I have  a friend who tries to out-nurse a nurse when she is among nurses. She tries to use their vocabulary and even in our break room she jumps in to explain nursing processes. Who cares? That doesnt make her any smarter than us. She should become a nurse if she is so impressed with them.

Words that I am sick of  hearing these days "the go to guy", "the take away is...", "at the end of the day",  "it is what it is". Whew. Cant people think for themselves and use their own words? Enough already!

Carlton Morgan August 4, 2009 6:36 PM
New Yourk

Daniel:

Balance really is the key. Technical language is not just a shorthand way for professionals to communicate; it's also often more precise and descriptive to someone who knows the subject well.

To give an example: I wrote an article geared towards a professional audience. It was edited by someone outside the profession who decided to change every technical term into layman's language. Not only did it distort the meaning of what I was trying to convey, it sounded silly and insulting to its intended audience.

That is one instance in which technical language would be prefered over the over-simplified, watered down "translation."

Like a foreign language it should be used to communicate efficiently-but only among those who understand it.

Glen McDaniel May 19, 2009 9:44 PM

Glen,

I could not agree with you more.  I am sure all of us have experienced instances of egregious abuse of jargon which results in loss of message.  Particularly when presentations are used as tools for outreach it is important to be clear and concise.  I would say, however that there are times when the use of jargon in moderation is appropriate and effective as a way to efficiently communicate information to colleagues who share a familiarity with technical terms.  A balance must be struck.

Daniel Cox, , Lab Manager Boston Clinical Labs. May 19, 2009 11:02 AM
Waltham MA

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