Jargon. We all know what it is–“phraseology specific to a sect or profession.” And it’s something that, as a novelist, is both intimidating and useful. I know that if I want my thieves, spies, military personnel, seamstresses, innkeepers, Southerners, Englishmen, pirates, botanists, or vicars to be convincing (wow, I write about a lot of different people!), then I need to capture a bit of the jargon peculiar to them…but not so much that it makes the reader stumble. I have to use it to add flavor without overwhelming.

But…where does jargon even come from?

Interestingly, it’s taken directly from the French jargon, which means “chattering, specifically of birds.” ?!?! Isn’t that fun! By the time it migrated to English from French, it had also taken on the meaning of “idle talk” or “thieves’ Latin” in the French, so when it came to English, it carried that secondary sense with it too. It traces its roots ultimately back to the Latin garrire, which also means “to chatter.” Early synonyms of jargon were “gibberish, jabbering, unintelligible talk.”

By the 1650s, that “unintelligible talk” had begun to be applied to people who used words specific to their fields, which no one outside the fields could understand. Eventually, that became the primary meaning of jargon, while its synonyms kept the broader meanings.

As a writer, we have plenty of our own jargon–how about you in your field? What are some words you use every day that earn blank stares from outsiders (or as we writers call the rest of the world, “normals”)?

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