Jargon and TLAs

Today Richard Branson of the Virgin Group posted an entry on the use of jargon. In a nutshell he says, ‘it slows things down, confuses people, and causes them to lose interest.’ I could not agree more Richard. In fact, I would also expand this to include the use of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations).

When I started working for the school district, everyone was referring to the DOE. I could not understand how or why they would care about the Department of Energy. You see, I had previously worked for an energy consulting company and the DOE was referenced there was the Federal level Department of Energy, not the Florida Department of Education. Just for your information, at the Federal level, it is the Education Department. Confused yet?

Perhaps not as much as I have been reading documents with TLAs or other technical jargon about education in every sentence. While technical or career related jargon may aid in communicating ideas quickly amongst people who are all familiar with the terms and abbreviations used, it leaves the rest of us mere mortals confused and wondering just what is it that they are talking about. Even worse, TLAs can lead your brain down the wrong thought process.

During class I often asked my students what they think of first when I say: CIA. Here are some of the answers:

    Central Intelligence Agency

    Culinary Institute of America

    Christians in Action

    Chief Internal Auditor

    Cheers in Advance

    Cost Impact Analysis

In fact, the web site called The Free Dictionary (http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/cia) lists over a hundred meanings for the CIA TLA.

Some people use jargon so much at work that when they leave work, they continue to use jargon, not to show off or just to abbreviate ‘common’ words or phrases, but because the jargon has become so much a part of their natural way of talking that they don’t even realize that they are doing it. Of course there are those that just use jargon and TLAs to appear smarter than their listeners or at least to impress them. My fiancée calls these people ‘intellectual bullies’. After all, who would you trust more, someone who could explain things clearly to you or one who expressed their ideas in jargon that went completely over your head?

One final example are the 24/7 lectures at the Ig Noble awards ceremony held annually at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University. The 24/7 lectures consist of a complete technical description of a research topic in 24 seconds. During this time, the use of jargon and TLAs is uncontrolled but often leaves one totally confused about the point of the topic or even what the topic is. This 24 second description is then followed by a clear, accurate summary that anyone can understand in seven words which usually clears up any confusion resulting from the first part.

So the point of this blog is simply this, “Use jargon amongst colleagues, not with everyone.”

C’ya next time.