Plain English

I consider it a virtue to speak in plain English, as opposed to whatever specialized diction is relevant to the topic.  It's hard work--buzzwords are easier--but I think I'm doing a favor to the people I'm talking to.

Every trade has its own terminology.  Acronyms like "HTML" are obvious, but it becomes quite maddening when terms like "quality" and "merit" take on unexpected meanings in manufacturing and human resources.  This trade talk is a convenient shorthand, but it also acts, for better or worse, as a group identifier and that makes it exclusive.

You don't have to be in a trade for its lingo to rub off on you, either.  For example, people who have received a lot of counseling sometimes engage in "therapy-speak".  In one highly personal conversation, my mind raced to fill in whole paragraphs of meaning behind terms a friend was tossing off by reflex - terms that have other, simpler meanings in plain English, but it was clear my friend meant more.  And I may have been wrong.  I may not have known all the associations and implications of their shorthand.

I don't want to be misunderstood.  Not when I'm excited about the topic, and certainly not when it's highly personal.  I discipline myself to speak in plain English, using the meanings of words that everybody knows.  If you read this blog (for example, the "recommended posts" at the bottom of the right column), I hope you'll agree that I've talked about some pretty abstract material in understandable ways.  It might surprise you that I do the same thing at work, replacing the shorthand of project names with their concrete goals.  Why?  My boss has four other employees like me, all working on radically different technologies; the last thing I need is for him to recall an outdated meaning of a term I've just used.
(Emily Dickinson famously grounded a difficult subject by saying that she knew she was reading poetry when "I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off".)
Buzzwords are tempting.  They make you look smart, like you're in touch with how the experts define every aspect of your field.  They're also faster.  But when you go to all the effort of learning them, are you really better at solving problems in your field? 

Sometimes it's difficult or it takes longer for me to speak in plain English, because I have to think about what my audience knows and explain in detail in terms they'll understand.  In personal matters it's about being aware of, and honest about, my physiological and emotional responses (like Dickinson was), instead of packaging sets of them into code words that may not reflect my reality.  It's about knowing my audience, respecting their time, and giving them a chance to benefit from what I'm saying.  Otherwise, why bother?