Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Using jargon, or The etymology of bishing

My wife and I were checking out of a hotel where we'd been staying on a concierge floor (my wife got a deal on the rooms). To check out we had to go to the floor's lounge, entering through a set of double doors. A gentleman was ahead of us and had suddenly realized that he needed to get something from his pocket. He stopped in the doorway and, with his suitcase beside him, started searching his pockets. Since he was in the doorway, he completely blocked the entrance. I immediately thought to myself, "Bishing!"

Bishing is the act of standing still in the exact place that will block the maximum amount of busy traffic around you. You probably didn't know that.

Bishing is the word you would use in this situation only if you're a member of my family. The term derives from a children's book given to us by friend of ours (thanks, Karen Houle!) about 20 years ago. "Bish" refers to an animal that's a combination of a bird and a fish...and, actually, you don't care. Etymology is irrelevant to meaning and use.

But all groups (businesses, families, social groups) will have words that mean something within the group and something different to the outside world...or, as in the case of "Bishing," nothing at all.

Another example: Somewhere along the line, (and through, I think, my wife's family) our family has adopted the term "for the high jump" to refer to something that's worn out and is ready to be thrown out. The phrase is (supposed) to derive from hanging criminals and is used in the real world to refer to a person (not a thing) who is going to be severely criticized. How it ended up in our family with our current usage is anyone's guess.

Technically (and outside of family situations) these kinds of words are known as "jargon." If you're speaking to an audience and are confident that you know how to use the jargon correctly you should use it. The audience knows the term and uses it to communicate among themselves so you should use it to communicate with them.

However, If there's any doubt that you may not be using jargon correctly, however, you should avoid it like the plague. Using jargon incorrectly is a quick way to flag to the audience that you don't know what you're talking about--which is fatal in technical writing.

How can you tell whether you're right or wrong? Always, always, always have someone from the audience check your usage. Don't ever trust your own judgement. Because, after all, you don't know what you're saying.

Reading or read

No comments: