Slang terms are commonly used between people who belong to the same social group – they tell you about the topic and the speaker. Soldiers eat in a ‘mess’, Sailors cook in the ‘galley’ and Advertising Executives go for a ‘3 martini lunch’. Every industry has their own jargon, and every group has their own slang – even couples develop common language to reinforce their shared identity. Those who know what to look for can learn something about what groups a person belongs to, which helps us better categorise people, a necessary precursor for using reason and logic to deal with them. In some cases linguistic analysis can even help us catch criminals, as demonstrated with the famous case of the Unabomber, who’s writing style gave investigators invaluable clues as to his background and potential wearabouts.
Jargon at its best can produce more efficient and accurate communication: ‘Charlie Echo’ is easier to hear than the letters ‘C E’ on the radio, which is important when you’re under heavy fire, or talking on a muffled customer service line. Amongst close nit groups, shared language can cut down the amount that needs to be said to communicate an idea, for example a quarterback calling the play “blue 42” communicates a series of complex information to the rest of the team, necessary to coordinate their behavior.
At its worst, use of jargon can be confusing, pretentious, and exclusionary to outsiders. Use of jargon can indicate wealth or social status, as for example when someone says they “went to school in Cambridge”, which can either be a knowing act of deference or a way to patronize outsiders who don’t know that this means the elite school of “Harvard”. Knowing the importance of jargon, studies show that low-status people abuse it to sound more intelligent, important, or business-like. We have buzzwords, sayings, idioms, and other cultural artefacts that grow up around specific locations, and others that only exist inside specific institutions. A lack of lingo can be picked up on by predators to identify victims, for example a startup founder who doesn’t know what ‘preference shares’ are, a foreign visitor that’s ripe to be pickpocketed, or an aspiring actress who just stepped off the bus in LA. People love to complain about Buzzwords, but all language requires cultural context: words change their meaning in different contexts, and it would be lunatic to try and express every single thought you had fully without taking shortcuts.
The important caveat is that we must make sure the culture we’re communicating with, shares the memes we’re using. This paragraph is indecipherable to most people: “Robyn is an automated Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) code. It aims to reduce human bias by means of ridge regression and evolutionary algorithms, enables actionable decision making providing a budget allocator and diminishing returns curves and allows ground-truth calibration to account for causation.” However this tool does a series of extremely sophisticated things! You could look at the source code as it’s open source, but you’d be staring at thousands of lines of code that’s indescipherable to most. Explaining everything in plain English would be even worse, because it would take thousands of words – compressing it to just 43 is useful work! An expert can scan this text to quickly learn what this tool does. If it’s ‘gobbledygook’ to you, it’s still helpful as a signal you’re not the right audience. This isn’t as exclusionary as it sounds: each of these terms can be Googled by outsiders willing to learn, or they can consult with an expert for guidance. Don’t avoid or bedgrudge use of Jargon, use it as a tool – the difference between helpful and harmful, is selecting the right memes in the right context. Compress too much and you exclude too many, elaborate too much and nobody will afford the time to ingest it.
Cambridge Dictionary “slang”
Does Your Office Have a Jargon Problem?
Facebook Robyn Definitions thread, Michael Taylor
How does Linguistics shape a Criminal Investigation?
Robyn: Automated Marketing Mix Modeling open source code, by Facebook (Meta)
Where did "blue 42" originate?
Why do Harvard students and graduates say they went to school in Cambridge instead of just Harvard?