Wednesday, June 21, 2006

About Jargon

A friend emailed about science fiction:

...the authors usually assume you read a lot on the genre and throw in tons of jargon that you are supposed to know...


So of course I had something to say (hmm--I almost ALWAYS have something to say--), in which I used jargon from dog agility to pontificate about jargon in SF and TV sitcoms:

This reflects an interesting challenge in writing for any specific community: the assumption that most readers in that community are, in fact, already familiar with what has gone before and don't want to keep seeing the same things explained over and over.

On the opposite side, you see SF editors tearing their hair over story submissions that go into great deal explaining concepts or terms that were originally described in the '40s or '50s and have been explored at great length since then and sometimes have even been abandoned as being outdated, overused, etc. and that most readers can identify easily with a single word or phrase and have all that context already in their heads.

It's a little hard to draw parallels with dog agility, but it would be like someone wanting to write an article for Clean Run explaining what each of the pieces of agility equipment is. Someone who's never done agility and picks up the magazine for the first time might be mystified by what a dogwalk is (like I foolishly dropped into my conversation with someone just the other day about trying to fit a dogwalk into my yard, and he interjected, "whatever that is"), but most readers don't want to have to read a definition or description or see a simple picture of a dogwalk every time they read the magazine. And someone who tried to sell an article about how they have an obedience dog and just heel the dog on the left through agility obstacles or lure them through with a goodie in front of the nose would probably get laughed out of the magazine's office forever. And imagine a newcomer to agility coming to class and being told to do an RFP or lead-out-pivot or blind cross without an explanation...most of us would tune out the ensuing conversation because we already know it.

So there is a bridge between someone who's never had any experience with any science fiction and the current state of the literature. It's not an easy thing to resolve, but it's not really (IMHO) all that different from coming into a TV series halfway through the season and having no idea what everyone in the room is laughing about (because you don't know the character's histories or where they work or who they're married to or people they used to date or that they're fanatic about nascar or whatever). If one thinks it's worthwhile, one explores more and reads (or watches) more and gradually learns.

In other words, if one is baffled by the terms and concepts and so doesn't read much in the field to avoid being baffled, one will continue to be baffled...

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