I have been following this thread with interest as it has explored the
relationship between "jargon," learning, competition, and community.
On 13 Oct 1995, Barry Mallis wrote (in part):
> Jargon, as we are well aware, can be used as an exclusionary device.
Replying to Barry Mallis, on 14 Oct 1995, Jesse White wrote (in part):
>So, jargon is used to not only to make "working adults feel more
>intelligent," but to provide a sense of community and perhaps love and
I think both exclusion and inclusion are potential functions of jargon.
A dictionary I have at hand defines "jargon" thus:
1. the language, esp. the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade,
profession, or group: medical jargon.
2. unintelligible talk or writing; gibberish; babble.
4. language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary
and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.
Random House Webster's College Dictionary.
New York: Random House. 1992. p. 723
In its inclusive function, jargon is a medium of culture (or subculture).
One could regard it as a more formal type of slang. Jargon provides a
common, specialized language whereby members of a group communicate among
themselves by invoking shared ideas and experiences. As a means of
inclusion, jargon lends efficiency, depth, and richness to the dialog
among group members and, thereby, promotes truth seeking.
In its exclusive function, jargon is variously used to: demarcate group
boundaries; erect barriers to entry to and/or understanding of guilds,
professions, clubs, social classes, and so on; deny the existence of
individuals not members of the group; assert the superiority of group
members to nonmembers; hide ignorance; conceal knowledge; and (as Jesse
White observed) compete with other groups. As a means of exclusion,
jargon generally impedes dialog and inhibits truth seeking.
The use of jargon is a case where language is action. If my goal is to
conduct dialog or help other people grasp ideas and knowledge, then that
objective will govern my use of jargon (although my attempt may fail). If
I am of a mind to, I can also use jargon to exclude people from my
In many cultures, it is considered rude to converse in one's own language
in the presence of a guest who does not speak that language; in such
situations, if possible, the natives will speak the guest's tongue. If
not possible -- for example, because they do not know the guest's language
or the business to be discussed requires more subtlety than the natives
can express in the guest's language -- the natives will usually excuse
themselves to the guest.
In recent contributions to the jargon thread, both Jesse White and Barry
Mallis mentioned competition. To me, "good" competition strives for
Might we not consider competition in its beneficent form a kind of dialog?
-- Michael Scudder email@example.com