Jargon – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

A Jargon is a loaded word. One dictionary defines it, neatly and neutrally, as ‘the technical vocabulary or idiom of a special activity or group’, but this sense is almost completely overshadowed by another: ‘obscure and often pretentious language marked by a roundabout way of expression and use of long words’. For most people, it is this second sense which is at the front of their minds when they think about jargon. Jargon is said to be a bad use of language, something to be avoided at all costs. No one ever describes it in positive terms (‘that was a delightful piece of rousing jargon’). Nor does one usually admit to using it oneself: the myth is that jargon is something only other people employ.

B The reality, however, is that everyone uses jargon. It is an essential part of the network of occupations and pursuits that make up society. All jobs present an element of jargon, which workers learn as they develop their expertise. All hobbies require mastery of a jargon. Each society grouping has its jargon. The phenomenon turns out to be universal – and valuable. It is the jargon element which, in a job, can promote economy and precision of expression, and thus help make life easier for the workers. It is also the chief linguistic element which shows professional awareness (‘know-how’) and social togetherness (‘shop-talk’).

C When we have learned to command it, jargon is something we readily take pleasure in, whether the subject area is motorcycles, knitting, cricket, baseball or computers. It can add pace, variety and humour to speech – as when, with an important event approaching, we might slip into NASA-speak, and talk about countdown, all systems go, and lift-off. We enjoy the mutual showing-off which stems from a fluent use of terminology, and we enjoy the in-jokes which shared linguistic experience permits. Moreover, we are jealous of this knowledge. We are quick to demean anyone who tries to be part of our group without being prepared to take on its jargon.

D If jargon is so essential a part of our lives, why then has it had such a bad press? The most important reason stems from the way jargon can exclude as well as include. We may not be too concerned if we find ourselves faced with an impenetrable wall of jargon when the subject matter has little perceived relevance to our everyday lives, as in the case of hydrology, say, or linguistics. But when the subject matter is one where we feel implicated, and think we have a right to know, and the speaker uses words which make it hard for us to understand, then we start to complain; and if we suspect that the obfuscation is deliberate policy, we unreservedly condemn, labelling it gobbledegook and calling down public derision upon it.

E No area is exempt, but the fields of advertising, politics and defence have been especially criticised in recent years by the various campaigns for Plain English. In these domains, the extent to which people are prepared to use jargon to hide realities is a ready source of amusement, disbelief and horror. A lie is a lie, which can be only temporarily hidden by calling it an ‘inoperative statement’ or ‘an instance of plausible deniability’. Nor can a nuclear plant explosion be suppressed for long behind such phrases as ‘energetic disassembly’, ‘abnormal evolution’ or ‘plant transient’.

F While condemning unnecessary or obscuring jargon in others, we should not forget to look out for it in ourselves. It is so easy to ‘slip into’ jargon, without realizing that our own listeners/readers do not understand. It is also temptingly easy to slip some jargon into our expression, to ensure that others do not understand. And it is just as easy to begin using jargon which we ourselves do not understand. The motivation to do such apparently perverse things is not difficult to grasp. People like to be ‘in’, to be part of an intellectual or technical elite; and the use of jargon, whether understood or not, is a badge of membership. Jargon, also, can provide a lazy way into a group or an easy way of hiding uncertainties and inadequacies: when terminology slips plausibly from the tongue, it is not essential for the brain to keep up. Indeed some people have developed this skill to professional levels. And certainly, faced with a telling or awkward question, and the need to say something acceptable in public, slipping into jargon becomes a simple way out, and can soon become a bad habit.

Questions 1-6
Reading Passage 1 has six paragraphs, A – F. Choose the correct heading for each paragraph from the list of headings below. Write the correct number i – ix in boxes 1 – 6 on your answer sheet.

List of Headings
i The benefits of simple language
ii A necessary tool
iii A lasting way of concealing disasters
iv The worst offenders
v A deceptively attractive option
vi Differing interpretations
vii Publicising new words
viii Feeling shut out
ix Playing with words

1 Paragraph A
2 Paragraph B
3 Paragraph C
4 Paragraph D
5 Paragraph E
6 Paragraph F

Questions 7-12
Complete the summary using the list of words A-L below. Write the correct letter A- L in boxes 7 – 12 on your answer sheet.

The Up Side of Jargon
Jargon plays a useful part in many aspects of life including leisure. For example, when people take up pastimes they need to develop a good (7)……………………………of the relevant jargon. During discussion of these or other areas of interest, conversation can become more exciting and an element of (8)……………………….can be introduced by the use of shared jargon. Jargon is particularly helpful in the workplace. It leads to more (9)……………………….in the way colleagues communicate during work hours. Taking part in (10)……………………….during moments of relaxation can also help them to bond better. It is interesting that members of a group, whether social or professional, often demonstrate a certain (11)……………………….. towards the particular linguistic characteristics of their subject area and tend to regard new people who do not wish to learn the jargon with (12)…………………..

A judgementB jokesC shop-talk
D efficiencyE know-howF command
G contemptH feelingI possessiveness
J pleasureK fearL humour

Question 13
Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D. Write the correct letter in box 13 on your answer sheet.

13 Which of the following statements would the writer agree with?
A Jargon thoroughly deserves the bad reputation it has gained.
B Jargon should not be encouraged except in the workplace.
C Jargon should not be used if the intention is to exclude others.
D Everyday life would be very much better without jargon.