When I was in high school, a bunch of the cool kids had a private language they used. It was a kind of pig Latin they called “Guy-the-gee,” where they changed normal words into their special constructions, with a different grammar, too. When they started jabbering to one another in their private code, no one outside their group had any idea what they were saying. Which was one of their goals, I suppose. By excluding outsiders, the cool kids made themselves feel just a little cooler.
Private languages and vocabularies pop up naturally all the time, usually among specialists of one sort or another. Medical personnel use words like CPAPs and rales and ODPs; academics cite modes and means and social constructs and hierarchical presumption; and let’s not even start with sports! Every sport has its own distinct terminology: football games are played on a gridiron with a pigskin, soccer matches are contested on a pitch with keepers and strikers; a basketball court is about twice as big as a hockey rink, and so on. If you don’t know the terms, it’s impossible to know what’s going on.
These unusual words and phrases aren’t usually meant to exclude others who aren’t in the know. They’re just a kind of shorthand, a way for folks to communicate common reference terms efficiently so they can quickly move on to talk about some finer point – the nuance of a sports strategy, or a patient’s individual medical issue. The specialist’s private language may not be intended to be exclusive, but often it has that effect. And when you can’t comprehend what’s being said, you feel like an outsider watching the cool kids use their private code to have make private jokes at your expense.
Photo: Barbara Bumm. Source: Pixabay
This is particularly an issue in finance. Financial professionals can live in their own private world with their own private language: technical terms like duration and present value and discount rates and basis points. It’s hard enough to feel like an outsider when people are talking about money, but it’s especially galling when they’re talking about your money using words you don’t understand. It’s no wonder that ordinary folks have a hard time trusting financial professionals. Too many hide behind these technical terms.
Language is funny. We have noses that run and feet that smell, we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway. Communication that’s meant to connect us can create misunderstanding and division. But, as Dorothy Parker once noted, the most welcome words in any correspondence are “Check enclosed.”
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”