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Speaking my language

By Darcy L. Fargo

Darcy Fargo

June 15, 2022

“That’s a hard word to spell,” I said, as I wrote a story for this week’s edition.

“What word,” asked my husband.

“Transubstantiation,” I responded. “As I’m writing it, it feels like I’m using too many vowels, Ns and Ts.”

My husband, a lifelong Catholic, then asked a question that left me stunned: “What’s transubstantiation?”

I polled the room: “Jake, do you know what transubstantiation is?”

“Train substation? Yeah. No clue.”

After giving a likely inadequate explanation to my husband and son, I went back to my story and wrote out a short definition of “transubstantiation.”

I refer to it as “insider language.” Industries, professions, organizations, hobbies… they all have insider languages, words, phrases, acronyms and initialisms that are specific to them and understood by “insiders,” others in those industries, professions, organizations, hobbies…

When you are an insider and use insider language regularly, it’s easy to forget it may not be understood by others. I’m keenly aware of insider language, yet I still fall into using it regularly.

“Why don’t we move the first sentence of third graf to the lede,” I once said, suggesting edits to a document several colleagues and I were collaborating to write.

In that moment, it didn’t occur to me that “graf” and “lede” are terms specific to journalism. I used those words almost every day for a decade. They’re part of my lexicon.

The problem with insider language is in its exclusivity. When we use insider language, those who don’t “speak the language” may not understand what we’re trying to communicate, and it can make others feel like “outsiders.”

Insider language can manifest in other ways, as well. I can think of at least a few times when I’ve driven to an event “in the (name) room/chapel at (name) hall/church” only to arrive at my destination to find no signs pointing me to where that room or chapel is located.

As we share our faith and our love of Christ with others, it’s important to use language that’s understandable and accessible. It’s important to remember that not everyone knows the concepts and terms and locations that are such important parts of our lives.

It’s part of being welcoming. It’s part of communicating clearly.

And it’s apparently something I need to be reminded of once in a while.

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