I was a grad student when I met Rita. She was a nurse, and one of the things that allowed us to hit it off from the beginning was that we “spoke” the same language, that specialty dialect of people in healthcare. So many things didn’t need repeating with lengthy explanations. I came by my knowledge because of the time spent in the operating room and on hospital orthopedic floors.
For several weeks it seemed that we were both winners. We communicated easily, had common interests, and in other ways, seemed compatible. So with the relationship gaining a bit in longevity, it seemed natural that we should begin introducing each other to our friends.
I invited Rita to a couple of parties my friends were having. At first, everything seemed to be going alright. Then the fights started. My friends talked in senseless jargon, couldn’t say a single sentence in plain English, and were stuck up. I didn’t even try to defend my friends from the charge of being stuck up; a few were overly impressed with themselves. But the jargon comment hurt. It was true. Put a bunch of anthropologists in a room having a conversation about our areas of research, and you’ll be lost in a few minutes. The number of common English words declines in direct proportion to the depth of the debated issues.
I tried explaining, apologizing, and then compared it to a similar type of discussion healthcare professionals might have. Maybe that last was what blew the lid off the pot. Over three days, we went from being lovers to being angry with each other to breaking off the relationship.
Much good came from the breakup, although I didn’t see it that way for a long time. As I transitioned from grad school to “civilian” life as a practicing anthropologist, I learned to listen to my trade talk or jargon and filter it out. You might know I was an anthropologist, but it wouldn’t interfere with our conversation.
As far as Rita is concerned, I never heard from her again, and that’s not bad. But from her, I did learn a valuable lesson: too much jargon complicates communication.