Jargon is a wonderful word. It’s one of those very rare words that mean two completely different things. It can mean either specialized, technical language or it can mean nonsense. A person speaking jargon can be saying something brilliant or saying something completely insane.

I don’t know why the inventors of English felt it was a good idea to use the same word for highly technical language and nonsense, but I think it was because they realized the two meanings weren’t complete opposites. Jargon is any stream of words that an ordinary person is unable to understand. Most of us can’t make any sense out of it. To understand jargon, you have to be either highly trained or completely nuts.

I read a lot of baffling prose these days. I suspect that many authors deliberately speak in jargon because they’re confused about what they’re saying or because they want to confuse the rest of us. Or perhaps they think great ideas are beyond most people’s ability to understand and that if most people can understand what they’re saying, their ideas are not particularly profound or ground-breaking, so they deliberately state their ideas in the most incomprehensible language possible.

Incomprehensible gibberish has always been with us, but there seems to be more of it now. I find that a great deal of academic writing is almost incomprehensible. I can’t always tell if the stuff I’m reading is brilliant or just plain nuts. The one thing I can be sure of is that it’s jargon. In this age of uncertainty, it’s nice to be certain of something.

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