Jargon words are usually only widely understood within those specific groups and used when referring to a task the group undertakes. For example, words, phrases, and descriptions are used to define work in the engineering, medical, or economics fields. The language is often overly technical and may not make sense to those who aren’t used to using it. Sometimes, due to the fact that it’s not commonly understood, the word “jargon” takes on a negative connotation. It’s often considered pretentious and as a way of showing off how knowledgeable one is about a field.
Definition of Jargon
Jargon is wide-ranging. It can refer to the language used by a large number of people in many different fields. One can find doctors, engineers, astronomers, artists, writers, bookkeepers, stockbrokers, and many other professions using language that’s used exclusively in their line of work. The same can be said for various areas of study in the academic field.
Jargon also becomes important when a writer wants to convey something to a specific group. This could occur in prose, verse, or in a technical manual. Sometimes, these words were developed by the group using them in order to define something that previously did not have a word to denote it.
Examples of Jargon in Literature
In this famous novel, Orwell often includes jargon that’s only understood by the Party or by those who are so entrenched in Oceania that they know all of its ins and outs. It is also a good example of how a new reader, someone who knows nothing about Winston Smith’s world, may not initially understand everything Orwell writes. It takes time and context to figure out who Big Brother is and the ways that Newspeak is used. Here are a few lines that delve into the various administrative groups:
The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. Their names, in Newspeak: Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.
The last four terms are enhanced examples of jargon. The reader learns what these ministries are and then immediately has to consider them in their Newspeak versions.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
In this dark and depressing tragedy, Shakespeare provides readers with an interesting example of jargon. Often, within his writing, including his 154 sonnets, Shakespeare used legal language in order to define other relationships. Here is a quote from Hamlet that demonstrates this:
Why, may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillities, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this mad knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries […]
In this expect, Hamlet is speaking to Horatio, and he uses words like “tenures,” “lawyer,” “statutes,” and “battery.” These were legal words that some readers/audience members would’ve been more familiar with than others. Even to this day, there are examples from Shakespeare’s plays in which a reader might find themselves in need of a dictionary to understand certain jargon.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry.
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
In this classic science fiction novel, Clarke depicts the discovery and investigation of a seemingly abandoned starship, adrift in space. There are many different examples of jargon in the book, including these lines:
No closed ecology can be one-hundred-per-cent efficient; there is always waste, loss—some degradation of the environment and build-up of pollutants. It may take billions of years to poison and wear out a planet, but it will happen in the end. The oceans will dry up; the atmosphere will leak away.
Here, the characters are discussing Rama’s closed ecosystem and how no “closed ecology” can be perfect.
Jargon or Slang
These two words are similar in a way, but readers should understand the differences between them. Jargon is technical language, usually confusing to those who don’t know the words that are used in a specific profession or by a group. In contrast, slang is an informal language that develops within groups. These words have different literal and actual meanings. In the same way that jargon isn’t understood by those outside of a particular profession, slang may not be understood outside of a group (usually an age group or cultural group).
Why Do Writers Use Jargon?
Writers use jargon for a few different reasons. They might use it in a story or novel when they want to convey authenticity and make the reader believe a certain character is, in fact, a doctor, lawyer, mathematician, etc. It might be necessary to describe someone’s profession or the work they’re doing. It also appears in science fiction novels when writers seek to convey the futuristic advances and technologies in their world. For some readers, this is an important part of the genre, while for others, it might read as over the top and too pretentious. Such is the case with some other examples of jargon.
Depending on the context, a writer’s use of jargon might come across as if they’re trying to show off how smart they are. This can also happen in real life if someone uses too many technical terms in a situation where they aren’t necessary.
Related Literary Terms
- Science Fiction: a literary genre that focuses on imaginative content based on science.
- Slang Diction: contains words that are very specific to a region and time and have been recently coined.
- Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
- Realism: a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is.
- Point of View: what the speaker, narrator, or character can see from their perspective.