One Man’s Jargon . . .
And beyond that, I struggle with an entire macro-profession.
The arena is academia fused with that of the larger battlefield of the business world, and the struggle is between those of us in the noble minority (of course we must posture as such) and those legions of who wear smiling faces, furrowed serious brows, and who are imbued with the best of intentions and the zeal of those who labor in the vineyards of the professions.
The struggle is for clear and original expression against the encroachment of weasel-words. The struggle is for meaningful distinctions between useful locutions and the vulgarity of “jargon.”
Every profession contrives jargon and then clutches it to its breast. It is useful, yes. Incredibly so. But some of the more Machiavellian among us contrive it as a second code for entry into a priesthood of the knowledgeable. And so we have the conundrum – one man’s obfuscation is another man’s sharply drawn argument, both using “jargon.” Who with compassion could strip a man of his outlet for facile expression, the utility of shorthand “jargon” simply because there exist unscrupulous cads who abuse the privilege of a profession’s lexicon?
So it’s a struggle, yes, but it’s also an internal struggle.
This struggle also is waged within me– I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexison, the “jargon” to vulnerable young minds. Minds to which the jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it is actually already stale and reified. It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated. “Jargon.”
But jargon does perform valuable service. If used judiciously and properly and with clear intent to the purpose for which it was created. If it is wielded not to obfuscate. If it is wielded not to mind-taser the listener into a kind of numb dumbness.
For those of us in the profession that is home to our jargon, it serves as shorthand for many thoughts already thought, not simply a comfortable refuge. Shorthand for many debates already concluded. Many theories already expressed. In fact, a deep vein of rich discussion lurks beneath the glib façade of most of our jargon.
And thus “jargon” presents us with a dilemma – if it were not useful, it would not exist. And anything that is useful can be misused.
It should come with a warning label.
I provide such a warning label. But only half-heartedly.
Half-heartedly, because it is my first obligation to ensure that my charges remember the “jargon” that I serve up to them. They must imbibe deeply and, at some point during a seemingly interminable semester, they must regurgitate the jargon. Master it.
They must drink deeply from the cup of “competitive advantage.” They must feast heartily at the table of “core competency” and ladle large portions of “market failure” and “pioneering costs” along with a light sprinkling of what some might consider the oxymoronic garnish of “business ethics.”
For those of us who bathe regularly in the sea of “competitive advantage” and “market saturation” and “pioneering costs” and “core competencies,” we cannot exercise the luxury of contempt.
Instead, we must labor as any wordsmith must labor. We must not ban the hammer because some use it to bash their thumb instead of the nail.
We must ensure the proper usage (use?) of our tools. Just as any writer seeks and secures precision in language, the business writer must labor likewise. Constant vigilance is our only guarantor against the debasing of the language, and this is true in business and in academia as it is true in the high-minded world of the literati.
High-minded? It might be also useful to exercise constant vigilance that high-mindedness does not become high-handedness.
Humility and the hunger for clarity. Uncommon qualities in the business and academic worlds? Perhaps, but surely they should be considered corollary to the jargon that seems pervasive and inescapable and that nettles us so naughtily.