A Word in Your Ear . . . JARGON

The paragraph just below is a description of procedures to be followed in an upcoming  local tournament. The tournament is for players of a specific game — one that I have been playing since I was a teenager.  I got back to this game big time after retirement.  Here is the paragraph:

Planned pairing method is groups of 4, double round robin, with a king of the hill final round.  Should the number of players not be divisible by 4, some groups may have 6 players.  Those groups will play a round robin, a round of swiss, and a final king of the hill round.  Gibsonization applies in final round only.***

Does anyone have any idea what game the paragraph is describing?!

This paragraph (taken verbatim from an e-mail) is a wonderful example of the colorful but incomprehensible language — jargon — that almost invariably develops in connection with  specific daily occupations engaged in by groups of individuals.  The dictionary defines jargon as:  “The technical or secret vocabulary of a science, art, trade, sect, profession, or other special group; a lingo.”  The jargon in the paragraph above is part of the tournament information sent out to a “special group” of people who belong to a club dedicated to playing this game.

In occupational therapy and occupational science, we, too, have a technical or secret vocabulary.  To begin with, our very name contains a ‘secret’ word:  occupation.  To us, the word has a particular meaning, specific to the professional group we belong to, often not understood by people outside the profession.  In Chapter 2 in my book, I review the struggle that has occurred over the years to come up with a definition of occupation that is satisfactory — even temporarily — to all in the profession.  Over and over again in my professional life I have had to explain that the “occupation” in our name does not refer to job training.  Such is the nature of professional jargon and its “secret” meanings.

In the main, the jargon we use in our clinical practice, education and research serves as a good tool for communication within our groups of colleagues.  In fact, one could say that in our academic programs much of our time and energy is devoted to helping students learn the lingo in preparation for later experiences in practice.  But in most areas of practice,  we are also challenged at times to put the jargon aside in order to be effective professionals.

Two examples:

1.  In our classrooms, we purposely foster teaching and learning processes that incorporate our jargon into the educational experience.  Alternatively, in our clinical practice with patients and clients, we often find we need to translate our communications back into everyday language to foster understanding and positive outcomes.  This need to use everyday language exists across the entire therapeutic process:  as we carry out our assessment procedures; in our ongoing conversations with clients, caregivers and families; in our written instructional materials; and often in our written and oral communications with other professionals.

I well remember being sent “back to the drawing board” by the chief of rheumatology to rework a handout on joint protection that I had drafted for patients in a rheumatology clinic; the handout was (correctly) declared too technical for the general patient population to understand or use.  To communicate technical information and guidelines for behaviors in an understandable format to the general public takes time and practice.  Do we teach these kinds of patient education skills to our students –in the classroom and on fieldwork?  Or do we focus only on making sure they understand and know the jargon, i.e. the secret vocabulary of the profession?

2.  One of the tenets of qualitative research is the mandate to stick with the participant’s own language when transcribing, analyzing and reporting on interview material.  Two terms are used to describe narrative  data:  emic refers to the research participant’s own words and perspectives; and etic refers to those of the researcher [I know — more jargon].  Not translating the participants’ words into professional jargon is extremely important in qualitative research, based on the belief that any such translation changes not only the words per se but also the intended meanings of the words.  In clinical practice, it is equally important to avoid translation of the patient’s words into occupational therapy lingo.

So, if I, as the researcher or clinician, translate the family caregiver’s statement that the patient “can’t move his arm very well”  to my own statement that the patient has lost “range of motion in the elbow joint of his right upper extremity”, I have hugely medicalized the caregiver’s statement and, in effect, removed the caregiver’s lived experience from the interview data.  I have  reduced the stated experience to a particular measurable loss in a particular joint of a particular arm and have removed the caregiver’s statement of how the arm is experienced in daily life.  Plus, perhaps without realizing it, the translation sends a tacit message to the caregiver that the words he or she originally used are not quite accurate or appropriate, that they need to be translated to be more correct.

In the handout on joint protection referred to above, I can imagine that, at the time, I had worked on that first draft to purposely incorporate medically correct terms into the materials.  Being asked to reconsider the content as it related to the intended audience was a learning experience — one that proved useful to me time and again in my subsequent practice.


One thought on “A Word in Your Ear . . . JARGON

  1. Another informative blog post!! I remember you telling me you were in a Scrabble group, so I guess that even before the end.

    Thanks, Betty.



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