Language in use  
English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Academic Jargon

Dwight Bolinger in his book Language the Loaded Weapon (Longman 1980) refers to "the Jargonauts" who use a form of official language seemingly designed to obscure (or perhaps restrict understanding to an élite group of academics or politicians) rather than explain to the public. Bolinger uses the words jargon, gobbledegook, doubletalk or doublespeak to describe this.

The word doublespeak was not used by Orwell in1984. He used doublethink and newspeak. However doublespeak has come to mean saying one thing and meaning another - usually its opposite. Read the Newspeak Dictionary for classic examples from 1984. Read this Big Brother page about manipulation of public opinion and privacy issues in the US.

Bolinger then quotes an anonymous source who produced a "Folklore Article Reconstitution Kit" consisting of four sections which, when compiled phrase by phrase in 1-2-3-4 order, would yield sentences suitable for a folklore article.

Try it yourself!

Just take any of the ten phrases from section 1, add any phrase from section 2, followed by sections 3 and 4.

Sounds convincing? But what does it mean?

Section 1
1. Obviously,
2. On the other hand,
3. From the intercultural standpoint,
4. Similarly,
5. As Lévi-Strauss contends,
6. In this regard,
7. Based on my own field-work in Guatemala,
8. For example,
9. Thus, within given parameters,
10. In respect to essential departmental goals,

Section 2
1. a large proportion of intercultural communicative coordination
2. a constant flow of field-collected input ordinates
3. the characterization of critically co-optive criteria
4. initiation of basic charismatic subculture development
5. our fully integrated field program
6. any exponential Folklife coefficient
7. further and associated contradictory elements
8. the incorporation of agonistic cultural restraints
9. my proposed independent structuralist concept
10. a primary interrelationship between systems and/or subsystems logistics

Section 3
1. must utilize and be functionally interwoven with
2. maximises the probability of project success while minimizing cross-cultural shock elements in
3. adds explicit performance contours to
4. necessitates that coagulative measures be applied to
5. requires considerable further performance analysis and computer studies to arrive at
6. is holistically compounded in the context of
7. presents a valuable challenge showing the necessity for
8. recognizes the importance of other disciplines, while taking into account
9. effects a significant implementation of
10. adds overwhelming Folklorist significance to

Section 4
1. Propp's basic formulation
2. the anticipated epistemological repurcussions
3. improved subcultural compatability-testing
4. all deeper structuralist conceptualization
5.any communicatively-programmed computer techniques
6. the profound meaning of The Raw and the Cooked
7. our hedonic Folklife perspectives over a given time-period
8. any normative concept of the linguistic/holistic continuum
9. the total configurational rationale
10. Krappe's Last Tape

Analyse the vocabulary and syntax of your concocted phrase.

  • Is there a complex syntax?
  • Are all phrases within a section the same syntactic form - and if so, what is it?
  • Is there a preponderance of abstract nouns?
  • Is there redundancy?
  • Can you express your sentence in simple terms?
  • What is lost or gained in the process?
  • Try to create your own own reconstitution kit for a jargon or register you know well. Start with just three phrases for each of the four sections. Comment critically on the process and the product.

 See also