I have a problem with jargon. At first I thought it was my dislike of euphemism and indirect speech, and it is that too, but it all comes back to my literalness.
When I first read that autistic people can struggle to understand sayings, I think I made a noise that sounded something like, “Pshaw”. I studied literature. I understand the English language pretty well. Another tick-box that just didn’t apply to me. I was pre-diagnosis and looking for evidence for and against being autistic. This joined the ‘against’ list.
But with a bit of examination, it turns out that I do struggle to understand sayings. Growing up I had to learn what each one meant explicitly. I remember being told what ‘Wearing your heart on your sleeve’ meant, and I remember what I did with it. I knew that the heart was a symbol for love and emotions, if someone’s heart was visibly removed from their chest, and placed on the sleeve of their jumper, I would be able to see their feelings easily – one remembered simile poured over another.
Whenever anyone said that phrase, I would pass through this little visual puzzle, and out the other side would come the meaning. Like some kind of elaborate vending machine.
I have built these images for every saying that I know, and I created the vast majority in my teens and childhood, when I still had the energy to spare.
Jargon is like cold, emotionless versions of these sayings. They sit there, torpid and gluttonous on my kitchen table, and I can’t make them dance into meaning. Keeping the vending machine image, it’s like trying to post a reluctant elephant into the slot; it doesn’t fit easily, it’s going to take an unnecessary amount of effort, and in all honesty neither the elephant, nor I, want to be involved in the exercise in the first place.
People who love jargon forget that the meanings they are placing on the words are context-specific. They forget that outside of their circle these words roam free, open to interpretation. Whilst some make complete sense – shortening medical information to relay it quickly, or for defining legal terminology – other jargon is completely redundant. I’m looking at you, Management-Speak.
I can meet with you, I don’t need to have an offline face-to-face, I prefer to avoid an ear-to-ear, because frankly that’s too much physical contact for me. Maybe I’m just missing the blue-sky thinking gene, but none of these images take me to the location where meaning can be found. I go straight to a very literal image of each of them, and like some wayward child, lost in the forest, it takes me ages to find my way back again.
Many departments love their acronyms and their definitions, but they are not inclusive to people like me. I don’t make connections in the same ways. I like clear, quantifiable communication. I suspect that I am far from alone in this, and I’m not just talking about my fellow autistics. When did we all become so afraid of clarity?
I have to force a new pattern to emerge for each and every one of these, one that makes sense to me and builds shortcuts through the maze before me. This fills my memory with pointless knowledge that I could have used for learning something useful.
Let’s circle back to action this nearer close of play. I’m pretty sure it’s actionable, and if it’s not, then let’s think outside the box, get a thought shower going, until we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Please make it stop.