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Charlotte Otter, Editor/Translator/Writer: On Jargon

Mind the gap

Thomas Otter is a good friend of mine, but his wife is the talented one. Charlotte is a great writer, and has built a business in idiomatic translation of corporate information – particularly between English and German. In what looks like the first post on her new marketing blog Charlotte takes issue with jargon. Its a good read [and in case you didn’t know, James Governor is an anagram of Removes Jargon… so it resonated with me]

We resort to jargon to make ourselves feel part of something. I live in a small provincial German town and I use dialect occasionally in order to make myself understood. A child starting a new school will quickly pick up the school slang in order to fit in. A non-native English speaker will use jargon in a business presentation in order to appear knowledgeable. We all do it.

Jargon, slang and dialect are all acceptable forms of verbal communication, of easing social barriers. However, we need to think about how far we take them. Too much jargon in a written document can bring communication to an abrupt halt. Instead of easing the flow of an idea, jargon can set up barriers to understanding.

This is compounded by the fact that we now operate globally. Using phrases that are specific to a culture or geography limit our ability to reach a wider audience. Just imagine how alien these any of these phrases might be to a second-language speaker of English: ‘ballpark figures’, ‘batting average’, ‘bat a thousand’, ‘hardball’. If you are serious about doing business globally, remove them from your vocabulary.

As someone that loves language in all its multifarious richness I am loathe to take a reductionist approach to communication. If you can’t use metaphor then communication is all the poorer. People are generally great at disambiguation. On the other hand neologisms like “monetize” drive me nuts.

Its worth considering that science, not business, is the major source of new words in the English language. What may seem like jargon may actually be resonant, meaningful communication within a community of practice.

But then I don’t work for a Major Corporation, which often feel they can’t afford ambiguity. If you’re looking for someone to help you communicate plainly and without jargon I would definitely consider Charlotte Otter. If you’d like to read more by Charlotte her personal blog has a longer history than her new worky one…

Categories: language.

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3 Responses

  1. Charlotte Otter, Editor/Translator/Writer: On Jargon http://bit.ly/9HZkuE cc: @vendorprisey
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. Many thanks for the plug, James! I’m blushin’.



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