On jargon and flagpoles

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 5.58.22 PMLast year I attended a meeting along with a gentleman I’ll call “Mr. J.” All of the people at the meeting were community leaders, all of them giving up some of their time to help make our community better. But I began to notice that Mr. J. had an unusual way of saying things. When one idea was presented, he said, “Let’s run that one up the flagpole before our next meeting.” I took that to mean, “Let’s see what others have to say about the idea.”

Another idea was offered to the group, but Mr. J. thought it was too early to test that idea. What he said was, “Let’s not get too far out over our skis.”

When a final idea was offered and Mr. J. wasn’t convinced it was quite the time for that idea to be tried, he said, “Let’s put that one in the parking lot till next time.” By that point, I found myself trying to suppress a grin. I had started writing a list of his jargonistic expressions, which I imagined he’d learned somewhere in the business world.

The word “jargon” has several definitions, and one of them is “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.” Maybe Mr. J.’s friends and colleagues all use that kind of language. Surely he didn’t just wake up one day and speak that way.

As a writer, I try to avoid jargon. For one thing, it calls attention to itself, and I want my words to be remembered for their substance, not their unusual style. (Unless it’s a nice literary style. That would be okay!)

Recently I showed up at a meeting of that same group, and Mr. J. was not present. I missed his unusual wording, if not him. And I suppose I’ll just have to park my jargon-collecting skills in the parking lot until next time.

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