Sociology has the most difficult jargon

From chemistry to literary history and from nursing to physics. They each have their specific jargon, but do you know which has the most difficult jargon of them all? Sociology. That’s because its jargon is hidden. Is this also the case in your field?

You may not have expected sociology to be at the top of my jargon list. Chemistry surely must have a greater number of mind-boggling terms. Such as azeotrope or polyethylenimine-assisted generation.

Those words not only look but also are difficult. But exactly because the words are so unclear, as a speaker you quickly realize that they can be a problem for your audience and explain them during your presentation.

That is not the case with sociology

In sociology, you are dealing with hidden jargon: words that don’t look difficult, but nonetheless are.

Just think of words such as “self-regulation”, “implicit and explicit attitudes” or “narrative identity”. As a presenter, you quickly read over such words because they are part of your everyday language and they sure look like words that other people would use.

But your audience doesn’t always understand them.

And then people come up with their own definition

That’s the danger: if you don’t explain hidden slang words, people will make up their own definition.

For example, during one of our workshops, a sociologist researcher kept speaking of “victimized children“, without further clarifying the term. But if you drop such a term among an unknowing audience, your audience will quickly form their own idea.

Victimized children? Could he be referring to children who had been molested? Or children suffering from domestic abuse? Actually, neither of the above. In this specific context the speaker was referring to children who are bullied.

Mind you, if I were to interpret this term during your presentation as “molested children”, when you are actually referring to “bullied children”, then your presentation could quickly take an odd turn in my mind.

It is vital that you identify your hidden jargon and during your presentation clearly explain what you understand by those specific terms.

Armed police at my door

I once made a hidden jargon mistake myself. One that almost sent an armed police team to my door.

Let me tell you about it: every year we organize the science festival Sound of Science: the largest open-air science festival in Belgium. (No, not in 2020 of course. Stupid Covid-19)

A few months prior to the event, I met with the city security services. We presented our safety plan in which we listed potential risks and associated actions.

What if a child went missing? Or a fire would break out? What if a tent collapsed? What if a disturbance were to take place on the premises? That type of scenarios. Suddenly it became very quiet around the table.

“What exactly do you mean by “a disturbance”?” The police commander asked.

Me: “That due to a conflict a fight would break out. In that case we would give you a call.”

Police commander: “Would you mind removing the term “disturbance”, please? If you call us and say there is a disturbance on the premises, we will assume there is an armed shooter present and will show up with full force and an armed team of officers.”

I: “….”

In conclusion: what to do about hidden jargon?

Step 1: Know it’s there: When you’re researching something, your language contains many words that may look easy but are in fact quite difficult. Your audience is not familiar with those words, or at least not well enough.
Step 2: Explain hidden slang words during your presentation. Indicate what you mean by them. You can do this by paraphrasing things, or quickly explaining the term, but you must do this. Because before you know it, your audience will make its own interpretation and an armed SWAT team could show up at your door.

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4 extra tips & tricks for researchers
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