Definition and Examples of Jargon


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Jargon refers to the specialized language of a professional or occupational group. While this language is often useful or necessary for those within the group, it is usually meaningless to outsiders. Some professions have so much jargon of their own that it has its own name; for example, lawyers use legalese, while academics use academese. Jargon is also sometimes known as lingo or argot. A passage of text that if full of jargon is said to be jargony.

Key Takeaways: Jargon

• Jargon is the complex language used by experts in a certain discipline or field. This language often helps experts communicate with clarity and precision.

• Jargon is different from slang, which is the casual language used by a particular group of people.

• Critics of jargon believe such language does more to obscure than clarify; they argue that most jargon can be replaced with simple, direct language without sacrificing meaning.

Supporters of jargon believe such language is necessary for navigating the intricacies of certain professions. In scientific fields, for instance, researchers explore difficult subjects that most laypeople would not be able to understand. The language the researchers use must be precise because they are dealing with complex concepts (molecular biology, for example, or nuclear physics) and simplifying the language might cause confusion or create room for error. In "Taboo Language," Keith Allan and Kate Burridge argue that this is the case:

"Should jargon be censored? Many people think it should. However, close examination of jargon shows that, although some of it is vacuous pretentiousness...its proper use is both necessary and unobjectionable."

Critics of jargon, however, say such language is needlessly complicated and in some cases even deliberately designed to exclude outsiders. American poet David Lehman has described jargon as "the verbal sleight of hand that makes the old hat seem newly fashionable." He says the language "gives an air of novelty and specious profundity to ideas that, if stated directly, would seem superficial, stale, frivolous, or false." In his famous essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell argues that obscure and complex language is often used to "make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Jargon vs. Slang

Jargon should not be confused with slang, which is informal, colloquial language sometimes used by a group (or groups) of people. The main difference is one of register; jargon is formal language unique to a specific discipline or field, while slang is common, informal language that is more likely to be spoken than written. A lawyer discussing an "amicus curiae brief" is an example of jargon. A teen talking about "making dough" is an example of slang.

List of Jargon Words

Jargon can be found in a variety of fields, from law to education to engineering. Some examples of jargon include:

  • Due diligence: A business term, "due diligence" refers to the research that should be done before making an important business decision.
  • AWOL: Short for "absent without leave," AWOL is military jargon used to describe a person whose whereabouts are unknown.
  • Hard copy: A common term in business, academia, and other fields, a "hard copy" is a physical printout of a document (as opposed to an electronic copy).
  • Cache: In computing, "cache" refers to a place for short-term memory storage.
  • Dek: A journalism term for a subheading—usually one or two sentences long—that provides a brief summary of the article that follows.
  • Stat: This is a term, usually used in a medical context, that means "immediately." (As in, "Call the doctor—stat!")
  • Phospholipid bilayer: This is a complex term for a layer of fat molecules surrounding a cell. A simpler term is "cell membrane."
  • Detritivore: A detritivore is an organism that feeds on detritus, or dead matter. Examples of detritivores include earthworms, sea cucumbers, and millipedes.
  • Holistic: Another word for "comprehensive" or "complete," "holistic" is often used by educational professionals in reference to curriculum that focuses on social and emotional learning in additional to traditional lessons.
  • Magic bullet: This is a term for a simple solution that solves a complex problem. (It is usually used derisively, as in "I don't think this plan you've come up with is a magic bullet.")
  • Best practice: In business, a "best practice" is one that should be adopted because it has proven effectiveness.