Jargon and Doublespeak

"Jargon" can refer to the specialized language of a profession or field of study (a neutral term in the usage).

"Jargon" can also describe language which is artificial or pretentious, more complex than it needs to be, marked by euphemism, vagueness and insincerity.

"Doublespeak" is jargon at its worst: language designed to deceive.

1. Examples of the "officialese" form of jargon.

Verbal contact with Blank regarding the attached notification of promotion has elicited the attached representation intimating that he prefers to decline the assignment. (Mr. Blank didn't want the job.)

The nursery school teacher education training sessions involve active interfacing with preschool children of the appropriate age as well as intensive peer interaction in the form of role plays. (Training for nursery school teachers involves interaction with preschoolers and role playing with peers.)

2. Just how mindless and empty can officialese become?

Just how vulnerable are we to its pretentiousness? Try out the S.B.P.P. (Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector) below, which was popularized by a U.S. Public Health official named Phillip Broughton. Just select any three digit number and select the corresponding "buzz words" from the three columns. All combinations are guaranteed to mean absolutely nothing but with the ring of absolute authority!

0. Integrated Management Options
1. Total Organizational Flexibility
2. Systematized Monitored Capability
3. Parallel Reciprocal Mobility
4. Functional Digital Programming
5. Responsive Logistical Concept
6. Optional Transitional Time-Phase
7. Synchronized Incremental Projection
8. Compatible Third-Generation Hardware
9. Balanced Policy Contingency

3. Examples of "weasel words" and "Doublespeak"

From advertisers:
"pre-owned" or "reconditioned" cars (used cars) "aids in the prevention of" (might work, might not)
From government:
The best examples I could find won the N.C.T.E. 1985 award for "Doublespeak." First prize went to the State Department for announcing that it will no longer use the word "killing" in its reports on human rights around the world. Instead, it will refer to such acts as "unlawful to arbitrary deprivation of life." The National Transportation Safety Board was cited for labeling plane crashes "controlled flights into terrain." The Defense Department won honorable mention for calling peace "permanent prehostility" combat "violence processing," and civilian casualties "collateral damages."

EXERCISE: Try your hand at translating the following examples of jargon.

  1. It is incumbent on the administration to maximize defense expenditures, to ensure a credible U.S. defense posture vis- a-vis our adversaries.
  2. The various facts of human personality so greatly impinge on behavior that the concept of free will become problematic.
  3. Our relationship seems to suffer from a fundamental lack of communication which seems to set up barriers between us in every area of interpersonal relations.

4. At its worst, jargon deliberately masks meaning by using language which is unintelligible or empty.

"Euphemisms," or polite ways of saying what is offensive or shocking, are often a major weapon of those who, for whatever reason, prefer to "protect" us from unpleasant realities.

During the most "unpleasant" years of Vietnam, government officials routinely used what Vincent Barry calls "a litany of euphemisms." Here is a partial list, with translations:

pacification center concentration camps
incursion invasion
protective reaction strike bombing
surgical strike precision bombing
incontinent ordinance off-target bombs (usually when they kill civilians)
friendly fire shelling friendly villages or troops by mistake
specified strike zone area where soldiers could fire at anything
interdiction bombing
strategic withdrawal retreat (when the U.S. and its allies did it)
advisor military officer or CIA agent
(before U.S. admitted involvement in Vietnam)
termination killing
infiltrators enemy troops moving into the battle area
reinforcements friendly troops moving into the battle area

1. EXERCISE: On separate sheets, rewrite the following euphemism-filled paragraph, "translating" it into straightforward English with the help of the list above:

The planned INCURSION of REINFORCEMENTS went into effect under the direction of ADVISORS. It was preceded by a PROTECTIVE REACTIVE STRIKE. The INTERDICTION experienced an INCONTINENT ORDINANCE. The SPECIFIC STRIKE ZONE was widened. FRIENDLY FIRE temporarily caused consideration of STRATEGIC WITHDRAWAL. However, losses were deemed minimal. INFILTRATORS not TERMINATED have been relocated to PACIFICATION CENTERS in the area.

2. EXERCISE: Now write a paragraph in which you compare and contrast the effects of the two versions.