Brevity or BS?

By Guy Higgins

I came across a blog recently the title of which implied that it was about Jargon. Actually it was about the abuse of grammar and how such abuse destroys meaning – kind of an analysis of, “…mistakes were made” type statements. But it got me thinking. Is use of specialized vocabulary (that would be jargon for “jargon”) always an impediment to clarity of communication?

I think that the answer is, “It depends.” When I was flying in the Navy, much of our radio communication included things like roger, WILCO, over, out, angels and cherubs, niner. Later, when I was serving in Washington, D.C., we spent a great deal of time developing, defending, and presenting budgetary information. We routinely used terms like FYDP (pronounced fidep), FY, O&MN (pronounced omen), WPN, SCN, and MILCON. Our “audience” consisted of people to whom these terms were as familiar as “street,” “tower” and “house.” These terms conveyed a great deal of meaning – far more than the one or two syllables would imply. For example, SCN meant Ship Construction, Navy. That meant that the funds appropriated under that heading would not expire and would remain available to pay bills (obviously for building ships) for five years. It also told the audience that the money would need to be “committed” (i.e. formally assigned to pay for certain, defined work) during the year in which it was appropriated (that would the FY or fiscal year when Congress passed the bill with that sum included). Further, that funding could not be used to pay for ship maintenance (that would have been OMN, or Operations & Maintenance, Navy, funding) or for ship electronics (that would have been OPN or Other Procurement, Navy). Using SCN (Ship Construction, Navy) was fast and simple and conveyed an enormous amount of information – as long as the audience spoke the language of Navy budgeting.

Step outside that audience and a straightforward statement like, “The FY16 budget includes $2500M SCN for CVN 80 plus LL (that would be long lead procurement) of $1.7M OPN and $232M RDTE. Additional funding is included in the FYDP.” becomes little more that gibberish.

The same observation applies to almost every profession – talk to a mechanic and he may say something like it’s critically important to replace the IMS. What in blue blazes is the “IMS”? Is that the Integrated Master Schedule? Well, no – it’s the Intermediate Shaft Bearing (the bearing between the third and fourth cranks on a six cylinder engine) on the crankshaft.

Talk to a CPA about tax law and it’s like listening to someone speaking Swahili.

So, jargon (that specialized vocabulary) is enormously useful and efficient – when used with the right audience – and an arrogant waste of time when used outside that audience to impress people with how smart you are – and any other time too.




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