Jargon Hunting, Part II: Making a List
After reading “Jargon Hunting,” my coworker Valerie Sheppard forwarded me a post on the Wild Apricot non-profit technology blog, “In Defence of Jargon.” Citing examples like “Ping me” and “Drink the Kool-aid,” Rebecca Leaman argues that jargon can potentially be “the quickest and most efficient way to convey an idea.”
Leaman’s not what I’d call—watch out, corny pun coming at ya—a total Jargonaut, though. “Another problem arises when sector-specific terms are used in conversation with those out of the loop, those in other sectors, industries or networks who may use their own, different, internal code,” she writes. “To expect them to understand your organizational jargon is rather like shouting in Mandarin at a unilingual English speaker. Not productive.”
Based on the feedback I received from you, the above situation often applies to communications between the animal sheltering sector and the public it serves. Check out what you added to our list of regularly used terms that the public does not always understand:
Kitten Season, as contributed by Cleveland Animal Protective League‘s Sharon Harvey. “My favorite jargon aha moment came while speaking in front of a group of animal lovers about our challenges with cat overpopulation,” Harvey tells us. “When I mentioned kitten season, a woman’s hand shot up, and in a trembly voice she asked, ‘You mean they’re out there shooting them and it’s OK…they give people permits?’ Needless to say, I approach that topic differently now!”
DSH, DMH, DLH: “We’re frequently getting questioned regarding their meaning on the feline cage cards,” comments one of our Facebook fans.
DHLPP and FVRCP vaccines, HESKA testing: “We encounter confusion over those terms,” reports Rockwall PETS‘ Michael Kitkoski.
Spay/Neuter/Alter: Many of you, including The Social Animal‘s Emily Garman and Animal Rescue League of Boston’s Susan Ruderman, reported these and/or variations thereof. “Spay/neuter—as well as ‘altered’ and especially ‘surgical sterilization’—may not translate as well, to at least some sectors of our constituents,” says Ruderman. “For some people, what they understand is fixed.”
Spaying vs. Spraying: “The confusion between these two seems to happen more than you would think!” adds Ruderman.
Feral: More evidence to support confusion around this term comes from Shelters’ Edge’s own Timy Sullivan: “I was taken aback recently when a college student who was volunteering to help us with our Facebook posts asked if feral cats were cats without hair. I’m sure glad she asked. Guess we still have some educating to do…”
I’m thinking about keeping a running list of these terms, as an ongoing reminder that, as Ruderman so eloquently puts it, “The words matter, and the more we can consider the layperson’s perspective when we explain things, the more successful we can be.” Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or, better yet, leave a comment below if you think of anything else to add to the list.
But I’d like to leave you with some, ahem, food for thought, courtesy of Julie Morris, ASPCA Senior Vice President, Community Outreach: “Our Accounting Manager decided to bake a cake for someone’s birthday,” recalls Morris of her early days of animal sheltering in Michigan. “She had never worked with decorative frosting before and found it harder than anticipated so just went to initials—HBC. When she presented the cake, everyone stood there awestruck, and she asked what was going on. Some brave soul responded, ‘Why would you put Hit By a Car on a cake?’ Turns out it was short for HAPPY BIRTHDAY CATHY!”