The Case For Jargon

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 30 2011 12:32 PM

The Case For Jargon

Daniel Altman offers some advice on "how to write about economics for a lay audience," paired with a critique of something I wrote.

I think it's mostly good advice, but I did want to disagree with him about one thing in particular, namely jargon. I use economist jargon when I write about economic topics for a reason—economists use it to, and I want someone who reads my stuff to be able to dive deeper and be equipped to read economics papers and have conversations with honest to god PhD-wielding economists. What's more, a lot of the time the jargon is there for a reason. I'll freely admitted that insisting on peppering your prose with "real wages" versus "nominal wages" can be off-putting to a reader, but the distinction is important enough that if you try to avoid the "real"/"nominal" distinction you end up creating new problems. Altman, for example, ends up referring to "actual wages" in his proposed re-write, but readers are only going to get confused over time if you try to adhere to that. I am personally not a fan of the economist's use of "real" since I think it creates the implication that nominal quantities are somehow fake, but the jargon is what it is and I think it's best to just try to use it so that readers can, over time, learn how to use it themselves.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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