Readers, Writers, Texts

Garbage Language

On Jargon, presented by Jonathan Meades (caution: contains profanity)

The word “jargon” can be traced to 14th century Old French, but the actual origin is unknown. “Jargon” is derived from the fourteenth century term for “twittering or warbling of birds,” which in turn has the root ‘garg’ from which also stem such words as “gargle,” and “gurgle.” The original meaning was “to make a twittering noise or sound,” but by modern standards, it has three derivations. One current or modern definition of jargon is “an outlandish, technical language of a particular profession, group, or trade.” Another meaning is “unintelligible writing or talk.” Yet another definition is “specific dialects resulting from a mixture of several languages.” Since the reoccurring problem with jargon is that only a few people may understand the actual terminology used by different groups, this may explain its origin from “twittering” which, of course, would be misunderstood by most people. 

However, a ‘jargonaut’ (one who studies jargon) may claim that jargon, in its most positive light, can be seen as professional, efficient shorthand, and was developed out of convenience rather than intentional trickiness. In this section you can find out all about this use of language and ask the question, is jargon a way to unite members of the same group, or a way to divide and exclude through language? Read one or two of the following articles to widen your knowledge of this language phenomenon. I especially recommend Garbage Language for a proper takedown of this kind of language, and The Appliance of Science if you want to research plenty of examples of jargon words and where they come from:

Class Activity: be an IB jargonaut

As an IB student, you are part of a very specific community of people (IB Learners) who are exposed to and start using a specific jargon that helps to define this community. Think about all the IB terms that you have come to know and love (?!) – the first example being the name of this course: Lang and Lit. The words mean something to you, and your teachers – but people not in a group we might call ‘IB Learners and Teachers’ may not be able to understand what these terms mean. Collect all the examples of IB Jargon that you can think of – can you get to 20, or even 30 pieces?

Learner Portfolio

Write a one-two page journal entry in which you present your thoughts about the use of jargon? Is it a necessary part of efficient communication, or simply a way to exclude and baffle others through a particular use of language?

You might like to take a look at this great piece of student writing, based on her observations while in hospital for pneumonia (proving that where there’s a will there’s a way to get your work done – even when you’re sick!) to give you an idea of the kind of writing you could attempt.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: infographics

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below is a set of Infographics based on the theme of Medical Emergencies as well as examples of past papers. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of this text type and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:


Body of Work: Dilbert by Scott Adams

December 7th, 2020

Dilbert might be the most photocopied, shared, pinned-up, faxed (if that’s still a thing) and forwarded comic strip in history! It’s an American strip written and illustrated by Scott Adams. First published on April 16, 1989, the strip is known for its satirical office humour about a white-collar, micromanaged office featuring engineer Dilbert as the title character. For the purposes of this study, we’re interested in the writer’s attitude towards jargon and management-speak, which he has consistently lampooned throughout Dilbert’s running life, and the way he brings his humour to life through the deadpan character of Dilbert and his use of elements common to the genre of comic strips.

You can find a selection of Dilbert comic strips in this Body of Work, chosen for their focus on the language of the workplace. But there are literally thousands of individual strips produced by Scott Adams over decades. You might like to visit the Dilbert homepage, check out some of the animated Dilbert cartoons or even watch an analytical deconstruction of the author’s presentation of the workplace.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide

Dilbert comic strips would make a perfect text to use in this assessed activity. The named author would be ‘Scott Adams.’ You could explore the Field of Inquiry of Culture, Identity and Community with a specific focus on the Global Issue of ‘Language and Community’. In this case, you would be particularly interested in the way language can be used to fuse people together – or how it can be used to divide within or exclude from a particular community. The specifics you might like to discuss (including the way language can be used to both include and exclude people, mask or hide reality, assert hierarchies, communicate or fail-to-communicate) can be complimented by any number of literary passages. You could use the following ideas as a starting point, or speak with your teacher about possible pairings:

  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – jargon is not the only barrier to communication. You could investigate a part of this text that reveals that – even when language is clear – some people don’t understand what others are talking about.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – the riazzo or the courtroom are microcosms of Venetian society, with all members of society (Jews, Christians, men, women, Dukes and commoners) rubbing shoulder to shoulder. But, it is clear that some members of this community are more welcome than others. How does language include or exclude people from these communal areas?
  • J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – Lunghua Camp is a particular kind of community with its own rules, codes of conduct – and its own jargons. You could choose a passage from a section of the novel set inside the prisoner of war camp.
  • Keats’ Selected Poetry – while more of a leap, you might like to consider how classical and historical allusions function in a similar way to jargon: either ‘including’ readers who recognise the allusion, and excluding those who don’t.

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