Everyone uses a specific set of vocabulary, or as I like to call it technical terminology, that they use when doing certain things or talking to certain people.
My question is, what is the benefit of using this type of language? When should we use our technical terminology, with who and why?
Benefit of using technical terminology
What technical terminology allows, is for people to be ultra specific in what they are saying and removes all ambiguity.
By being ultra specific, this then allows for people to take fast action. More importantly, not just to act quickly but to act precisely.
If I say, go to the London Eye from Heathrow. What are you going to do? How are you going to get there if you had to go all by yourself?
Obviously, look at Google Maps, but what does Google Maps do? It gives you directions and clear instructions.
For example, ‘at the end of the road, cross the traffic light then turn left’. What’s the technical terminology here then? If you don’t know what ‘at the end of the road’ means, then you can’t even follow the rest of the instructions.
Does the road end when it meets the next road or does it mean this is the end like ‘hey buddy, this is the end of the road for you’? Or does it mean when the road changes names? How can you find the road names?
Another bit of technical terminology here, ‘cross the traffic light’. What does cross mean? Does it just mean to cross the road or go past the traffic light? What is a traffic light? This one might seem obvious, but there are many places in the world where traffic lights aren’t used. Also, you would have to work out what light means what? Why is green go and red stop?
So as you can see, we use technical terminology everyday, most of the time without realising. If we had to spell everything out, communicating to each other would just be a pain. So a simple set of instructions, ‘at the end of the road, cross the traffic light then turn left’ uses a lot of inside technical terminology yet for an outsider, even this could be a stumbling block.
When the stakes are high and time is limited, technical terminology is often the only method of communication.
Take the example, of the mysterious way in which pilots talk when they’re in the cockpit. All sorts of shorthand terminology is used to save time. The alphabet is said with a word instead of using the name of the letter to ensure clarity and avoid any misunderstanding e.g. a = alpha and b = bravo and so on. If the language was not developed, what would happen is much slower communication due to people seeking clarification, “what did you say? m or n… huh can’t hear you, speak up.” If the communication is compromised, then that creates huge problems and when you got a plane full of people that is not an option. Most of the plane disasters, are either during landing or taking off, have been as a result of communication errors. Of course, the language used had to be standardised.
Another example, are surgeons in theatre. Before we even begin on the terminology surgeons use, just look at how complex the human body is and the amount of terms for each part of the body and all of it’s systems. Obviously, as more research is done on the body and surgical practice, more and more technical terminology emerges. What this does, is allows everyone to be ultra specific and ensures that all processes are acted on accurately and swiftly. Most often than not, surgeons are having to run around like lunatics in the hospital, going from one operation to another. Imagine the chaos that would happen (on top of the already existing chaos of life as a surgeon) if people did not use technical terminology. The lack of being specific and to the point, would mean that people’s operations which are time sensitive end in disaster.
If you’re paying close attention, you will notice how technical terminology is brilliant to use with instructions. Using technical terminology establishes a level of professionalism in any industry as it requires time to learn and become familiar with. This then helps people identify with each other and with what is being said.
In any professional setting, people are expected to use technical terminology so that they can be understood easily and communicate efficiently. In that sense, it can be a huge time saver and ensure the right message gets to the right people.
Another key benefit is keeping information secure. People who aren’t familiar with all the terminology, which might as well be in the language of martians, will not stick their noses in or try and snoop around (take banking as an example, more on this later). This can be a good thing but when used in a bad way, can be seriously harmful.
Best use of technical terminology
You know when it is being used well, when the one who uses it and the listener are in sync because of it.
Take a look at any group of any size that have a singular purpose, they all use the same type of language, they unite under the technical terminology. There are literally a million and one examples of this, from things such as sports, to the military (look at how they send emails), to cooking, to different religions, to nerdy stuff like coding and hacking, even to your close friendship group (more on how technical terminology is used socially later).
Let’s take maths as an example, maths like any other subject has tons of technical terminology, you realise this more when you have to introduce a new word or phrase to a student.
Good use would be, when you explain what the new term is and how to use it and then continuously reinforcing it, till the other person uses it and is comfortable with it. Kind of what I’m doing with you by reinforcing the term, technical terminology.
Take the example of finding the area of a rectangle.
What is the technical terminology? The words ‘finding’, ‘area’ and ‘rectangle’. If you don’t know any of these then you’re clueless here.
If you’re explaining this, you would probably say how much space is the rectangle taking in centimetre squares (assuming it was drawn to scale)? The problem with that is, the word space is far too vague. Vague questions get vague answers.
An easy response if you used the word space is, ‘hmm only a little bit of space’. To get a specific answer, you would need to introduce the levels of specific terminology. For example, when it comes to measuring area, you got to first figure out what the unit of measurement is. Then you got to understand the properties of the shape you are dealing with and only after that can you actually start solving it. Like any good teacher, you would layer the learning so that the student can understand each term being used.
Now imagine if you had to keep on explaining each term over and over again, wouldn’t it be easier if everyone just used the same terminology?
A clearer example of this, find the circumference of a circle. Again, much easier to do this if the terminology is understood. Imagine, if you are doing your GCSE’s and you had to keep referring back to what circumference means, life is just easier when you know the terminology and how it is used. Having technical terminology in your lingo helps you to build on what you know.
The point of using terminology, is it allows you to be concise and precise.
Obviously, being to the point makes communicating and understanding much quicker, as I mentioned before. Yet another key use of terminology is unity amongst people.
A stellar example of using terminology to unite (many times disunite) people is in politics. Does ‘Yes we can’ ring a bell? One way in which this became so catchy is that it is positive and filled with hope. The ‘we’ includes the readers so they feel involved and can now take ownership of the slogan and spread it further. More recently, ‘Make America Great Again’, not as personal as the former slogan, yet the keys words are ‘great’ and ‘again’. The slogan is left open ended by leaving the reader with the question how will it be great? The word ‘again’ suggests that it was great in the past but somehow slipped and now is the time to bring it back to that status. The former slogan united people with a sense of ownership, whilst this slogan united people with their patriotism and desire to be great. Now obviously in politics, language and attention is the name of the game, if people can unite with your terminology, your words then you got the better chance of winning.
In business, a great example of uniting people under the lingo is by the company mission statements and company guides. Take a look at the Ritz-Carlton, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Again notice the ‘we’ being used, it makes the employee take ownership of this statement. Then look at how the staff describe themselves, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, you can’t act like an idiot or someone who just does not care anymore because then you won’t be living up to this part of the statement. Notice who they serve, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, in this one statement alone it concisely defines who the staff are and what kind of people they serve. This gives the expectation that to serve, you got to be either a lady or a gentlemen and to be served, you better act like lady or gentlemen. This short and simple statement makes everyone involved raise the bar in how they conduct themselves.
A more closer to home example, look at how you and your friends talk to each other. You will notice the same patterns in speech and similar vocabulary. Often, very specific words are used to share an inside joke or something secret or a uniting moment.
Using the same type of lingo amongst friends helps everyone to identify with each other. An easy way of seeing this come to life is introduce a new member to your social group, and you’ll see how quickly they will have to adapt to the lingo of your group.
Another key indicator of using lingo to see who belongs and who doesn’t, are foreigners. Take English as an example, a global language by many standards and a lot of people who have English as an additional language can actually speak better English than native English people.
The key though, is that whilst someone may know the language they don’t know the nuances of language, how slang woks, figures of speech etc. Even London slang varies from different parts of the city where one word can have more than one meaning (you get what I’m saying or should I allow you? As a sidenote this link is hilarious – london slang).
If you look at Old England, how people spoke was a key way to identify what class they belonged to. This is one of those human things that we do, we size each other up on the basis of how the other person speaks, paying close attention to the words being used.
When used correctly, technical terminology can and does unite people in a profound way and at the same time can ostracize people, so be careful how you use it. Ensure that everyone who you’re speaking with knows what each term means and how to use it and leave it up to them to use when appropriate. If you’re in the teaching space, then introduce, explain, reinforce, then let the student absorb it.
When not to use it
Don’t use it when you haven’t properly introduced the terms. It’s all great if you use fancy vocabulary but if no one has a clue what you just said, then you simply look like an imbecile. Save yourself the embarrassment and as a wise man once said, “talk to the people on their level.”
When you sense that someone does not understand the word you just used, slow down, look at them and explain what you mean. Be careful though, you don’t want to patronise anyone by talking extra slowly or something, so instead just double check the person still understands you and as with you all the way. You get what I’m saying?
Definitely avoid using technical terminology with someone who needs to know what is being said so that they can not get screwed by any agreement. I bet you have clicked or ticked the ‘I agree to the terms and conditions…’ trouble with that is, firstly why didn’t you read the terms and conditions? Secondly, when do you really need to know what the terms and conditions are?
For most people, checking the terms and conditions box is quicker than trying to read the long agreement. Put simply, out of sheer laziness the terms and conditions are agreed to. More interestingly, let’s say the terms and conditions was really long, would that really be enough to stop you or is there something else?
It boils down to the actual content, you, me, everyone have not got a clue of what is being said. Why? Way too much technical terminology that is simply too much work to try and understand and so because of that we resort to the lazy option – to blindly agree.
Let’s take the example of banking and finance. They might as well use hieroglyphics in the agreements because no one understands it anyways (unless you work in banking or finance). If we take a look at how this agreement went down. A few years ago, Dmitry Agarkov played the banks at their own game and made them sign a document that they didn’t even read properly, cost them dearly. Mr Dmitry Agarkov, you sir deserve a medal, just for the sheer attempt. Hats off to you.
For those of you who wished it were easier, Terms of Service, Didn’t Read is a huge help. Basically they rate and label different agreements from all over, highly recommend this.
Impact of technical terms used in maths
Can you describe the shape of a circle without any mathematical language? You cannot use the following words: circle, radius, diameter, circumference, centre, corners/vertices, edge, 2D shape. [tell me your answer in the comments section]
My attempt, a line that is evenly rounded without any pointy bits (nice and round).
The interesting thing about names of things is that the point of the name or labels to help identify, recognise, utilise among many others.
Look at the first words we teach kids, literally we teach them the names of things. What would happen if we didn’t use technical terminology, fancy labels or whatever else you want to call it, for any technical field?
Would people just come up with terms simply because it’s the easiest way to communicate? What about in subjects like maths, if we taught without technical terms would kids still learn everything they need to or would it drastically hinder their learning?
Isn’t one of the main points for technical terms being used to facilitate understanding? What if people understood you without them, then what? Successful communication can be direct or indirect so long as people get what you’re saying.
Personally speaking, I think technical terms are necessary but when we use them to describe people or people’s behaviour you risk wandering into a moral grey area.
My next question that I’m going to explore is – transitioning from technical terms to the use of labelling people and behaviour, especially how that impacts learning and teaching.
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