Jargon: We Love To Hate It

11.02.2021 - By Science Diction

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Head on over to plainlanguage.gov, and you’ll find a helpful table, dedicated to simplifying and demystifying military jargon. On one side of the table, there’s the jargon term, and on the other, its plain language equivalent. “Arbitrarily deprive of life”? Actually just means “kill people.” “Render nonviable”? Also means “kill people.” “Terminate with extreme prejudice”? “Kill people.”   
This table is just one of many resources on plainlanguage.gov—from checklists to plain language training to thesauruses. The website was created by an unfunded government group of plain language activists who make it their mission to translate government communications into regular old, plain language. 
But jargon isn’t just a government problem. It pops up in nearly every field, and it seems like it annoys most of us. So why do we use it? And is there anything actually good about it?   This episode was inspired by a question from a listener, Jafar, who asked about the word “recrudescence” and why we tend to use fancy words when simple ones would work just fine. If you have a question about a word or phrase, leave us a voicemail! The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to [email protected] 
Joe Kimble is a plain language advocate and professor emeritus at WMU-Cooley Law School.
David Lipscomb is Director of the Writing Center at Georgetown University, and Vice Chair of the Center for Plain Language.
Alejandro Martínez García is a researcher at the National Research Council in Italy.
Footnotes & Further Reading:
For a challenge, try to explain science using only 1,000 of the most common words. 
For all your plain language writing needs, take a look at plainlanguage.gov. 
Learn more about the history of the plain language movement in the United States. 
Read a study on how our brains react to concrete vs. abstract language.
Read more about how jargon affects citations in scientific papers.
This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. Special thanks to Jana Goldman, Bill Lutz, and especially Karen Schriver for background information on the plain language movement.

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