Politics and the English Language, Rule 5

Rule 5: Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. For convenience’s sake, let’s refer to all language that may baffle your readers as “jargon.” Orwell feels that using jargon is “never” a good idea. In the best case, a writer may use this language with the intent of impressing their readers rather than informing them. In the worst case, a politician may use this language to obscure the truth, or intimidate the reader. Consider terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage” and you start to understand the possible abuse. The great fear is that by using the same jargon over time, without explanation, to refer to different scenarios or objects, politicians can slowly expand the meaning of that jargon, until its new interpretation is weaker, stronger, or broader than before. Orwell is correct in his assessment that jargon can do more harm than good when used with ignorance or malice.

I’d point out one exception to this rule, which is hopefully obvious: use jargon when it is natural to the story, but be sure to explain its meaning. For example, if your character is an officer in the Iraq war, it would be odd for him to say:

“We’re finally getting some upgraded vehicles to handle all these improvised explosive devices.”

Much more natural would be something like:

“We’re finally getting some upgraded vehicles to handle all these IEDs,” the general said. Over twenty soldiers had been lost to improvised explosive devices in just the last 60 days.

Unfortunately, IEDs have become part of the common vernacular, so depending on the intended audience, the explanation may not even be needed. But for more obscure jargon, introducing and then explaining the jargon is a great way to give your characters authenticity while building curiosity in your readers. As with most of Orwell’s other pet peeves, the key to using jargon is tactful intent. Using jargon because it exists is almost certain to impair your writing, or make the reader suspicious of your aims. But don’t be afraid to use jargon appropriately, sparingly, and with timely explanation.

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  1. #1 by ang - January 23rd, 2010 at 21:17

    surfing this on our wii

  2. #2 by List Eruption 2.0 Reviews - May 8th, 2013 at 19:06

    This rule is awesome and it helps me very much in improving my english

  3. #3 by WP Lead Explosion - May 29th, 2013 at 05:13

    Thank for great post, i improve my skill with help from this site!

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