Lost in Conversation

Published 21st February 2014
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We all do it without thinking about it, particularly at work, but using jargon is a very exclusive way of communicating.

The other day at work I was showing around two photographers and, at one of our photo shoot spots, we got chatting about the sort of shot we were looking for. Before I knew it, they started talking about angles, shutter speed, lighting, ISO and just about every setting on the camera, which I struggled to follow.

It wasn’t just because I hadn’t brushed up on my photography skills, it could have been any profession – electrician, scientist, bus driver, writer – they all have their own specific terminology. Not only that but it makes sense to be able to communicate amongst colleagues using this vocabulary to refer to particular subjects which are to do with your work. The use of jargon actually makes a job easier because you can quickly communicate what you need to say and know your colleagues will understand.

However, when you are outside of the circle, jargon is almost like a foreign language. You know roughly what people are talking about but you can’t always keep up. Unlike speaking a foreign language, it is not generally a conscious decision to start using it. It’s something you lapse into at work and with those in a similar profession and we use it as a way of signally that we are on the same level.

In the case of the photographers, this was normal vocabulary which they used on a day-to-day basis. Like many of us, we get used to certain words or phrases which, to anyone else, don’t make any sense. Jargon is a specialised form of language. It is used by select groups of people but changes from group to group and is sometimes almost unintelligible to those outside the group.

Like many things in linguistics, the more you get used to it, the better you understand it. You can learn to talk the talk and instead of standing at the edge of the group, you can take part. Perhaps if I’d spent some time learning about photography, I would have been alright but it is also a case of how useful it would be in everyday life and how highly you value it.

I reckon I can get by without knowing about shutter speed and ISO but it has made me more aware of aspects of photography which may encourage me to find out more.

So next time you start a conversation at work, bear in mind the words you use which are exclusive to your business. I think you’ll be surprised.

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