Jargon

Was my father in law’s 65th birthday celebration over the weekend. I was hoping to go for a whole weekend without getting dragged into anything computer-related, and nearly did, except for the fact that he had a new digital camera for his birthday and needed to install the software on his PC for it.

The main thing that threw him was that the CD you have to install is called the Solutions disk. He had filed the CD away because he assumed it was for trouble shooting: He had assumed that the Solutions disk was for Solving problems.

Whereas any techie will tell you that solution is just a piece of meaningless jargon which can mean almost anything, but only very rarely does it actually solve anything. When a techie means solution, in the sense that everyone else understands it, they will more likely use the word resolution.

Don’t blame me, I didn’t invent the culture. I am convinced that the plethora of jargon is invented for the benefit of sales people – so they have something with a distinct name that they can sell.

However, from the buyer’s or user’s point of view the jargon is usually irrelevant, even misleading. SOA is an example doing the rounds right now (and I still don’t really understand it myself, or even particularly care). Web 2.0 is another.

Even in my own industry – the electronic reverse auction industry – the term auction has become a confusing jargon term. Sometimes it can mean a piece of software capable of running auctions, sometimes it can mean an event complete with suppliers, some times it can mean the whole process of negotiating a contract – from designing the specifications through to finally awarding the contract to the chosen supplier.

I suppose some of this is inevitable, and thankfully it’s not as bad as using obviously misleading language or meaningless neologisms. But it goes to show that even phrases that people can assume are commonly understood can have wildly different interpretations.

In other words: If the jargon doesn’t make sense, don’t think you’re dumb – it’s the jargon that’s dumb, not you. And also, even if the jargon does make sense – beware – because even common words can have very different meanings depending on who you are hearing them from!