Beware of Wielding Unwieldy Jargon
This post pertains to the pitfalls of employing jargon to convey ideas without considering that colorful usage may confound instead of convey.
I once edited a book that referred to “dual-wielding pistols,” a reference to the trademark weapons of a movie character: a brace of flintlock pistols. Mentally shaking my head in mild consternation, I revised what I considered an exceedingly awkward and misleading effort to express that the character routinely fought with both guns at once—a dynamic image commonly seen in action films, but one that depicts a strategy seldom employed in real life. As it turns out (meaning, I did some research), the phrase is valid, but not as the author employed it.
Websites and publications devoted to firearms sometimes refer to dual-wielding handguns—but with dual-wielding operating as a phrasal verb, not a phrasal adjective. One can use the phrase to refer to the action of firing two handguns at once (“Is dual-wielding pistols practical?”). However, because no firearms are specifically designed to be used in parallel—presumably (meaning, my research didn’t turn up any such weaponry), there is no such thing as dual-wielding pistols—there is no reason for such phrasing. Therefore, though the phrase exists, it was not correct as employed. And even if it had been used as a phrasal verb, although any reasonably intelligent reader could be expected to understand the phrase, because it is jargon, it would be more courteous to all readers to simply write something like “wielding two pistols at once.”
The lesson for writers is, one can be clear, concise, or both, but if you must choose between clear and concise, be clear.
Speaking of phrasal adjectives, one hallmark of jargon is to omit hyphenation in some such phrases, as they are understood to be terms of art (words or phrases understood by a certain readership and not requiring explanation or the hand-holding treatment hyphenation provides). Therefore, although the phrasal adjective in, for example, “data-governance initiatives” would generally be hyphenated in lay publications to clarify that the reference is to initiatives regarding governance of data, not governance initiatives pertaining to data, publishers of content intended for readers familiar with the concept might consider the helpful hyphen superfluous. (For clarity and consistency, such publishers should codify this style in a manual accessible—and familiar—to a publication’s writers and editors.)
In publications intended for the general public, however, dictionary usage should guide writers and editors in treatment of phrasal adjectives.
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