Daniel Drezner takes on Bill James.
Drezner wrote about "the glut of acronyms that fly around [military articles and talks] like so much schrapnel." I might suggest that, rather than removing the c he should create a new word by removing the s and h.
Drezner confuses jargon with allusion.
we're approaching a CreditAnstalt moment in the global political economy
Is an obvious allusion to the collapse of the Austrian bank in 1931 which precipitated the next, devastating phase of the depression. Note if one said
In 1931, the worst phase of the depression was instigated by the collapse of CreditAnstalt in Austria, and we may very well be approaching that moment in the global political economy.
every educated reader would know what Drezner was talking about (or could easily look it up). In other words, the paragraph isn't necessary, just a little bit of context.
It's doubly odd that the original comment came from someone with a sports connection. Few things are more impenetrable than sports journalism on a sport you don't follow or even understand.
I agree with the commentator CeoUnicom in the linked article, and I noticed Numeric makes the same point here.
"We're approaching a CreditAnstalt moment in the global political economy" simply isn't jargon. Its an allusion.
Now CeoUnicom gives a good example of jargon:
"" STRIKE BCT has also been involved in Operation DRAGON STRIKE since its movement to Kandahar Province in September. This operation is part of HAMKARI (Dari for "cooperation") Phase 3, the coalition's effort to partner with Afghan forces to stabilize parts of southern Afghanistan. The goal of DRAGON STRIKE is to reestablish control of Highway One, Kandahar's busiest route and a vital line of communication for Afghans. Since this operation began on Sept. 16, STRIKE BCT has fought hard to clear and hold the area, helping the local Afghans to benefit from some semblance of stability.""
There are so many differences between these two examples that they are hard to list, but a key one is that with the first, if you have never heard of CreditAnstalt, you can still probably get a good idea of the author's point from the context. The allusion justs adds a little extra for the informed. With the second example, its possible to be a specialist in the field -I'm an army reservist and am quite conversant with U.S. military terminology- and still not get any real information out of the jargon.
Since I actually know the U.S. military staff langauge, I know that the second example is designed to put words on the page without saying anything. The closest translation I can come up for the layman is "A brigade combat team* is trying to gain control of Highway One but we are not sure if it has succeeded yet."
This type of blather is infuriating because the listener is expected to take some time to acknowledge and respond. Sometimes real information is dropped into the mess, so you still have to read it carefully so as to not miss something the author in fact doesn't want you to know but is required to tell you. Either way, time is stolen from more productive pursuits.
In other words, one of the few real uses of jargon is as a tool of bureaucratic infighting, and its use tends to grow as bureaucracies grow and ossify. I'm sure its the same with academia.
* I can't tell from the excerpt if "Strike BCT" is the real name of the unit trying to clear the road, or just a designation for this particular operation. I suspect the latter and the unit has a proper name that is not being used.
James, as quoted by Drezner, seems to have the right sentiments, but misses the mark in one clear area.
Experts must communicate to other experts in "jargon": it is more concise and more precise and allows the discussion to proceed as accurately as possible and as close to thought-speed as possible. There's no way around that. (Not to mention, at what level of education do we draw the line beyond which things become "jargon"?)
If James' point is that experts must leave their guild halls to communicate in the public square, as it were, he's spot on. If he's saying that a discussion's context and level are immaterial — always communicate as if your mother were part of the conversation — progress would grind to a halt.
Yes, some disciplines have cultures that value poor writing: use the passive voice, use the gratuitous "aggregational quantity" instead of "sum", use archaic grammar that sounds very precise and "scientific". No argument there. Yes, some "experts" are incapable of changing gears and explaining themselves to a non-expert. Though I would say any expert who cannot change gears as appropriate to the context and level of discussion is not an expert at all, but rather someone manipulating symbols they do not fully understand. But complaining about all jargon in expert-to-expert communications is misguided, in my book.
I do agree that experts can fall into the trap of pride. It's easy to believe that you're smarter than others because you understand things that they don't. (There are a billion+ Chinese who therefore are smarter than I am.) And it's easy to believe that if someone is not as accomplished or educated as you, that they are in fact inferior to you. It then follows, if they do not follow your expert advice, they are not just inferior, but obstinate and anti-intellectual/science/truth. We definitely do need to fight the tendency to pat people on the head and prove our points by Appeal to Authority.
Drezner refers to a Slate <a>article by Paul Krugman in which he defends his use of jargon. Recently, Krugman added some nuance to his view in a recent post on the term 'structured unemployment.'