This handout will cover some of the major issues with appropriate language use: levels of language formality, deceitful language and euphemisms, slang and idiomatic expressions; using group-specific jargon; and biased/stereotypical language.
Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2013-03-29 08:37:06
The term "jargon" refers to any in-group or specialized language used by small groups of like-minded individuals. This terminology is usually specialized to the function of the group, and will be used by and among group members as a sign of belonging, status, and for keeping out outsiders.
For example, individuals who study linguistics will use words like quantifier, voiceless labiodental fricative, diglossia, intensifier, minimal pair and metonymy. To non-linguists, these words have different meanings or no meanings at all.
When making the choice of what vocabulary to use, you should first and foremost consider the audience that you are addressing:
If you are writing for a general audience (even an general academic audience) you should avoid using in-group jargon without explanations. Overloading your audience with words they do not understand will not help you achieve your purpose.
If, however, you are writing to an in-group audience you will want to use group-specific jargon. Not using the jargon when it is expected by your audience can signal to the audience that you are not a member of that group or have not mastered the group's terminology. This will most likely damage your credibility and interfere with your purpose in writing.
Slang and Idiomatic Expressions
You should avoid using slang (words like y'all, yinz, cool) or idiomatic expressions ("pull someone's leg," "spill the beans," and "something smells fishy") in formal academic writing. These words make your writing sound informal, and hence, less credible. Furthermore, for non-native speakers of English, these expressions may prove more difficult to understand because of their non-literal nature.
Times do exist, however, when the use of slang and idiomatic expressions are appropriate. Think about who your audience is, what they expect, and how the use of these words may help or hinder your purpose. If you are writing a very informal or humorous piece, slang or idiomatic expressions may be appropriate.