Complex language makes us feel smart.
Big words, domain-specific words, acronyms—they’re all jargon.
When we use jargon, we risk two things: obscuring meaning and alienating others.
Often when we use complex words, we have a specific meaning in mind. But our audience may not share that meaning. Almost immediately, we’ve caused a miscommunication, when simple language would have sufficed.
If we use complex words or acronyms that our audience doesn’t understand, we alienate them. It feels like they should know the meaning, and so they won’t ask for clarification for fear of looking dumb. We’ve broken another line of communication.
Use jargon in two circumstances: when the audience shares the vocabulary, or when you are looking to build belonging.
Medicine is a common example of a good use of jargon. When emergency room personnel need to convey information with precision, they use complex, domain-specific words. It’s okay, because everyone else in the room understands.
Just as jargon can alienate others, it can be used to build a feeling of belonging. Using specific catchphrases or made-up words within an organization can build camaraderie. The key is that everyone understands what these mean. New employees should be educated on these terms when they join.
In all other circumstances, avoid jargon.
It is a crutch, a way of feeling smart, and in the worst cases, used to take advantage of others.
The best in the world can explain things in simple terms.
You should too.