They serve a purpose or they wouldn’t exist. Human artifacts are like that, even if the artifact in question’s only purpose is delight, like a Viennese pastry’s. And a name is, indeed, an artifact, a contrivance, a made-thing even if we can’t hold it. We can hold the object it refers to… if it’s the size for that.
I rail against jargon when it creates cliques, when it intends to set people inside and others outside. But I love jargon’s conciseness when I’m sure the community shares my understanding. I quit saying, “But a fractional bitmask is so handy for micro-subnetting!” when I wandered away from computer-networking-life—but I am confident you would not want me to say the non-jargon version. For starters, it would take even longer than my usual posts for just the restatement… and that wouldn’t give you enough context to make sense of it. That conciseness is why jargon exists, and why so many communities use it. Not the feeling of superiority one gets by saying something and receiving blank stares. Though I gather that has its appeal-!
Both my seminary classes this term have required vocabulary terms, upon which we are quizzed. My theology professor was blunt: we are to learn the jargon both so that we can use its shortcuts and so we can feel a part of the larger community here. Epistemology (the study of how we know things), soteriology (the theologies of being saved), eschatology (the study of the end of time). Even little aseity is handy (that is, in-and-of-itselfness). Or the documentary hypothesis, avenger-of-blood/kinsman-redeemer, endogamy. I’ve heard that these terms show up in ordinary conversation at the Crown and Anchor… which makes sense, because if the conversation is swirling around a larger and more complex point, no one is eager to say “marrying within their cultural group” each and every time the idea is needed. I’m all over it; I wrote a paper on Zipf’s Law back in 1998.
But there’s more to seminary jargon than philosophical and historiographical language.
Today I found myself a little better embedded in my new community: I could say the name of where I was.
Sounds silly. I’ve been arriving at “where I am” twice a week for almost ten months now. I’d nailed the best route from home to here within two weeks. I loosely understand the classroom numbering scheme. I get to the other places I need to be—cafeteria, student mailboxes, Student Services, Admissions—with no fuss.
But I couldn’t tell other people how to get to where I am, except in the most relational terms. It’s one of the big ones, has three stories, is embedded in the hill and has a bridge? Good luck with that. It’s a tiny campus with only… one, two, three… maybe ten structures, but I still haven’t been able to put names to places and make them stick until today.
Today I not only requested janitorial help in McMillan 2nd (the bottom floor is “G,” you see), but I may have solved my perennial conflation of the name of what I consider the “commons building” (such a Rice girl still!) with one of the brand-new student residence buildings. (The commons is McCord; the residence is McCoy, and I almost did it again-!)
Thread by thread, I’m a little more closely woven into seminary life.
PS: I have always been able to tell people how to get to Stitt Library here on campus. Old biases die hard!