• Barb Mayfield

Miss Aligned leaves you out

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Meet Miss Aligned, also known as “not speaking the same language, even when it is all English.” She is another contestant in the Mis(s) Communication Competition.

If you missed meeting Miss Understanding, you can read about her here: https://www.nutritioncommunicator.com/single-post/2019/01/18/Would-you-like-to-conquer-miscommunication

When does Miss Aligned show up? When we use “insider” language – also known as jargon. Let’s face it, professionals in almost any field are notorious for using jargon – words known by those inside the group – but to those on the outside the words might as well be a foreign language.

Consider the medical jargon used by health professionals, as in the illustration of Miss Aligned above. Even non-technical words can become jargon. For example, when someone hears or sees their lab results, which is better: “negative” or “positive”? Unless you’re trying to become pregnant, “negative” is usually the preferred result, but it doesn’t sound so good.

Let’s have a jargon quiz. Match the word or phrase listed in the column labeled jargon with the correct definition. The answers are at the bottom.


1. Apply sufficient torque a. expecting prices to rise 2. Involuntarily undomiciled b. expecting prices to fall 3. Reconditioned c. killed 4. Due diligence d. done for free 5. Idiopathic e. homeless 6. Effectuate f. up to this time 7. Arbitrary deprivation of life g. disease with unknown cause 8. Bear h. tighten 9. Bull i. financial analysis to prevent harm 10. Pro bono j. cause of an illness 11. Etiology k. used 12. Heretofore l. carry out

Are those terms clear, or confusing? It depends on whether you are an “insider.” For example, a lawyer who speaks “legalese” knows what this means: “IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the Parties, intending to be legally bound, have caused their proper and duly authorized officers to execute and deliver this Agreement as of the day and year first above written.” For the rest of us, we sign our names and hope for the best.

Jargon can be a helpful shortcut for communicating with others inside the group, but to everyone else it can definitely be a form of miscommunication. In all fairness, the use of jargon is generally unintentional. However, when jargon is used with the intent to deceive we call it “doublespeak.”

Why should we avoid the use of jargon? If you work for the government… because, it’s the law! The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that federal agencies use clear communication the public can understand and use. For the rest of us, avoiding jargon improves our communication. You can learn more by going to www.plainlanguage.gov.

In addition to jargon, Miss Aligned shows up as colloquialisms. We say things like: shoot the breeze, think outside the box, spill the beans, bought the farm, and sit a spell. All of those phrases use simple English words, but would someone from outside the U.S. understand what they mean? Would all Americans understand?

To beat Miss Aligned, speak and write clearly. Use plain language. Align your words with what the audience understands.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Answers: 1-h, 2-e, 3-k, 4-i, 5-g, 6-l, 7-c, 8-b, 9-a, 10-d,11-j, 12-f

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