Adite Banerjie | Paromita Goswami | Preethi Venugopala | Reet Singh | Ruchi Singh | Saiswaroopa Iyer | Sudesna Ghosh
J for Jargon & Slang in Fiction
Definition of jargon and slang
Jargon stands for words, phrases and expressions that are used only by a certain group. Not like a local dialect, for example, but arising out of common topics or habits. Sometimes, jargon is related to a profession, like medical jargon, legal jargon or military jargon. Often, it doesn’t make much sense to outsiders or taken out of the specific context from which it stems. On certain social media and among the younger generation using chats and messengers, some online jargon has taken hold that is totally foreign to those not part of such groups. This is also true for specific fandoms (of movies or series, music or games). It includes acronyms and abbreviations or words and phrases like “headcanon”, “deaded” or “to stan someone”. Some other examples of jargon are: stat, corroborating evidence, face time, hard copy, to keep in the loop, no show…
Slang is shared by many of the people speaking the same language, though there are often regional differences or country-specific terms. American English has incorporated slang that can’t be compared to British English slang, for example. Slang is always informal and thus rooted in speech. It may also be more common with a particular group of people, like youngsters. Some examples are: chap, telly, chuffed, quid, bucks, to feel blue/have the blues, to screw up…
Jargon and slang in literature – yes or no?
The general answer is: yes, but only where it makes sense and only in moderation. It’s always best not to overdo it because the writing should still be understandable to others who might not be familiar with it. This is especially important for books in English because readers whose first language is not English could get confused. To me, there are five valid reasons for including slang and jargon in fiction:
- To make dialogue less stilted – Even though we should use correct grammar and refrain from writing only slang, it is only natural for two protagonists in conversation to use a bit of slang here and there. Adding a “buddy” or “ain’t” or a commonly known term like “on cloud nine” or “you’re killing me” to written speech makes it seem more authentic and animated and can help with the flow. But keep it consistent and sparsely strewn in, and don’t let one protagonist use different terms for the same meaning.
- To give a character a quirk – Maybe the villain has a word he uses for his victims or partners in crime or maybe there’s a protagonist who comes from a certain upbringing or needs to be different from the others. In this case, both jargon and slang are a good idea to set his speech apart from the rest. Consistency is the key here, too. Even if a villain might come from an uneducated background or certain profession, make sure that what he’s saying is still understandable.
- To fit the genre or theme – Jargon can play an important part in portraying certain jobs realistically. If you write a thriller, a mystery or a romantic suspense novel that involves policemen, armed forces, detectives or spies or criminals, then of course you should use the appropriate jargon. If you think a word might not be commonly known, try to explain it without making it sound like a copy-pasted definition.
- To distinguish characters – If you want to highlight different ethnic origins (like in multicultural romance) or present people from different strata of society, making them use slang off and on can emphasize those differences. A rather poor maid might encounter a royal, and their spoken English certainly wouldn’t be the same.
- To create your own world – World building is essential in all genres, more so in those like fantasy, science-fiction and paranormal romance. It can be part of this task to find certain words and phrases that a group of characters might use. Say you have an organization that monitors people’s dreams. If they have a jargon with job-related terms, it will make them seem all the more fearsome and real.
I would say one thing, though: if in doubt, leave it out. Don’t fall into the trap of choosing too many uncommon words or using certain words wrongly, just for the sake of including them. Also, pay attention to regional slang and to the time when a certain word might have been in fashion or not.
One tip before I go: If you’re interested in slang or don’t understand a particular jargon, try out www.urbandictionary.com for some interesting, sometimes funny, insights.