The title of this post comes from one of my favorite historical figures: Albert Einstein. Although, there is some discrepancy as to whether or not he actually said it. In today’s fast-paced internet climate, it’s important to be mindful of attribution. Remember the one that made the rounds during MLK day this past year? I’m sure you’ve seen Williamson’s famous quote attributed to Mandela. And one of the lesser known misquotes, H. Whitman when it should be H. Thurman. I’ve read a lot of Einstein’s work (more than the average person, that is), and I would say that it sounds like something he would say.
I’ve had quite a bit of post-secondary education and as a result, have been exposed to quite a bit of jargon. The psychological literature has a fair bit of jargon. Part of that is necessary because researchers of psychology are — at times — creating new ways of understanding human behavior. Through this new understanding, new language is sometimes necessary.
In the business degree I’m currently working on (nearly halfway done!), I’ve been exposed to quite a few disciplines: economics, finance, marketing, operations, etc. All with their own unique set of jargon. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep the jargon straight as some words used in one discipline are the same words used in another discipline — but in a different context or with a different meaning.
Jargon can be quite useful when communicating with people who understand the jargon. The “in-group,” as it were. However, jargon has a tendency to severely exclude the “out-group.” Sometimes this is intentional, but I’d rather talk about the unintentional exclusionary nature of jargon. And that’s why I chose the Einstein quote as the title of this post.
“If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” As I said, jargon can be useful — at times — but at other times, it can be really painful. That is, it can be quite demeaning to be in a group of people who are speaking in what may seem like a foreign language, while you sit there trying to make sense of it. Part of the problem is that, sometimes, people using the jargon really don’t understand the material well enough to explain it to you in analogous terms. There’s also just the habit of using certain words when talking about certain concepts and as a result, it can take a concerted effort to not use jargon.
Don’t get me wrong, I like jargon. I enjoy expanding my understanding of language and the different words we have to describe things. (Today, I just learned what eleemosynary means: charitable or philanthropic.) Although, I think it is important to take note of one’s company. If you’re working on a project and not everyone is of the same understanding of the topic, it is of paramount importance that the language used be accessible to all (or most) parties involved.
For anyone that has been on the receiving end of jargon-filled discussion, there is likely greater compassion when noticing that someone else is experiencing a sense of culture shock, with regard to jargon. Maybe this all stems from a person’s conscientiousness. This is one of the personality traits from the “Big Five.”
It’s ironic that in a post about jargon, I find myself slipping into the habit of using some jargon to explain things. That’s how easy it can be to not notice that you’re doing it. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone or in a group-setting, take notice of the reactions of those people around you, particularly, when you hear a piece of jargon spoken. I bet you could use it as an opportunity to quietly explain the concept in more accessible terms and you just might make someone’s day.