Jargon Jungle (from 1985)
by Al Roach
other day my wife came home with something called a
Solar Dryer. Now being the type of person who likes
to take advantage of twentieth-century technology, I
had no objections. I didnt even balk at the $49-plus
Millers-Ontario-levy price tag.
I admit I was a bit discombobulated when I pulled the dang thing
out of the box and discovered it was just an old fashioned clothesline.
Not a great deal different from the one my mother used to hang
out the wash at our boarding house 50 years ago.
Just a new moniker, thats all. Oh, but this one does encircle
a center post; it doesnt have the linear pattern of the
old line that ran from the back porch to the wood shed. But the
principal is the same. You simply hang the clothes on a cord out
in the sun and they dry.
I would have called it a clothesline on a post. And no one would
have bought it. At least, no one would have paid more than $5.98
for it. But then, Im not up on modern salesmanship. Or jargon.
A friend of mine recently pulled a real boner at work. He thought
the personnel manager was going to call him in and give him a
real bawling out. But was he in for a surprise. Seems the Director
of Human Resources had merely summoned him for a correctional
interview. He was subsequently informed that his employment
had been unamicably terminated. He was delighted to
hear that; he thought hed been fired.
Little wonder we have trouble communicating in 1985. I once received
a notice in the mail informing me that the government was about
to introduce a revenue enhancement program because
the economy was facing negative growth consequences.
It was only after an understanding civil servant, a kindly old
lady, took me aside and explained the facts of life to me that
I realized my taxes were about to go up because we were facing
a Depression (recently euphemized by Trudeau and company into
I have long grown used to the fact that I am no longer an English
teacher but have become a Language Arts Specialists. And that
I no longer teach grammar, but Language Analysis. But I was quite
concerned recently when a young teacher in my English Department
told me he was going to London for a colloquium. Now
hes a fine young man and I expressed concern for the state
of his health. All turned out well, though. Seems he was merely
off to attend a conference.
Why would some stuffy, arrogant linguist debase the English language
in this manner? Why does anyone resort to the obfuscation of jargon?
Is it to enhance his own image? Does a colloquium sound more important
than a conference? Or is this problem more serious? Was T.S. Eliot
right when he maintained that humankind cannot bear too much reality?
I spent some time in the hospital recently and I had a hell of
a time trying to find my way around. Since my last visit, the
doctors office had become a medical centre and
the old head desk that the nurses check with regularly had become
a control centre.
There seems to be no end to it. Many intelligent people among
us chuckle at those who attempt to impress us with the confused
and intelligible balderdash of jargon. But it can pose very real
problems. When the University of Windsor opened its new athletic
building some years ago, I thought it would be pleasant for this
old alumnus to swim in the new Phys. Ed. Building. It took me
three days to find the ruddy swimming pool. Its located
in something called the Human Kinetics Complex.
My own barber, whom you may think lives in the past because he
still charges me $3.50 for a hair cut (with a beard trim thrown
in free), has his own unique manner of dealing with this incomprehensible,
outlandish gibberish. One day I arrived for my customary tonsorial
treatment thats jargon for haircut and noticed
that the sign over the door, which had read Barber Shop
for many years, had been replaced with a spanking new one announcing
that the establiments propietor was henceforth to be know
as a Hair Stylist.
this all about Joe? I queried.
a hair stylist now, he replied. Howll you have
it, Al? Regular or brush cut?
Some things, thank God, never change.
I decided years ago that I would never be a senior citizen.
I fully intend to be a crabby old man. My wife says that Im
already an old goat. Love that girl and her unadorned handling
of the English language.
The other day I was called a Ninetheenth -Century man. I accepted
it as a compliment. For if to be a Nineteenth-Century man is to
love this magnificent English language which we have inherited,
then I plead guilty.
The purpose of jargon, as I see it, is to deceive, to be befuddle,
and often to aggrandize little men. If you arent worthy
of being noticed for anything else, use big words. The word jargon,
derived from the Middle English word jargoun, meaning the chatter
or twitter of birds and animals, should be recognized for what
it really is: a foolish and confusing form of speech.
Jargon is a language vague in meaning, full of circumlocution
and long, high-sounding words. It contributes little to the communication
we so desperately need in this modern age. At least Eighteenth-and
Nineteenth-Century men could communicate. Thomas Gray, in his
inspiring Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, did
not write: The directional indicators of radiant and resplendent
renown convey exclusively to the inevitable mausoleum, but
rather, the immortal line: The path of glory lead but to
Simple. Straightforward. Honest.