The art(ifice) of Language

For whatever reason, when I hear the word “jargon” I imagine an intricate set of gears inside a handheld pocket watch. I think this is because I often think of disciplinary jargon as complex and difficult to wrap your head around (though I know there must be some kind of logic to it).

As a general rule, I try to stay away from jargon in my own writing. Instead, there is a certain level of discipline-specific language I think allows us to get at difficult ideas — and this I prefer to think of as a discipline’s vocabulary. In Comparative Literature, we are constantly told not to try to write like the theorists we find hardest to understand, but to find models of clarity to follow. After all, if our goal is to share our knowledge with others, we should strive to write in a way that is accessible to those who are both within and outside our field, and I feel very passionately about the importance of making sure as academics we share our knowledge with as many people as we can. Instead of relying on jargon, then, I try to think about the clearest way I can get my ideas across, bolstering my thought with terms that clarify rather than muddy the waters of my writing.

That being said, I really do get a kick out of websites like UChicago’s Academic Sentence Generator, which lets you chose among a set of academic discourses and pumps out a long (but still intelligible… to lit students anyway) sentence you’re likely to find in certain theory-heavy journals.

What I like most about that site is that it pokes fun at academic jargon, even while finding in those kinds of sentences an opportunity to explore language and argument construction. So, although I certainly try not to write like that, I find it useful to be able to parse through those bits of text, if only to marvel at how much I’ve learned to translate academic words into everyday language.

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