Lost in Terminology, Found in Hemingway


November 6 , 2021

In conversations and interviews or even writing, is better to avoid using jargon and terminologies altogether. It could be acceptable in certain academic and professional settings, but nowhere else, writes Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.


Recently, I had a word with an old friend. We reminisced about what cost him a position he sought at a company after a job interview. Aside from the lack of success, he was more angered by the manner in which it happened. The panel of interviewers suggested that they were not impressed by his jargon as he talked about his work experience and what he would offer the company.

The non-prevalence of terms, words or phrases sounding authoritative, technical or in vogue in his profession was glaring in his use of sentences. Instead, he had his own jargon, which no one from the other side had an idea of what was in his mind, more or less.

After the feedback, he countered with complaints that his terms have, in essence, no difference from theirs and protested that they are only words and that they should not be used to predict whether or not he would fit the position. He overlooked the fact that he was at their mercy to get the job and soured the interview.


As the absences and mismatches in terminologies cast a shadow for the interviewers, his emotionally charged response immediately put his personality to a trial, and the episode untimely wound the interview up.

As he did in the interview, he tried to convince me. He shook his head and shouted why words had to be such a serious bone of contention. It was a strange assessment because it was the interviewers' words that made him contentious. Indeed, few things have been of more significant consequence than words for much of recorded human history.


Of course, this has not stopped terminologies from being abused and ultimately misused. One example is the phrase “by and large,” originating in the olden days of sailing ships. It used to mean to sail off the incoming wind to make the ship easier to steer.


A terminology of sailors that used to be a nautical term came now to indicate imprecise generalities in everyday English and to mean “generally speaking,” or “on the whole” to the objection of those in the know, as the expression describes something more complex. The best thing to do in conversations, interviews or even writing is to avoid using jargons and terminologies altogether. It could be acceptable in certain academic and professional settings, where there may be no time to define certain nomenclatures or where the difference in referring to phenomenon and objects is critical.

The rule, nonetheless, should be to avoid jargon as much as possible. The 19th century poet, Robert Browning, said it best when he came up with the phrase, “less is more,” the slogan of minimalism. The term has been applied as a style and movement in writing, acting, architecture and the arts. It is deemed good because it is lean, spare and unadorned. As in, for example, Hemingway’s prose. It enabled him in the 1930s and 1940s to put his name in the news media almost daily as if he were a Hollywood movie star.

“In stating as fully as I could how things really were, it was often very difficult and I wrote awkwardly and the awkwardness is what they called my style. All mistakes and awkwardness are easy to see, and they called it style,” Hemingway said, illustrating his status in the literary world.


Indeed, in today's world, where there is much currency in specialisations and having to prove oneself in a competitive world, the premium for jargon has grown. This is true nowhere else than in academia, finance and information technology professions.

It is important to update oneself with the professional terminologies in our fields. But, “by and large,” it is critical to maintain a style of clarity in speaking and writing as close to Hemingway as possible.



PUBLISHED ON Nov 06,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1123]




Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.





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