So, here I am again, ranting on about language. I suppose that it’s one of the pitfalls of writing. You simply must be in love with language. You can write – he said. – she said. – the man said. – Edwina said. over and over. But it’s boring!
Without knowing it, Jayne Ann Krentz has been our mentor in this. She is the absolute best at using description to enhance dialogue. But, this takes me off the intended path. (Along with parenthetic insertions, something you, as a regular reader, have learned for which I have a distinct proclivity.)
So, back to the theme of this post. You will remember that a short while ago I discussed our love affair with abbreviations. What I did not expand upon at the time (yes, I hear the collective sigh of relief – but you’re not getting off that easily) – now, where was I?? Oh yes, what I didn’t expand upon is the belief that jargon has also nurtured our current tendency to abbreviate simply everything.
Let’s take a moment to consult Merriam-Webster on the matter. In their definition of jargon we find:
- 2 : the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group
- 3 : obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words
You see the thrust of my argument? For, what are abbreviations but the ‘characteristic idiom’ or the ‘obscure and pretentious language’ of ‘special… group[s]’?
Please, don’t misunderstand me, jargon, like abbreviations, can be very useful. For example, in another life, we both worked in a hospital. The term STAT was far more succinct than the long winded, “Stop what you are doing. I need assistance immediately or this person is going to die.” Heck, they could die in the time it takes to get all that out.
In still another life, I worked as, around, and with law enforcement. We had codes, lots, and lots of codes and, in those days, they weren’t plastered all over television, the movies, the internet, and every other conceivable form of media. You had to learn the language and keep it sacred. After all, we couldn’t have the public knowing what we were talking about, could we? So, unlike Han Solo in Episode IV of Star Wars, we didn’t say, “Everything’s perfectly alright now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now. Thank you. How are you?” we just said we were Code 4.
So, you see what I mean when I say that jargon can be useful. But it can also be confusing because, like language at large, jargon evolves.
Let’s consider the word Bad. Commonly, bad means, well, bad; undesirable, inedible, evil, malevolent, nasty, that sort of thing. But there came a time when bad, for a time, meant ‘good’. One heard youths (a ‘special’ group) saying, “Dude! that is so bad!” as an expression of admiration or compliment.
Of course, at the same time people were still using the word to connote undesirability. (I include youths here, although anyone who has been a parent may agree that, at times it is questionable whether youths [aka teenagers] are really people) Thus one heard and understood the concept of undesirability in such statements as, ‘He took a bad fall.’ or, ‘It’s too bad she couldn’t join us.’ For a clearer example of this duality of meaning for bad, I refer you to that wonderful scene in the movie Silver Streak where Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are being put in the jail cell. In my opinion, the scene conveys both the spoken idiomatic meaning as well as perhaps unconsciously passing judgment on the efficacy of the idea.
For the ultimate example of the confusion that can arise from ever changing jargon, I refer you to the masters, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Enjoy! Oh, before I go today, you need to know something. With the advent of the alternate history blog, these personal rantings will now be offered only once a week.
Hey, stop cheering! It’s rude!
I am writer. Not that blogging isn’t writing, but it’s not the writing we originally set out to do. The novel is wanting for all the time that blogging is taking from it. That is especially true of the alternate history blog. That needs careful research because it forms the bedrock upon which the novels are being built.
I look forward to sharing these personal ruminations with you but I really must get back to work on the steampunk adventure.
With that said, here is Monty Python on the subject of jargon, or as they referred to it in those day, banter. Feel free to laugh out loud. I always do.