Educational CyberPlayGround ®

Ice Breackers for the Classroom and the Office:

Public Speaking Tips
and the Jargon Alert Game.





Another way to
Integrate Technology into the classroom is to

Never use a fancy word when a simpler one will do. If your idea is good, no hype is necessary. Explain it clearly and people will get it, if there truly is something notable to get. If your idea is bad: keep working before you share it with others. And if you don't have time for that, you might as well be honest. Because when you throw jargon around, most of us know you're probably lying about something anyway.

  1. Why Jargon Feeds on Lazy Minds
  2. Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

Jargon Alert


Give each learner in your class a bright yellow paper on which was written, "Jargon Alert." Tell the students that when they heard anything they didn't understand, they should hold the paper high, and then you (the teacher) can explain further. This makes it easy (and fun, rather than scary) for students to get the instructor's attention -- and it cut way down on his accidental use of technical jargon.

Education and the English Language

Jargon that confuses and obliterates meaning:

"Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession."
-- Kingman Brewster (1919-1988), diplomat and president of Yale University

Unfortunately, many educated speakers of English are not really proficient in their own language. They become lost when reading structurally complex sentences. Their working vocabularies are depauperate, a deficiency for which they all too often compensate by mastering a discipline-specific jargon which gives the impression of communication without its substance. A complex tool has value only in proportion to the skill of the person operating it. Following the ritual of the group and presenting a verbal offering which means multisyllabic, makes things deliberately incomprehensible. "A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and gramatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue."-- Max Mueller

Evolution's Profligacy
Howard Bloom

One of the first phrases was the bit Charles Darwin borrowed from Max Mueller:
"A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and gramatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue."
This was very reminiscent of the language in which Peter Richerson has been describing cultural evolution. It makes the assumption that, as in physics, forms will tend to seek the state which takes the least energy to maintain. The problem is, in English this isn't true. We often have nice, short, blunt Anglo-Saxon terms and energy-draining, multisyllabic forms taken from Latin and/or French. The Anglo term (excuse my language, please) "f_ck" may cleave like a battle axe, but it is short as short can be.
Fornicate, on the other hand, is three syllables long. If economy were everything, Englishmen, Americans, Australians, and a bunch of others would never fornicate, urinate, or defecate. They'd settle for the single-syllable versions. But they don't. Why? Try this hypothesis on for size.

It's all a matter of conspicuous consumption. Those who have display their ability to amass far more than they need. They do it to win the most attractive members of the opposite sex. They do it to show or to achieve a higher status in their community. They also do it to climb the ladder of prestige which arches over a massive hodgepodge of communities. Or, to put it a bit differently, they show off their wealth to make it into the jet set, the cosmopolitan, international elite.

Which is more upper class-to f_ck or to fornicate, to p_ss or to urinate, to s_it or to defecate? Those willing to wallow in the gutter will pick the one-syllable entries. Those who wish to cavort with aristocrats will never settle for such blunt efficiency. Instead they will waste their time and mental energy on the sesquipedalian alternative. Why? It's a display of conspicuous consumption, a sign that they have the extra brainpower, leisure, and money the superfluity of syllables represent. Aha, you may say, Bloom has been sloppy in his use of language. Extra syllables do not represent an overflow of money. But they do. They indicate that one has a good education. And good educations do not come cheap. They take lots of spare time, and oodles of spare cash. (Hang on, I'm showing my uncouth roots. That should be, "They demonstrate that one is endowed with an ample abundance of superfluous hours in which one can exasperate one's impatient tutors while the paterfamilias offers the ample remuneration required by one's pedagogue as recompense for his frustrations, notations, explanations, reprobations, and cerebrations.") Which means we do not necessarily go for "the better, the shorter, the easier forms." In fact we often go in the opposite direction.
Somewhere in this is an answer to Peter Richerson's questions about a society's maximization of complexity. Peter said, if I understood him correctly, that societies increase their intricacy at a rate which far exceeds what one would expect if one were looking at things from the point of view of economy. Societies seem to do far more than maximize utility. And so they do. In fact, they too obey the rule of conspicuous consumption. The more useless excess they can flaunt, the higher they move on the hierarchy of social groups. The entire hierarchical system is geared not to saving but to showing how much one can afford to throw away. However today's useless frippery often turns into tomorrow's commodity. In 1950, only massive government agencies could afford the luxury of a computer. Today almost everyone's got one. And most folks of moderate means have a dozen or so-six or seven hidden in the workings of their car, a few in the microwave, the television set, the stereo, the telephone, and even an extra called a Palm Pilot. The evolutionary game is not rigged to reward those who reduce, it showers its rewards on those who can produce. It favors those most able to turn the unusable into treasure and the inanimate into biomass.
True, one can radically up one's surplus by increasing productivity-which DOES mean saving energy. But one saves it only to be able to expend even more than one ever could produce, consume, and toss away before. The basic imperative of a complex adaptive system is the following-"To he who hath it shall be given. From he who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away." This operates even at the basic level of planetary formation. The gob of gathering gook which grows the largest manages to become a planet. The sliver which stays slim gets even slimmer and becomes a mere moon, meteorite, or mite of cosmic dust. Even the force of gravity rewards the greedy and makes the self-denying slim their way into oblivion.
Is this why the rules of economics which have been applied to evolutionary analysis for the last hundred years or so simply don't pan out? Few creatures on this earth opt for sheer utility. Most are driven by the need for luxury. And the more they luxuriate, the more they exfoliate. The evolutionary imperative is to make, not just to save. Evolution works us overtime not to slim things down but to elaborate. Hence we do not have a universe slouching toward the miserliness of entropy. We have one climbing to the heights of more complexity.
The formation of different language and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously parallel.
But we can trace the formation of many words further back than that of species, for we can perceive how they actually arose from the imitation of various sounds. We find in distinct languages striking homologies due to community of descent, and analogies due to a similar process of formation. The manner in which certain letters or sounds change when others change is very like correlated growth. We have in both cases the reduplication of parts, the effects of long-continued use, and so forth. The frequent presence of rudiments, both in languages and in species, is still more remarkable. The letter m in the word am , means I ; so that in the expression I am , a superfluous and useless rudiment has been retained. In the spelling also of words, letters often remain as the rudiments of ancient forms of pronunciation. Languages, like organic beings, can be classed in groups under groups; and they can be classed either naturally according to descent, or artificially by other characters. Dominant languages and dialects spread widely, and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues. A language, like a species, when once extinct, never, as Sir C. Lyell remarks, reappears. The same language never has two birth-places. Distinct languages may be crossed or blended together. We see variability in every tongue, and new words are continually cropping up; but as there is a limit to the powers of the memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct.
As Max Mueller has well remarked: "A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and gramatical forms in each language. The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue." To these more important causes of the survival of certain words, mere novelty and fashion may be added; for there is in the mind of man a strong love for slight changes in all things. The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection. (Darwin, 1871/1952, p. 300) Darwin, Charles. (1871/1952) The descent of man and selection in relation to sex (Vol. 49, Great Books of the Western World, pp. 253-639). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Whoever Owns The Language Owns the Conversation

Origin of the English Language

The language of GWOT: Military men, women come up with own jargon 2007“ 'Embrace the Suck': A Pocket Guide to Milspeak,” Compiled by Col. Austin Bay, The Pamphleteer Press, 2007, 72 pages (pb), $4.
Austin Bay, a noted author and military commentator who lives near San Antonio, spent a year in the sandbox (Iraq), as a reserve officer. The publication "documents the language of the Global War on Terror (or GWOT — as defined in this book, pronounced gee-WOT). At 72 pages, it is a pamphlet, but no less useful for its size. It opens a window to a world that most of those not living downrange (outside the United States, in the combat zone) view through the filters of the evening news." The book combines phrases gathered through personal experience, with contributions sent to him by troops visiting his Web. Every war develops its own jargon. Some terms — like contraband or Doughboy — become dated and fade away. Others, like Yankee or snafu, get absorbed into everyday language. Unless you understand a soldier's jargon, you are speaking a different language than those fighting a war. Military jargon reveals the attitudes of soldiers, sailors and airmen towards their fight. “Gung ho” came from World War II. To “frag” came from Vietnam.


"My favorite is to have each person introduce themselves with some item they have with them and explain why that item is a good descriptor of themselves. I always use my keys - my key ring has everything important in my life - my school keys represent my job, which is a huge important factor of my life, my moose key ring my daughter gave me, which is because our town, Newberry, is the Moose Capital of Michigan. I also have a spare key for my other daughter's car and house, because she is notorious for locking herself out of both. My 2 truck keys, because I love both my trucks, love traveling, 4wheeling in them, etc... And perhaps the most telling thing about my key collection - no house key. We live in a small town where no one locks their doors. This is always fun to tell when you are at a conference in a city where people cannot imagine such a thing! But as I explain each key and its significance, it tells the story of my life. Different people will dig out different items, pictures, whatever they have in their pockets but it is fun, whether the people in the group know each other or not". ~ annon