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Secret handshake

March 24 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I grew up as a skater, was weened on punk rock and then went into tech for a lifetime. Each of those "worlds" has it's own lexicon and it's own lingo.

I'm chock full o' jargon.

Jargon is a funny thing as few people think they use jargon. Yet they are quick to point out that others use jargon. In some strange way it's like snoring or having a regional accent... easy to point out in others but hard to see in yourself.

The truth is that we all use jargon.

Seriously, it's 2008 in America. This is the land of the disposable everything (unfortunately... but that's a different post). We speak a language which ceased to be English decades ago. What we speak is increasingly (and appropriately) called "American" by other countries. We create and dispose of words like they were single-use plastic water bottles. Our language grows year after year as we merge, mashup and create words without missing a beat.

The thing is that in order to really "get" jargon you need to participate in it... there are a couple places that help out with understanding of key concepts; WIRED does this well for the geeks with Jargonwatch and we've given a yeoman's try with our Coastal A - Z. You may pop to our Coastal A - Z and think... "Um, Jim that's not really jargon... those are definitions, that list is really more of an encyclopedia of terms". And that's where you'd miss the point... it's jargon. It's insider-speak. It's a close cousin of the secret handshake.

It's exclusionary.

CEQA, NEPA, EIR, Beach Fill, Blooms, Coliform, Refraction, WRDA, TMDLs, Scarp, Revetment, Riprap, NPDES, LNG... I sometimes think it would be easier to learn Klingon than the seemingly neverending list of enviro/scientific terms.

I said above that jargon is part of our lives. But I was referring to the supply side of this equation, the demand side is much different.

Let's look at the supply side first. If we are ten envios in a room or at a conference then I think a jargonpalloza-fest is expected and even... in order. Insiders speak a certain way with other insiders. They quickly jump to an audible shorthand. No use arguing it, no use fighting it... it simply just happens. I'd even suggest it's a good thing as it has an element of efficiency.

But the demand side, if we want to connect with the general population then we're going to have to speak English... er'... American... to them. Think of Ross Perot running for President a decade or so ago. He was embraced because he spoke... American. He used simple charts and used simple language. I believe that a large part of the reason people were drawn to him was the fact that they could understand him.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in a unique seat to see this disconnect happening. I quickly see that people around me drift off into never never land when I lapse into techno-speak... and I see the same thing when others are waxing lyrically about some TMDL part of an EIS to people that aren't inner-circle enviros. Sure, the mavens... the activists... get this lingo. Heck, they created it. They are part of the inner circle of our mission and initiatives. But we need to remember who our audience is, it's everyone else not in that inner circle.

So next time you hear a skater say "rad" don't smirk because that's exactly how we all sound when we use jargon with the general population.
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