Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"Ours is the age of substitutes," said Eric Bentley. "Instead of language, we have jargon; instead of principles, slogans; and, instead of genuine ideas, bright ideas" (The Dramatic Event). (Pablo Blasberg/Getty Images)


  1. Jargon refers to the specialized language of a professional or occupational group. Such language is often meaningless to outsiders. American poet David Lehman has described jargon as "the verbal sleight of hand that makes the old hat seem newly fashionable; it gives an air of novelty and specious profundity to ideas that, if stated directly, would seem superficial, stale, frivolous, or false."

    See Examples and Observations below. Also see:
  1. Jargon is often used as a negative term for unusual language of various kinds, including slang or speech perceived as gibberish. Adjective: jargony. Also see:

From Old French, "the twittering of birds, meaningless talk"

Examples and Observations

  • "This matter of language is important. Professional jargon--on Wall Street, in humanities departments, in government offices--can be a fence raised to keep out the uninitiated and permit those within it to persist in the belief that what they do is too hard, too complex, to be questioned. Jargon acts not only to euphemize but to license, setting insiders against outsiders, and giving the flimsiest notions a scientific aura."
    (George Packer, "Can You Keep a Secret?" The New Yorker, March 7, 2016)
  • Education Jargon
    "[T]here is . . .. an Education Jargon Generator on sciencegeek.net, which offers complete jargon-filled sentences or gives you parts of sentences (prepositional phrases, verbs, adjectives and nouns) to create your own. Here are examples of sentences created with the push of the 'generate jargon' button:


    - 'We will triangulate mission-critical culminating products across content areas.'
    - 'We will agendize innovative communities for our 21st Century learners.'
    - 'We will cultivate competency-based technologies through the experiential based learning process.'
    - 'We will reinvent proactive ESLRs across cognitive and affective domains.'
    - 'We will visualize performance-driven cohorts through the Big Ideas.'

    "You get the ridiculous idea."
    (Valerie Strauss, "A Serious Rant About Education Jargon and How It Hurts Efforts to Improve Schools." The Washington Post, November 11, 2015)

  • Police Jargon
    "We’ve frequently mentioned how often journalists use the jargon of their sources, particularly police jargon, like perp and high-speed pursuit. We’ve included shooter in that lineup, but things change.

    "When a phrase that sounds like jargon becomes so common that everyone understands it, it’s no longer jargon. That’s what’s happened with the phrase active shooter. While some other jargony phrases related to security have entered mainstream usage, some have not."
    (Kenny Louie, "When Jargon Breaks Free." Columbia Journalism Review, November 30, 2015)


  • Is Jargon Necessary?
    - "Should jargon be censored? Many people think it should. However, close examination of jargon shows that, although some of it is vacuous pretentiousness, and therefore dysphemistic, its proper use is both necessary and unobjectionable."
    (K. Allen and K. Burridge, Forbidden Words, Cambridge University Press, 2006)

    - "When per is used to mean 'for each,' 'by means,' 'through,' or 'on account of,' it is appropriate (per annum, per diem, per head). When used to mean 'according to' (per your request, per your order), the expression is jargon and should be avoided."
    (Gerald J. Alred, et al., Handbook of Technical Writing, 8th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006)

    - "Generally, when people use jargon not to communicate but to impress their audiences with their importance . . . or use it to announce membership in a group, communication suffers and the jargon can quickly degenerate into something close to the twittering of birds."
    (W. Lutz, "Jargon." Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992)

    - "The truth is that wherever people speak a language, they find ways to modify it according to set rules. A cryptic idiom may be developed for the purposes of a game, to enable a literary activity, to facilitate a new society or to implement a political project. Its secrets may be innocuous or harmful. What is certain is that speech can always be both a basis of understanding and a means of distortion."
    (Daniel Heller-Roazen, "Learn to Talk in Beggars’ Cant." The New York Times, August 18, 2013)
  • Film Jargon
    "I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, 'If you understand something you can explain it so that almost anyone can understand it. If you don't, you won't be able to understand your own explanation.' That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
    (Roger Ebert, “O, Synecdoche, My Synecdoche!” Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 10, 2008)
  • Diner Jargon
    "Pigs in a blanket sixty-nine cents,
    Eggs--roll 'em over and a package of Kents,
    Adam and Eve on a log, you can sink 'em damn straight,
    Hash browns, hash browns, you know I can't be late."
    (Tom Waits, "Ghosts Of Saturday Night")

Pronunciation: JAR-gun