Argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang

Argot-Jargon-Professionalism-SlangDear All,
Argo, jargon, professionalism, and slang are the terms which are used not only by linguists, but by people with any other background in their everyday life. The everyday use of these terms contributes to the fact that sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. Even linguists who do not work closely with these notions may at times use one term instead of the other. However, there is a slight difference between these terms. The goal of this post is to define each of these terms which, in turn, should help to understand them better and to use them more accurately.

Below are the terms in question:
Argot (from Fr. argot [aʁˈɡo] – “slang”)

  • in the narrow sense was the language “used by beggars and thieves in medieval France” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 85);
  • more broadly, it is “any specialized vocabulary or set of expressions used by a particular group or class and not widely understood by mainstream society” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 85).

Thus, it is possible to speak about the argot of thieves, the argot of underworld, or the argot of lower class. An example of Parisian argot is piaf (bird; sparrow) – the standard French word for “bird” is “oiseau“.

“Cant” is another term which is synonymous to argot, but is used less frequently.

Jargon is the language “which is inaccessible to non-specialists” (Bussmann, 1998, p. 607).

Jargon is characterized by extensive use of terminology, exactness, and economy in transmitting meaning. Foreign words, compounds, special prefixes, and metaphors are common in jargon.

Jargon is used by people belonging to a certain profession; therefore, it is possible to speak about the jargon of programmers, linguists, or educators. Jargonisms (jargon words) can be used by people intentionally in order to show that they are knowledgeable in a certain area.

Examples of jargonisms include “tech” (technician), “PC” (personal computer), “ABD” (all but degree – all other requirements in an educational program have been met).

Professionalism is a synonym for a jargon word.

Slang (=slanguage) is “British or American variant of carelessly used colloquial language with explicitly social and regional variants”(Bussmann, 1998, p. 1084).

Newly coined words and foreign (in fashion) words are some of the characteristic features of slang. While jargon is acceptable (and sometimes even required) in documents and other formal style texts, slang is considered to be informal and is not acceptable in formal document writing.

On the one hand, slang can be used by an individual to hide the meaning of what s/he is saying from other people who do not belong to his/her circle of friends. On the other hand, slang can be used by an individual to show that s/he belongs to a certain group of people (who also use this language). Slang is often employed by teenagers, especially in order to show that they share interests with their peers.

Unlike jargon, slang is not based on any particular professional background. In other words, the same slang word can be used by a doctor and a musician, by a truck driver and a fisherman. Unlike argot, slang is not necessarily used by underclass people only.

Examples of slang include “chick” (girl), “a health geek” (a health-conscious individual).

Sometimes argot words, jargonisms, and slang words make their way to standard language and can be easily understood by most people. For example, “awesome” (great), “smoke” (cigarette), “spooky” (scary), “grub” (food).

Slang can be a separate word as shown in the examples above or a phrase, for example, “junk food” (unhealthy food). A slang word or a slang phrase can have one or more meanings, for instance, the phrase “to give a hand” has two meanings: 1) to help and 2) to applaud.

Any of the terms discussed above (argot, scant, jargon, professionalisms, and slang) are sometimes referred to as a “secret language” due to the fact that not all people can understand such language even though they are native speakers of the standard language in which this secret language functions.

An individual’s speech abundant in argot, jargon or slang can be referred to as “lingo” or a “sociolect”. The former term underlines that it is a special type of language which (just as standard language) is used to communicate, but is not understood by all. The latter term underlines the fact that sometimes argot, jargon or slang can be more common in certain social milieu.

In brief, what is the difference between argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang? Argot is used by underclass people and belongs to an informal style. Jargon (which is synonymous to professionalism) is characteristic of a certain profession and can be either formal or informal. Slang is used by young people and people sharing different professional interests or social backgrounds; slang belongs to an informal style.

To sum up, this post has defined the following terms: argot, jargon, professionalism, and slang. Peculiarity of each of these terms and examples of their use have been discussed. Differences between each of these terms have been briefly pointed out.

Bussmann, H. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge dictionary of language and linguistics; translated and edited by Gregory Trauth and Kerstin Kazzazi. London: Routledge.


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