Editorial Cartoon: Isabel Saavedra-Weis
SPA students love jargon. Long and complex language, whether used in a science research paper or an English Harkness discussion, seem to elevate one’s status intellectually and convey a deep understanding of a subject. However, as our writing and speaking evolves from 9th grade to the academic English of seniors, many hide behind their jargon at the cost of clear communication.
Thesaurus.com is a common ally of the student essay writer. When searching for the right descriptive word or one with more syllables, this tool is particularly effective. Students should instead seek to communicate with shorter and more precise language, despite the plethora, cornucopia, and multitude of the English language’s synonyms. Communicating without the safety of complex language can be difficult, given high expectations of literacy in classes, but speaking and writing in clear terms often strengthens a point.
Jargon, when used thoughtfully and communicated with intent, has a right place. But this usefulness ends when language becomes detached and confusing to an audience – whether that be students around a Harkness table or a science presentation aimed at informing the public. This is something we all struggle with. Reaching for the “-ologies” and “-isms” and buzzwords like “intersectionality” is all too easy, but ultimately serves to one-up the audience and lessen the worth of discussion. This habit detracts from the ideal of student communication: the sharing of accessible and useful information.
In the classroom, jargon is a way of skirting around uncomfortable topics such as race or gender. Resorting to euphemistic and vague words to discuss, for example, slavery and the American Civil War, is appealing, but harmful to objective learning. Discussing gender and the patriarchy can also be similarly prickly, given the wide variety of heated opinions on the topic. In this situation, disguising your language and point seems necessary to “keep the peace” and not offend anyone. Thus, students must step into uncomfortable waters to get their message across clearly.
The fact is that modern life is overwhelmed with jargon. If you listen to political speeches or C.E.O. interviews, you will probably hear empty phrases such as “monetize,” or “synergize” and roundabout ways of answering questions without actually answering them. In the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings last week, we saw how jargon distorted and disguised meaning. Kavanaugh’s statements, such as “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land,” purposely misled the viewers of the hearing. This statement, taken as an objective fact, may be true, but it obscures Kavanaugh’s strong opinion on the subject. Blatant avoidance and manipulation of truth, like this example, endanger the democratic process with the intent of depleting citizens of their right to information. The common, and often unnoticed use of jargon at SPA is only a subset of this larger political problem, but has important implications for our school norms.
If jargon is used so heavily, why should students challenge this culture? SPA students, defined by our school motto, will “change the world.” SPA students should grab this opportunity. We must change a culture of jargon by slipping off our intellectual mask and get to the point.