Jargon – Esperanto or Klingon

I talked about this before somewhere else, but it bears repeating.

Jargon is necessary. In specialist fields like engineering, there is a need for communication which is clear and unambiguous, and deals with concepts which are not encountered in normal every day life. To a non-specialist, specialist literature can seem impenetrable partly because of the use of jargon terms they don’t understand.

However, in my experience there are two types of jargon, which I’ve decided to characterise as Esperanto and Klingon.

Esperanto is a constructed language. It was designed, consciously, to be easy to learn and speak. Verbs in Esperanto are all regular, without exception. Nouns are all pluralised the same way, with none of the odd things you get in English like “children” or “sheep”. Everything about it is kept as simple as possible. Esperanto’s entire raison d’etre is clarity and simplicity. You still have to learn it, of course, but it’s designed to be easy to learn.

Klingon is a constructed language. It was designed, consciously, to be alien and unusual. It is frequently obscure. It contains deliberate irregularities. Klingon tries to be unclear and complex, in some ways better to simulate a “natural” language, and also to make it a bit harder to learn and therefore more exclusive to those who can be bothered to make the effort.

If someone uses jargon on you, you can tell quickly whether it’s Esperanto or Klingon by asking them to explain the meaning of the term. Typically, your response to their explanation will be one of two things – understanding, or frustration.

Understanding would be characterised by a feeling of “ah, I see what you mean, and I see why you used that jargon term”. If that’s the response, you’ve just heard Esperanto jargon – the kind typically used by engineers, doctors, and in some cases lawyers. Once you know what they mean, you can usually accept the necessity for a specific word or a specific meaning.

Frustration, on the other hand, would be characterised by a feeling of “well why didn’t you just bloody say that then?”. If that’s the response, the jargon you’re hearing is Klingon. It’s not meant to enhance anyone’s understanding of what’s being said. On the contrary, the entire point of the jargon is to obscure what the person is saying, to minimise understanding. When you find out what it means, you immediately question why they didn’t just use a simple, easy to understand word or phrase instead. Much legal jargon can seem like this, but the worst offenders are post-modernists, philosophers and bad critics.

If you’re the victim of someone using Klingon jargon, don’t argue with them about it. Don’t try to correct their use of it. Just look upon them with the same kind of derision you might use for someone who addressed you in actual Klingon.



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