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California State University, Dominguez Hills
Latest update: September 16, 2000

Professional Jargon and Its Dangers

  • In the Elite Jargon of Academic Textbooks
  • The Slippery Slope of Chilling Academic Curiosity

  • In the Elite Jargon of Academic Textbooks>

    On Friday, September 15, 2000, Malika Shakoor wrote:

    Greetings Jeanne, you asked the class to find a sentence in a textbook that represents the jargon of the textbook. Please see below: Stephen A. Book writes in THE ESSENTIALS OF STATISTICS, "a set of data can be often recognized as having an approximately normal distribution if its frequency polygon is a bell-shaped curve ..."

    On Friday, September 15, 2000, jeanne responded:

    Good example, Malika. How could we make this sentence more understandable, especially for those who are new to the study of statistics?

    • Multiple word phrases could be simplified:
      • "a set of data" - let's just say "data".
      • "can be often recognized as having an approximately normal distribution" - let's just say "is normally distributed"
      • "if its frequency polygon" -let's just say "if it's graph"
      • "is a bell-shaped curve ..." - let's just say "is bell-shaped"

    • This would give us a sentence that now reads:
      • "Data are normally distributed if a graph of the frequencies is bell shaped."
      • Note that "data are," while "a set of data is . . ." Be careful to remember that the word "data" is plural.
      • If this is an introductory text, I would also repeat instructions on how to graph a variable to show frequency. And there should also be instructions for how to use a data analysis program, like SPSS, to get a frequency graph automatically on the computer.

    • What did the multiple word phrases add?
      • Erudition. And that's the problem with professional jargon that obfuscates ideas. The jargon makes the one using it sound elitist. And that makes the knowledge sound hard to grasp. The result is that we ride a slippery slope of suggesting to those who would learn that perhaps this knowledge is past their ability. That is to use knowledge in the name of oppression. That is to use knowledge adversarily, in the interest of an elitist hierarchy. Please learn not to do that to others. love and peace, jeanne

    The Slippery Slope of Chilling Academic Curiosity

    On Saturday, September 16, 2000, Lisette Garcia wrote:

    In class on wednesday, you mentioned how students can't learn when they can't understand the text they are reading. I feel this is so true and yet there are many teachers and professors that know the text is complicated and still expect the students to read and do work from it. This I think causes the students frustration, many times leading to loss of interest in school or loss of interest in a certain subject, and then they fear to take other similar courses because they feel they are all going to be as complicated.


    On Sunday, September 17, 2000, jeanne responded:

    Good point, Lisette. In the law, we refer to this concept as a slippery slope. That means that once you start down it, it's hard to put on the brakes, and you're likely to slide much further in that direction than you meant to.

    We also refer to the phenomenon of forcing people into self-censorship as "chilling." This is one of the reasons for protecting the First Amendment right to free speech: so that people will not become afraid to say what they think, and begin to censor themselves to say only those things they think it is acceptable to say. In this case, the "chilling" would refer to the fear you mention that academic pursuits will be beyond their abilities. That is a serious concern.

    One of the postmodern concerns is that no one privilege any "knowledge" as so elite that it can presume the arrogance of making knowledge decisions for others, without their inclusion in the decision-making process. See Redefining Crime as Disrespecting Others and "Knowingness" by Donn Maria Woods. love and peace, jeanne