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The Jargon Jungle (from 1985)

by Al Roach


The other day my wife came home with something called a Solar Dryer. Now being the type of person who likes to take advantage of twentieth-century technology, I had no objections. I didn’t even balk at the $49-plus Miller’s-Ontario-levy price tag.

But I admit I was a bit discombobulated when I pulled the dang thing out of the box and discovered it was just an old fashioned clothesline. Not a great deal different from the one my mother used to hang out the wash at our boarding house 50 years ago.

Just a new moniker, that’s all. Oh, but this one does encircle a center post; it doesn’t have the linear pattern of the old line that ran from the back porch to the wood shed. But the principal is the same. You simply hang the clothes on a cord out in the sun and they dry.

I would have called it a clothesline on a post. And no one would have bought it. At least, no one would have paid more than $5.98 for it. But then, I’m not up on modern salesmanship. Or jargon.

A friend of mine recently pulled a real boner at work. He thought the personnel manager was going to call him in and give him a real bawling out. But was he in for a surprise. Seems the “Director of Human Resources” had merely summoned him for a “correctional interview.” He was subsequently informed that his employment had been “unamicably terminated.” He was delighted to hear that; he thought he’d been fired.

Little wonder we have trouble communicating in 1985. I once received a notice in the mail informing me that the government was about to introduce a “revenue enhancement” program because the economy was facing “negative growth consequences.” It was only after an understanding civil servant, a kindly old lady, took me aside and explained the facts of life to me that I realized my taxes were about to go up because we were facing a Depression (recently euphemized by Trudeau and company into a “recession.”)

I have long grown used to the fact that I am no longer an English teacher but have become a Language Arts Specialists. And that I no longer teach grammar, but Language Analysis. But I was quite concerned recently when a young teacher in my English Department told me he was going to London for a “colloquium.” Now he’s a fine young man and I expressed concern for the state of his health. All turned out well, though. Seems he was merely off to attend a conference.

Why would some stuffy, arrogant linguist debase the English language in this manner? Why does anyone resort to the obfuscation of jargon? Is it to enhance his own image? Does a colloquium sound more important than a conference? Or is this problem more serious? Was T.S. Eliot right when he maintained that humankind cannot bear too much reality?

I spent some time in the hospital recently and I had a hell of a time trying to find my way around. Since my last visit, the doctor’s office had become a “medical centre” and the old head desk that the nurses check with regularly had become a “control centre.”

There seems to be no end to it. Many intelligent people among us chuckle at those who attempt to impress us with the confused and intelligible balderdash of jargon. But it can pose very real problems. When the University of Windsor opened its new athletic building some years ago, I thought it would be pleasant for this old alumnus to swim in the new Phys. Ed. Building. It took me three days to find the ruddy swimming pool. It’s located in something called the Human Kinetics Complex.

My own barber, whom you may think lives in the past because he still charges me $3.50 for a hair cut (with a beard trim thrown in free), has his own unique manner of dealing with this incomprehensible, outlandish gibberish. One day I arrived for my customary tonsorial treatment – that’s jargon for haircut – and noticed that the sign over the door, which had read “Barber Shop” for many years, had been replaced with a spanking new one announcing that the establiment’s propietor was henceforth to be know as a “Hair Stylist.”

“What’s this all about Joe?” I queried.

“I’m a hair stylist now,” he replied. “How’ll you have it, Al? Regular or brush cut?”

Some things, thank God, never change.

I decided years ago that I would never be a “senior citizen.” I fully intend to be a crabby old man. My wife says that I’m already an old goat. Love that girl and her unadorned handling of the English language.

The other day I was called a Ninetheenth -Century man. I accepted it as a compliment. For if to be a Nineteenth-Century man is to love this magnificent English language which we have inherited, then I plead guilty.

The purpose of jargon, as I see it, is to deceive, to be befuddle, and often to aggrandize little men. If you aren’t worthy of being noticed for anything else, use big words. The word jargon, derived from the Middle English word jargoun, meaning the chatter or twitter of birds and animals, should be recognized for what it really is: a foolish and confusing form of speech.

Jargon is a language vague in meaning, full of circumlocution and long, high-sounding words. It contributes little to the communication we so desperately need in this modern age. At least Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century men could communicate. Thomas Gray, in his inspiring “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” did not write: “The directional indicators of radiant and resplendent renown convey exclusively to the inevitable mausoleum”, but rather, the immortal line: “The path of glory lead but to the grave.”

Simple. Straightforward. Honest.


 

 

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