Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jargon: the great discourager

by Don Keith

Do you ever wonder how many people decide not to not pursue new technology, a different pastime, or other avenue of interest simply because they are stymied by the unique language that has developed around those areas?  Whether on purpose (to block others from entering the "fraternity") or accidentally (just because the newly-developed area is complicated), I firmly believe the jargon that develops among "insiders" is a top deterrent to those who might otherwise adopt or enter.  In too many cases, that is a loss not only for them but for those who are already a member of the particular technological brotherhood.

Prime example: my chosen hobby of Amateur Radio.  Not only has technology evolved in the avocation since it started 100 years ago, creating a brick wall of terminology, but those who have joined the ranks along the way also developed their own gobbledygook, just as most areas of human endeavor do.  It's inevitable.  Ever listened to a couple of fishermen talk?  Or folks devoted to golf?  It is a foreign language!  And a tough one for the newcomer to adopt.  Maybe so tough the potential entrant says, "No, thanks!"

I'm convinced that is one of the reasons many hesitate to jump into a hobby in which they would almost certainly find a great deal of satisfaction and opportunity to learn.  Maybe prepare for a new and exciting career in a related field or simply learn to be a better communicator, a skill that is invaluable in any job or just in life in general.

And it is also why I have written two new books to help them overcome that perceived obstacle...among others.  Still, even I was amazed at how many terms I collected as I compiled one of them, THE Amateur Radio Dictionary.  And equally amazed that nobody had attempted something on this scale before.  Yes, there are some simple, incomplete or poorly-written Amateur Radio glossaries on the Internet.  There are also quite a few electronic dictionaries, but they have far more info than the average new Ham would ever need or the definitions are way too complicated.  Or they are written very badly.

By the time I was ready to publish the first edition of the dictionary, I had collected over 1200 terms and more than 1600 definitions.  Even though I have been a licensed and active Amateur Radio operator for more than 50 years, I ran across quite a few terms with which I was not familiar and others whose definitions were not clear to me.  Now, I am confidently marketing the book as the most complete glossary of Ham Radio terms ever compiled.  I believe I am safe in that claim.  And in using all caps for "THE" in the title.

The other new book, Get on the Air...NOW!, deals not only with overcoming the jargon but also the other discouraging things a newly-licensed Ham might encounter as he takes up the hobby.  Things like putting together a station that will give a reasonably good on-the-air experience.  Erecting antennas that will actually work but not cause the neighbor's garage door to go up and down like the dang thing is on crack.  Or knowing what to say and how to say it in that first on-air contact.

Again, I see these initial complications as a deterrent to so many who would truly enjoy the hobby if they could only get past those initial hurdles.  Even if they are not nearly so daunting as many imagine them to be.  (Note that I handled the jargon part in the second book by including the complete text of THE Amateur Radio Dictionary as part of the Get on the Air...NOW! no additional charge.)

Now if I could just get somebody to do a book on the convoluted verbiage encountered when one tries to set up a home computer network or figure out how to build a web page that doesn't make a smart phone go into hiding.  Or become a scratch golfer or catch enough fish for supper.


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