The Job of Jargon
Today, I’ve sank my teeth into the juicy meet of a system rebuild. I approach it both as a deconstructionist and a revisionist. I look at the murky bits and try to shine the light of clarity into them.
I think one of the problems is not necessarily one of syntax or structure, but organization and addition. Bits and pieces of works are often written in the order they occur to the designer, or are farmed out, or, most problematic, the writer (or team of writers) has grown so close to a given project he assumes all his readership shall automatically understand his unique vocabulary.
When I say unique vocabulary, I mean the precise, deliberate word choice the designer used to specify certain key elements of his project (read system). In many cases, the word has similar meaning and the audience (learned in games) can easily get the sense of it, a FATE point is a LUCK point is a BENNY is a HERO point (maybe not on every level–variations, admittedly exist, but the player as reader can easily extrapolate the intent and purpose without rolling a die or scratching his head).
The danger lies when there is a larger paradigm shift. The risk of obfuscating your true intent increases when you don’t define the terms yet. Let me amplify this.
Let’s say I’m writing a cookbook and you open the book and the first recipe tells you we’re going to make an apple pie. You go, okay, cool. I dig apple pies, but you begin reading on, and it starts something like this…
“Take five gizalogs of apples and twinesteep them until they are shine-shine.”
You are going to think either I’m on acid or you are or perhaps a bit of both. This is a case of (apple) cart before the horse. I didn’t define the words in advance. Jargon is only as good as the lexicon you lead in with.
If the start of the book leads in with a lexicon–or I refer you to one with particular terms on the get-go–you’ll be far better off. You’ll know there is a master repository, a locus, of all the befuddling words to help you on your way. Jargon exists to give a simple shorthand and should always serve to improve communication, not just for the sake of making things up.
Now, back to the cookbook, I’d lead in with a brief list of important words “used throughout this text”. This is something that can be done in a running fashion, during development, or you can take another pass or have some outside eyes lend a hand.
Scrutinizing the following,”Take five gizalogs of apples and twinesteep them until they are shine-shine.” I see three words needing explication: gizalog, twinesteep, and shine-shine.
Gizalog: A mixed bushel of Granny Smith and Washington Red apples.
Shine-Shine: Apples glossy and slightly soft to the touch.
Twinesteep: To submerge apples in Everclear with only the stems exposed.
Now, this lexicon allows for a deeper, richer understanding and provides a short-hand system, especially useful in instances where I may want to reference twinesteep multiple times. My rule of thumb? If something is going to get mentioned a handful of times in a text or is going to come up frequently in play, find a way to shorten the reference to make it more palatable for all involved. Is it easier to say “Evil obsidian skinned elves of the Underworld who have a thing for Lolth approach” or “you see a party of Drow”?
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!