Thursday, 26 July 2012

Say that again?

I have to thank the Postulant for sending me the link to an article written by a scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. As I read "Dude, you are speaking Romulan" I felt an immediate dose of, been there, done and heard that! I suspect that both Josephus and SlimJim will recognise the syndrome instantly as well.

It does seem to be a human failing that we can't communicate our ideas clearly between disciplines or between some technical or scientific profession and the general public. Inevitably we use terms and expressions which, between our colleagues in the same discipline are perfectly understood, but to an 'outsider' becomes an incomprehensible barrier. When you throw in the latest fad among some groups to speak almost exclusively in acronyms they alone understand, it gets even worse. You might as well be speaking Romulan. Communication has just failed completely.

I have long had a hatred of 'jargon' and in particular, of the use of acronyms when speaking to groups. There can be only one reason for doing so, and that is to attempt to make your audience feel inadequate because they don't fully understand your 'tech-speak.' The worst aspect of this is that it also means that a great deal of what you are trying to communicate is going unheard as they mentally try to decipher the last acronym or bit of jargon you used. It got so bad toward the latter end of my career that I once spent an entire meeting just making a note of every acronym the group leader was tossing into his presentation or the discussions. When he finally asked if we had questions I stuck my hand up. My note pad had 73 acronyms (I've still got the note) and around 20 of them had been used multiple times.

I asked if he could provide me with a source where I could find out what these acronyms represented as I knew only five of those on the list. It was interesting to see his reaction, which quickly changed from a supercilious and flippant retort to annoyance and then bluster when several others in the group added their voices to mine. Both Josephus and SlimJim have, I know encountered the same problem and will know the person. But it must be said this was not a unique 'one off.' It is an endemic problem and it crosses every profession and every sector of society. We all have our unique jargon.

How many outside the fire and rescue service understand the average firefighter when he or she starts to speak about working on the HP or the Bronto. Or speaks about CAFS, BA, a BAC or a CU to name but a few. OK, I'll take pity, in case there are any readers who don't speak our brand of Romulan. An HP is a hydraulic platform or "snorkel" unit having artuclated booms allowing it to reach the upper floors of a building or even reach over one. A Bronto is a combined telescoping hydraulic ladder and hydraulic platform having characteristics of both a Turntable Ladder and an HP. CAFS stands for Compressed Air Foam System, BA is an abbreviation of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, a BAC is a BA Control Officer who monitors the BA wearers time and performance at an incident and a CU is a Control Unit, a sort of mobile control room brought to major incidents so the Incident Commander has all the communications and information support he needs.

See what I mean? We can actually communicate if we consider our audience and make clear what we are talking about.

To me the use of jargon is akin to speaking a foreign language in the company of folk who don't share that language. It is a deliberate attempt to exclude the audience. Jargon and acro-speak are just this, an attempt to keep the 'arcane knowledge of the order' available only to the 'enlightened' while giving the appearance of 'sharing' the knowledge.

It's probably caused more wars in history than anything else. Maybe we should all stop speaking Romulan and try communicating clearly.

1 comment:

  1. It's not just confined to specialists, the Great Unwashed are up to it as well. Effective communication for much of the populace consists of sending texts on their mobile phones (whilst jaywalking), written in some sort of heiroglyphic code, or speaking in tongues, especially Retarded American Teenager. LOL!

    Slim Jim