Sunday, 27 May 2018

Big Words aren't Scary

Vocabulary: noun, plural vo·cab·u·lar·ies. A list or collection of the words or phrases of a language or technical field. See also lexicon, jargon, argot, parlance or lingo.

Recently, I was posted to a hard Navy position as a Physician Assistant. In addition to my medical duties, I was required to complete my Officer of the Day Package (OOD). This package was designed for junior Naval Officers to take charge of the ship as the Captain’s representative. It included a number of critical skills, knowledge of the ship and its departments as well as the ability to communicate with other naval professionals. To become qualified as an OOD, you must complete a checklist of hard assessed tasks and sit a review board of senior naval experts aboard the ship. This a significant amount of new skills and vocabulary for a hard Army guy with zero naval experience. I passed the OOD with ‘a strong board” in the words of my Executive Officer (XO). My ability to communicate my thoughts as actions on the board was due to good knowledge and hard won vocabulary.

Words mean stuff

Professionals have their own language to discuss their chosen field with other professionals. This parlance is not intended to create a difficulty for the layman. It is a common language between professionals that allows for complex subjects to be covered with accuracy, brevity and clarity. Spouting a few words of jargon doesn’t automatically gain acceptance within specialized circles either. The context and nuance must be appropriate to the message trying to be conveyed. The proper use and robust knowledge of technical vocabulary is a hallmark of an expert in their field. Additionally, the ability to describe complex tasks in ‘layman’s terms’* is the characteristic of a true educator.

The use of a specific vocabulary is especially important the profession of arms and medicine. In these fields, a mistake in understanding can mean life or death during times of crisis. During periods of instruction or peer development, it can mean an improper level of understanding that can be perpetuated as the juniors move into senior roles and pass on their knowledge and experience. During equipment or device evaluation, it can lead to improper criteria selection which will lead to inappropriate conclusions especially in hard science disciplines like medicine.

Bottom Line

  • Professionals have their own language aimed at communicating with others in their specialized sphere. It takes time and discipline to learn this vocabulary. 
  • If you are having difficulty understanding certain conversation due to vocabulary or parlance; listen and learn. Ask questions. Don't get defensive because learning is hard. This is a professional development opportunity. 
  • Overly jargon-laden instruction with no explanation or attempt to break it down to ‘layman’s terms’* is not conducive to learning either. A professional with training in instructional techniques will NOT do this. Some people forget their audience. Some people can’t teach.
  • Keep reading professional journals as well. They are key both knowledge and vocabulary development.
  • Big words aren’t scary. They communicate succinctly in the proper context. Communication is key for success in most things.

*Layman’s terms: To put something in layman's terms is to describe a complex or technical issue using words and terms to someone without professional training in the subject area can understand, so that they may comprehend the concepts.

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