[ Issue 32 ]

Jargon is a particular interest of Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of Jargon


Harlish Goop looks at some fashionable words that are preposterous and meaningless.  Not to mention devalued.  Yes, it's jargon today, folks.

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


It was Sir Les Patterson, on Barry Humphries’ Flashbacks (a 1999 TV series about recent decades in Australian life), who made the memorable announcement that “one of the big buzzwords in the eighties was ‘buzzwords’”. But he wasn’t the first to utter this one-liner, as this quotation in OED2 shows:

1980 Time 28 Jan. 90/1 The air is thick with devalued buzz words, including “buzz words”.

A buzzword, of course, is a currently fashionable jargonesque catchword, “used more to impress than inform” (OED2). And yes, buzzwords were rife in the 1970s and 80s, so much so that several types of “buzzword generators” soon appeared. More of which in a sec, but first a bit on the word jargon.

Did you know that until the 15th century jargon meant “the inarticulate utterance of birds, or a vocal sound resembling it; twittering, chattering”? (OED2). Later it took on the general and sardonic sense of “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing”, which just about sums up a lot of modern jargon usage too, though the OED is characteristically more precise:

Applied contemptuously to any mode of speech abounding in unfamiliar terms, or peculiar to a particular set of persons, as the language of scholars or philosophers, the terminology of a science or art, or the cant of a class, sect, trade, or profession.

Some lines of work are notorious for their jargon, aren’t they? Computing, the military, business management, sociology, to name just four. Lovely utterances like these:

information superhighway
collateral damage

I’m very partial to the jargon of sociology, and in a later issue I’ll bring you a few really preposterous gems. Meanwhile, here is part of a well-known buzzword generator from the business management field:


All you have to do with a buzzword generator is to select one word from each column at random and string them together (e.g. parallel + management + paradigm). Immediately you’ll have a bombinating catchphrase with which to sizzle the ears of all and sundry. With any luck, it’ll mean nothing, and therefore you’ll be all the more likely to impress the trusting uninitiated.

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