Neologisms, Jargon, and Buzzwords
Researching a college term paper on early Czech nationalism, I learned medieval theologians didn’t use Latin only to please the Church.* Everyday languages like Czech lacked a vocabulary for complex theological ideas; ordinary folk didn’t need it. Language, in turn, shaped and limited what non-scholars could think. It’s hard to discuss or even contemplate matters for which you lack the words.
New terms (neologisms) and new ideas grew hand in hand. Over time, languages became richer and more complex. Specialized vocabulary (jargon) within a skill or interest group made communication more precise. Plumbers confer about a leak in terms that mean nothing to me, with far better results than if they depended on my floundering “that round part on the bottom.”
Neologisms like blog and webinar gain easy acceptance. Not so with death tax, feminazi, intersectionality, and microaggression. Such terms flag the user’s sympathies.** Some serve no other purpose (buzzwords). Consider Democrat Party vs. Democratic Party, or people of color vs. colored people. The choice of phrasing communicates nothing but the leanings of the speaker.
* Of course, Latin also let scholars communicate internationally, as French did later and English does today.
** Some of these terms also facilitate precise discussion.
1/14/2020 07:13:33 am
Good musings. "Artificial" replaces "man-made" more smoothly in some contexts than others. Letter carriers and flight attendants have replaced postmen and stewardesses. Gendered terms are a super example of how words not only reflect our thoughts but shape them. In my lifetime, "lady doctor," "male nurse," and "poetess" were common - implying doctors and poets are men, nurses women, unless otherwise stated.
1/23/2020 08:14:51 pm
Both of you did a beautiful job of citing examples. Some situations still lack needed change. A speaker standing at a podium will often address an audience of men and women with, "How are you guys doing this evening?" We have evolved from chairman to chairperson to chair.
1/24/2020 08:01:53 am
Walter, great instances of both terms that still need change and terms newly entered the language. (I can't keep up with the latter!) Some people object to "chair" as equating a person with a piece of furniture - apparently not considering that they have no trouble calling a group of people a board.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.