Jargon is specialized language used in a particular field. Jargon is used to do several things:
- We use it to communicate more efficiently. Often, when you talk about your own subject, you’re talking about things that don’t have names in ordinary English because they’re not needed — but they really are needed by people working with them. When a retailer talks about SKUs or a web designer talks about tags, those words mean something different from a product or a label. If you’re talking to people about things in their field that have specific names, it doesn’t make sense to use more common terms. If your website sells double pointed knitting needles, call them DPNs. Nobody who wants DPNs will be searching for “sticks with points on both ends.”
- We use it to show we’re insiders. Sometimes jargon demonstrates that you’re an insider. Even very small differences between inside and outside speech can have this effect. For example, marine biologists tend to say “fishes” rather than “fish,” while fashionistas say “pant” rather than “pants.” Correcting these little differences to the more common style doesn’t really make it more clear to outsiders, but it can make you sound like an outsider. If you’re talking to insiders, go ahead and use some jargon.
- People also use it to exclude outsiders. This can be intentional, but it can also be accidental, and you don’t want that to happen at your website. The problem often comes up when people selling an item use different terminology from those who buy the item. We can easily forget that the words we use are not the words our customers use. I was in a meeting recently where someone said, “It’s true that we ran into some opportunities, but we’re past that now.” This individual works in a setting in which the word “opportunities” is used so commonly as a euphemism for “problems” that he sort of lost track of its meaning. Have someone from your target market read through your copy (umm… your words) to make sure you aren’t excluding people you want to welcome.
- It can even be used to confuse people. This is not a valid use, in my opinion, but it can be done. Don’t do it if your goal is to have a great website and a valuable online presence (that is your goal, right?).
In other words, it’s not that we want to exclude jargon, but that we want to use it appropriately.