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June 02, 2011



While some Jargon is unnecessary, a lot of it comes from the fact that the technical language captures an aspect of meaning that "ordinary" language isn't sensitive to, and changing the word changes the meaning of the sentence. For example, a framework is not the same thing as an idea - to call something a framework is to call particular emphasis to the fact that its presence sorts and structures other ideas. "Let's go on a Caribbean vacation" is an idea, but it is not a framework. Sometimes these differences matter.

Of course, sometimes they don't - and the jargon and technical language gets misused - to continue the example, some people will call "let's go on a Caribbean vacation" a framework to inflate their writing and often end up misusing the word. But to echo some of eugenie's thoughts here, sometimes complex ideas require complex writing - and that's why people "don't want to dumb down", and why they "write for a specialist audience." Specialists have been trained to understand this stuff, and that training is not simply an initiation into a long series of otherwise useless conventions designed to keep the rabble out - all (or really, most) of the learning they are doing is done for a reason. Jargon and technical language are there to make some of this stuff accessible - but it only becomes accessible to those who those determined enough to pick up and master the tools that make the field accessible in the first place.

All of that said, it is still really important to try and make some of this information available for those who have neither the time nor inclination to devote to it. And there are those who work explicitly to try to bridge that gap and translate the content of the academic disciplines for non-specialists. But this is very, very difficult, and usually only the best and brightest in the field are capable of it, and only some of those are interested in doing it. But the failure to bridge that gap and do the "translation" isn't laziness or vanity, it is often because doing that operates at the edge of a specialist's competence or beyond.


If "therefore" and "obtain" constitute specialist words that the "regular folks" can't understand, then perhaps it's not academia that has the problem? However, I agree that some academics use convoluted language... but that's bad writing more than anything else- many academics, however brilliant they may be, simply lack the skill to write with clarity. I don't think we should shun nuanced, precise and interesting language anymore than we should be verbose or convoluted for the sake of it. Yet complex ideas often require complex writing. And if academics don't use ridiculous words then who the hell will?

Drew Byrne

Keep it simple - stupid! After all, one wouldn't want to go all "supercalifradulistiexpiallidocious" on us, one might not know how to spiel it.


Thank you for that! My favorite writers take me deep places without forcing me to learn their specialized language. Three cheers for clarity!

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