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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Jargon Can be Annoying and Confusing

Published February 29, 2012 11:25 AM by Glen McDaniel

Jargon has always been used and does have its place in our communication. Just imagine if a physician wrote out the full name of every test, procedure and medication for every patient very time. In medical lab science where would we be without QC, CBC, CMP, FBS, ESR, PT and the like? Abbreviations are handy and useful.

There are also times when the full, specific meaning of a term is best captured by technical language. Translating jargon into "plain English" sometimes loses and dilutes the meaning, leading to the possibility of misunderstanding. In professions like ours we cannot risk giving the incorrect information.

But what happens when we have to venture out and actually communicate with someone outside of the group? The term CPR might mean cost per reportable (finance or the lab), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (doctor or nurse), or conflict prevention and resolution (a mediator). If the speaker does not know the audience well or does not verify their mutual understanding, then miscommunication can easily occur.

Sometimes jargon is not only imprecise, it can be lazy-speak or merely trendy. I started thinking about this topic because I have been in several meetings with Information Technology folks and am getting tired of the phrase, "I simply don't have the bandwidth" for this or that project.

OK, I  sort of get the IT connection. But what exactly is bandwidth? I think of the literal meaning of a range of frequencies or the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. So think of bits/bytes per second (bps) or Hertz (Hz). In Algebra it means the width of non-zero items around the diagonal of a matrix. But what does it mean in a planning meeting?

I suspect that's a hip, cutesy, pseudo-technical way of indicating the jargonist does not have the time or resources or competence or ability or confidence or initiative to complete the task. Is it all of the above?  See what I mean by the risk of  miscommunication? I make a range of general assumptions simply because the term is imprecise.

I cringed when I noticed that in a recent meeting the "lack of bandwidth" excuse/disease had spread to nurses, laboratorians and administrative types as well. It seems like everyone lacks something, but I am just not sure what it is they lack-except exactitude of meaning.


I agree with Jasmine. We all learn medical terminology and use our own abbreviatiions as professionals. Imagine if we had to describe hypochromia in plain language every time we saw it!  But when we are talking to others what is the advantage of using words that they dont understand. It is like speaking a foreign language.

Jargon and profesional language has its place but we have to use it sparingly. I get so upset at young people sometimes who use all these slangs. My daughter and her friends even created their own secret language so they could talk around their parents and their parents wouldnt understand. Well it is the same way only their friends understand so dont talk to me in that slang if we want me to understand  and respond to you.

Mary Carpenter March 11, 2012 5:37 PM
Tuscon AZ

I think sometimes people talk like that to show off. They dont really want to communicate clearly. They want to impress you. And I agree taht sometimes those of us in the lab start copying other people to show our lab colleagues that we are more medical or technical than they are. If the person you are talking to cant understand you then you need to talk differently.

Jasmine T March 5, 2012 11:58 PM
Rochester NY

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