Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

‘Beware the Jabberwock’ — or, avoid using jargon in your writing


When I was in high school, my best buddy and I found Lewis Carroll’s poem about the Jabberwock absolutely hilarious. We would often pass each other in the halls, or walk together into classrooms eloquently reciting parts of it in unison:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Jabberwocks and Bandersnatches aside, my purpose here isn’t to exegete (jargon?) Carroll’s fun poem. My purpose is to warn you about the dangers of using jargon in your writing. I started thinking about jargon after reading a reference to a pickup truck that spoke about a special deal I could get if I wanted to buy a tonneau cover for it.

Tonneau cover?? For a pickup truck? And, of course, “tonneau cover” obviously make me think of the phrase “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves …” and all the rest of Carroll’s wonderful nonsense. I say “obviously,” but maybe that’s just the way my mind works. The point, though, is this — Lewis Carroll wrote his nonsense poem as entertainment; the tonneau cover people actually want to communicate a special sale on some merchandise for pickup owners.

But how many of you have pickups? And how many of you with pickups know what a tonneau cover might be? I’ve seen many pickups — though I’ve never owned one — and having researched the term, I cannot understand why the devices aren’t called “pickup bed covers.” Because, as far as I understand it, a tonneau cover is just that — a cover for a pickup bed.

In this case, “tonneau cover” would qualify as jargon: terminology which relates to a specific activity, profession, or group and which is not readily understood outside that activity, profession, or group. (Somebody post a comment and help me out here: Do pickup owners themselves ever use the term “tonneau cover” or understand what it means?)

Don’t use jargon in your writing. Never assume a word that means something simple to you will communicate to people reading your writing, unless they are people in the same profession, business, whatever, who use the same jargon to practice their profession or do their business.

It isn’t easy to eliminate jargon. As part of your writing or rewriting process, you must make an effort to think about the words you’re using and how well the average reader understands those words. It isn’t easy, but it has to be done if you are going to succeed as a writer.

Oh, and as far as the Lewis Carroll nonsense poem — I just read an interesting article about it at Wikipedia which actually explains the jargon in the poem. At least some of those words actually mean something. If you’re a word person, and writers ARE word people, you’ll find it interesting.
[tags]Jabberwocky, pickup trucks, tonneau covers, avoiding jargon, writing tips at garyspeer.com[/tags]