Jargon and Poetry

File:Denis Diderot plaque - 3 rue de lEstrapade, Paris 5.jpg


Jargon is one of those necessary and mysterious things: necessary because any group of people united by common interests will eventually evolve its own terminology for the interest(s) that has brought together its members, mysterious because the use of jargon prevents those outside the group from understanding what is being said. (And RT himself remembers being shut out of more than one football conversation.)

It’s no use blaming this or that group of jargonists for indulging in their special lingo; we are all guilty of creating and participating in jargon. Just consider the varieties: professional talk, sports talk, wine tasting descriptors, scientific terminology, and, last but not least, native languages used for private conversation.

RT offers two observations on the phenomenon:

1) Poetry. Poetry is the opposite of jargon. Whereas jargon is the creation of a group and signals membership in the group, poetry possesses a universality that opens its words to all speakers of a language. Poetry is all about accessibility; its beauty and clarity are two of its primary characteristics, and these encourage reading. Poets will use rare words and expressions on occasion, but the context almost always supplies the meaning, and the word adds to the richness of the language.

2) Duplicate/unnecessary terminology. RT presents the following symbol ¶  for consideration. Is it a pilcrow or a paragraph sign? It can also be called a paraph, alinea, or Blind P. And what exactly are its uses? Poetry intrudes itself here once again: we are leaving the realm of correctness and entering that of delight. We begin to talk about preferences among users–or even schools of use.

On the other hand, RT is pretty sure that when plain meaning is the chief consideration, the term used should be that one understood by the broadest possible audience: in this case, RT would recommend the use of the term  paragraph mark. But then, RT’s poetic, anti-jargon, instincts are showing themselves again. That isn’t to say, of course, that in the right place in the right line, he might not have recourse to the term alinea. It’s a beautiful word, after all.


What is worth bearing in mind through all this is the precision that jargon can confer on communication. There are times when it helps to distinguish between the hyphen and the hyphen-minus, the guillemet and the guillemot. And when jargon is correctly used and the text beautifully copy-edited, reading becomes that much more of a pleasure (as any hardened reader can tell you).



PhotographDenis Diderot plaque – 3 rue de lEstrapade, Paris. WikiCmns; CC 2.0 generic; author, Monceau from San Antonio.


  1. top
    April 21, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Aw, this was an exceptionally good post.

    Taking the time and actual effort to produce a top notch article… but what
    can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

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