Essays

Jargon and Language Exclusivity

Jargon and Language ExclusivityJargon and Language Exclusivity

I just read a book about words that only mean something to people in certain professions and I got to thinking about the idea of jargon.

Jargon is language that only means something in a certain situation and to certain people, such as doctors. It’s rude to use jargon when speaking to people who don’t know what it means because they can’t understand what you’re talking about.

The jargon is still in English, so it’s not exactly another language, but is it fair?

By this question, I ask if it’s fair to transform a common language in a niche manner so that most people cannot understand it, therefore making the language exclusive to only a few people, something I like to call language exclusivity.

Language doesn’t belong to any one person. There’s not a copyright on English, or German, or Japanese, or any other language, that I know of, maybe Vulcan or Elvish have copyrights since they were actually created by very few people, but no one person, or entity, has the right to English. Therefore, it belongs to everybody. It’s a cooperative language.

The idea of a cooperative is that multiple people take ownership of something and work to maintain it and better it. If you had a farm that was a cooperative, a bunch of people would help water the vegetables, harvest the vegetables, and then get them ready for market. The farm would not belong to one person. In addition to maintaining this farm, the people who were in the cooperative would help improve the farm. They would all help install a new irrigation system to make the farm better. Maybe they don’t have to haul water from the spring in buckets, which is great.

Being that English is cooperative, this also means we are able to change the language and improve it since we all kind of own it. That’s why there is American English, English English, and Australian English. I’m sure there’s also at least a couple that I’m missing. I think it’s fair that we’ve evolved English in such a way that large countries, with large populations, that are geographically distinct, have their own versions of English.

But…is it fair to break those distinctions down even more? Is it ok for American doctors, British doctors, and Australian doctors to have an English that only doctors of those countries understand? Is it ok for doctors to have language that other people don’t understand? If we create a heavily-jargoned language for American doctors, as an example, is it fair? If English is something that should be accessible to everyone, is it right for us to take part of it and make it exclusive?

The whole idea of exclusivity means very few people can access it and that usually means only people with money, but not always. There is a whole redneck language that’s exclusive to rednecks, that a city person from New York City is not going to understand at all, and for the most part, people who self-identify as rednecks don’t have a lot of money. Generally though, exclusivity means “you can get in with enough money” or “you can get in, if you meet XYZ stringent requirements.” If you take something that is free and make part of it exclusive, is it fair? Humane? Legal?

You may be thinking that we’re not charging for a person to learn jargon, which is essentially a type of slang. No one says you owe them five dollars if you want to learn how to talk like a doctor. I know we’re picking on doctors a lot, but they do have a whole lot of jargon and it’s a good example.

Look, we do charge to speak like a doctor and understand their language, but it’s not always a monetary charge. Sure, if you go to school to become a doctor, it costs a lot of money. We’re also talking time, effort, and a high understanding of Latin and Greek root words. There is a cost associated with learning the jargon of doctors, even though it’s not written down on a brochure somewhere.

Learn how to talk like a doctor! Only five payments of $999.99!

You could, theoretically, learn how to understand all of the doctors’ jargon without going to medical school or working as a doctor. You could do this by being a nurse or a physician’s assistant, which still come with an education cost. You could also just sit yourself down with several medical terminology books and some books about Latin and Greek and dive into the jargon of doctors. No matter how you learned the jargon of the doctors’, it still came with a cost and that cost makes it exclusive language, because it’s not a cost everyone is willing to pay, or is able to pay.

Shouldn’t English just be English? If you’re a doctor, shouldn’t you be speaking English just like everyone else? If you go into a patient’s room, shouldn’t what you say make sense to the patient?

Shouldn’t, “Take this controlled substance BID,” be more understandable as, “Take this Lortab twice a day, but only twice a day because it’s addictive”?

The idea of language exclusivity may not be fair, but it may be appropriate in some instances. If you’re a doctor, you’re going to have to learn words like myocardial infarction, instead of just saying heart attack. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Why does everything need a Latin name? Why can’t people just be called humans instead of Homo sapiens? It’s kind of like saying, “Oooh, I’m special, I know a fancy way to say you choked on cherry stem and all you can say is that you choked on a cherry stem, because you haven’t been to medical school.”

I don’t know why a person has to learn to speak a different version of English depending on their profession and also possibly depending on their level of education. Academics certainly speak in a different manner than Joe down at the landfill that mans the big scale where you take your trash. Why can’t we all just call a soda a soda and be done with it?

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