Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

3.3.1 Same term, different meanings

In the next activity you will watch a video featuring Jan Grothusen, chief executive of an engineering company called Guidance, in which he talks about the potential pitfalls of using particular specialist terms with a member of a different profession.

Activity 21

Watch the video and then complete the drag-and-drop activity that follows.

Download this video clip.Video player: Specialist terminology and jargon
Skip transcript: Specialist terminology and jargon

Transcript: Specialist terminology and jargon

Jan Grothusen (group CEO):
You don’t even have to have a specific jargon or technical terms to actually get into trouble with language, and a recent example we’ve had is one of our products involves tracking an object at a distance, locating it and tracking it, and to an engineer, you basically say, ‘Ooh, I’m locking on to something as a target. I’m tracking a target.’
However, when we were communicating this to, to customers, what the system does, they had a completely different connotation to them, because a target to them is something you shoot at. They come from a military context and were surprised that this, that this was some kind of, maybe a weapons-related system, which of course it isn’t. It is a completely innocent commercial product, and then you actually realise that even normal terms can get you into trouble, just because other people, your end users, end customers, may have a different understanding of what it means. Then you need to, you know, bring your marketing people in to actually help smooth out the language, maybe use slightly less precise terms but more acceptable terms.
You know, is that jargon or is that just being able to communicate, you know, correctly with your customers? Either way, you have to make adjustments to the language depending on who, who your audience is.
End transcript: Specialist terminology and jargon
Specialist terminology and jargon
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Taking into account what Jan says and your own understanding of the term, match each meaning of the word ‘target’ to the person who would be most likely to use the word with that meaning.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. An object that you locate and track

  2. An object that you shoot at

  3. A goal

  • a.A lay person, using everyday language

  • b.Jan’s customer, who has a military background

  • c.Jan Grothusen

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = c
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = a


In its everyday sense, ‘target’ is used metaphorically rather than literally.

As you can see, the connotations of the word ‘target’ are completely different in engineering, military and business contexts. In many instances words which have an everyday meaning also have a specialist meaning in other contexts.


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