Let’s Think Outside the Box…

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.

7 thoughts on “Let’s Think Outside the Box…

    1. Excellent question! I don’t find poetry difficult for two reasons, first is that I’m not usually asked to interpret a specific meaning on the spot from a verbal reading, the second is that the interpretation is completely down to me. So if my brain goes off on a Unique tangent, that’s fine. I’m not having to force myself to work out exactly what the poet meant.

      I’ve always loved when people read something into my poetry that I didn’t consciously put there. I think I see poetry as “the reader is always right”.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. what you have said about jargon is also true if you are not autistic.
    The effect of jargon is to specialise knowledge rather than make knowledge available. It would fall into Wittgenstein’s category of a ‘Language game’ that includes only those who know the context and excludes everyone else. It is, in effect, a code. see my poem on NHS jargon in my blog (mrwildblog).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, you have (had) an ‘against’ list! I have one, too, and ‘does not take things literally’ is definitely on it!
    There are two factors here for me. One is that English (the language I currently mostly live in) is not my first language, so any expressions like ‘raining cats and dogs’ I had to learn like any other vocabulary. The other is that when I was learning my mother tongue, I probably didn’t understand these idioms automatically and had to have them explained, but my parents read a lot to me, and then I read a lot myself, so I would have learned a lot of them early, so early that I don’t remember the learning process.
    During the time I lived away from Germany it has happened that a new piece of jargon entered the German language and spread, but I was ignorant of it. Then when I heard it the first time I had to have it explained because I didn’t know what it meant.
    I get little mental pictures flashing in my mind, of actual hearts on actual sleeves etc., but my vending machine (to borrow your image) operates so fast, I don’t really notice the process anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reading is a brilliant thing to teach the complex nature of language, without the pressure of any kind of interaction. I am very aware that I get very literal if I’m tired. I really struggle to work out anything beyond basic meaning. Whereas the rest of the time it’s much easier.

      I would love to see a study on how bilingualism supports language development in autistic people. Being bilingual definitely gives me more options to play with and ways to think about communication.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting!

    I exclaim “No way!” quite often, and one of my good mates (who is autistic) gets frustrated with me every time and says “Yes, Sophie, that’s what I just said. Weren’t you listening??”

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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