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Why I hate jargon

Caricature of Steve

I could say I’m retired and therefore don’t care anymore. But that would be a lie—even if it would make my life less stressful.


This evening President Obama will speak to the nation about his plans to meet the challenge of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Yes, I know. You didn’t think he had a policy.

 Apparently, however, he’s decided to do something after all and he’s scheduled to tell is what that is.

 He inevitably will say that the ISIS goal to establish a Caliphate is a threat not only to the Middle East but nations outside the region as well.

 Mr. Obama will promise that the U.S. will work with European allies in a multi-national campaign that will not put American boots on the ground.

 A possible ISIS Caliphate worries Washington. And according to Fox News there now is fear of a potential Cyber Caliphate to be launched by Middle East Jihadists.

Few Americans used the term caliphate in normal conversation until stories emerged from the Middle East about Islamic terrorists overrunning large swathes of Iraq. Immediately news media embraced the term without defining it. It almost sounded as if they were also embracing the terrorists by using their language.

Caliphate means a sovereign Islamic state or nation. This definition requires only three words to explain. I prefer this easy-to-understand definition rather than Caliphate.


Jihadists are Muslims fighting against unbelievers. Islamic extremists or terrorists clearly explains who they are and it eschews their terminology that is unnecessary for an English speakers. Again, using Jihadists implies that the media are letting the terrorists dictate the narrative. Oh, I don’t like narrative either. Just say story or news coverage.


Boots on the ground. You can’t hear any politician discuss possible military action in the Middle East without speculating about possible American boots on the ground. It’s the new jargon for U.S. ground forces, which is a traditional term that is just as useful today as it was for decades. Why change it?


We all use jargon or shop talk to discuss familiar topics at work, play and home. It’s shorthand that others engaged in the same activities understand. Of course,  it tends to exclude outsiders who are unfamiliar with the code.

Journalists, however, by definition should be “inclusive.” That’s Jargon for using language that is familiar to all and is easily understood.

When the media employ jargon we fail to inform clearly. Too many journalists want to sound as intelligent as the newsmakers they cover and too often use shop talk to demonstrate how smart they are.  That is wrong.

The job of the news media is to translate arcane language. If we do that, then our audience is well served.

But follow the news coverage tonight and tomorrow and see how often your favorite news site or journalist lazily covers the President’s speech. There will be too much jargon used by the president and by the media covering him.


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