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Entries in caparisoned (1)

Tuesday
Mar222011

Jargon Ain't Argot

People who speak jargon think it’s argot.

Argot is a characteristic language of a particular group. It’s quick and laden with meaning. When a heavy says, “We put the grips on him,” he’s using the argot of organized crime. When Violet McNeal, author of Four White Horses and a Brass Band, says, “Never try to trim a young handsome man; all the women will be running after him,” she speaks the argot of medicine show grifters.

However, when a corporate head says, “… generates stellar ROI for our company by optimizing our cross-functional team's blah, blah blah …” he or she uses jargon.

Jargon, by definition, is nonsensical, incoherent or meaningless talk that has an unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing and vague meaning.

Q: Why do those without argot cultivate jargon instead? A: The need for high adventure

William Strunk and E.B. White sum it up in one of the sharpest passages from The Elements of Style:

"The young writer will be drawn at every turn toward eccentricities in language. Today, the language of advertising enjoys an enormous circulation. Your new kitchen range is so revolutionary it obsoletes all other ranges. It is the language of mutilation.

"The businessman says that ink erasers are in short supply, that he has updated the next shipment of these erasers, and that he will finalize his recommendations at the next meeting of the board. He is speaking a language that is familiar to him and dear to him. Its portentous nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure; the executive walks among ink erasers, caparisoned like a knight. We should tolerate him—every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse.

"Finalize, for instance, is not standard. One can’t be sure, really, what it means, and one gets the impression that the person using it doesn’t know, either, and doesn’t want to know."

Portentous is a great word, and caparisoned a huge favorite because of that passage. Tolerate works wonders, as well.

Many writers take issue with Strunk & White, but I find their advice on style valuable to review every so often. The humor in it is undeniable. Here are some selected elements from "The Elements of Style."