The Chatter of Airborne Objects

Mbabane, Swaziland | 5 November 2014
Bill Snaddon

It dawned on me the other day that I have no idea where the word ‘jargon’ comes from.
Considering this column is about that very word, it seems a rather large oversight.
But allow me to build some suspense in these 600 words and come back to my admission of guilt in a minute.
For the past year I have been writing this sometime-sarcastic and sometime-serious column, attempting to demystify the many forms of jargon that get in the way of clearer and more meaningful discussion.
And God knows the forrest of jargon is growing by the day — whether we are aware of it or not.
In fact, many of God’s ‘charismatic’ men may actually be responsible for planting more seeds in this scrub of linguistic confusion.
Though I best stop these blasphemous thoughts before they form into fully-fledged words.
As I see it, if the language is unclear then it becomes more difficult to set out on a clear course of action.
If a boss or teacher, a parent or leader, tells me to do something and I am not sure what he or she wants, then I am likely to muck it up.
Unless, of course, I say: ‘Excuse me, I have no idea what you are taking about.’
Perhaps we could facilitate a dialogue to address the high-level problematic issues in the space concerning thematic plain language challenges.
I would be honoured to chair such a workshop, as long as it’s held in a nice hotel and I am chauffeured to and from the gathering in those cars with the flashing blue lights.
But please don’t take me as a killjoy or a ‘language Nazi’, because there are always times when abstract language and cryptic words are more appropriate.
More to the point, and far from me to tell you, sometimes abstract language is necessary in order to stay out of trouble or to avoid causing public offence or humiliation.
In writing this column, I have discovered how sarcasm — or it’s more refined sibling, satire — is another way to get at the truth; especially when other avenues are cut off.
However, like all well-intentioned pursuits, there are unintended consequences.
And no-one is more aware than me how this column may add to the ‘jargonic’ confusion.
My very own friends regularly tell me that they have no idea what I’m talking about.
So be it. Failure is the mother of success, as I’m sure someone wise once said in a more literary fashion.
I’m sure you’ll know what I mean when I say that, on many occasions, I have described an apple when really what I am talking about is an orange.
And to stick with this analogy, if unclear jargon words were pieces of fruit, the trick is to peel off the outer layers of strategic and high-level waffle, until you get to the juicy middle, full of flavour and, in the language sense, true meaning.
Now, coming back to my point — after a trek into this forrest of waffle — I discovered the other day that the word ‘jargon’ comes from an Old French word meaning ‘chatter of birds’.
Just for a laugh, let me translate this Old French meaning into a more modern, jargon-infused definition.
Instead of ‘chatter of birds’, today we might say: ‘A dialogue and narrative of interactive and innovative interaction between airborne objects with wings’.
I know which definition I prefer.

This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on 5 November 2014.

#46_The chatter of airborne objects_5 Nov 2014

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