What’s in a word?

I have been thinking for a while about writing a mountain-bike-to-English translation dictionary. Lord knows if you’re around mountain bikers for any length of time, some sort of translation aid is necessary. However, I have been assured that perfectly good glossaries already exist, so I spent a minute or two pondering why I felt such a tool was necessary, and I realised it all comes down to one word: jargon.

One of my pet peeves in life in general is people who engage in jargon, and – even more so – people who correct others for not using quite the right jargon. It’s exclusive and exclusionary. By definition jargon is a way of keeping new people out and, like a secret handshake, a way of figuring out who is already in. It is also, often, inaccurate. When I taught writing, one of my goals with my students was to hammer into them how lazy jargon is – I’d root it out of their writing, and set them to finding it in other documents. I could go on, but you get the point: jargon sucks. Yes, words are specific and have meaning, but too often jargon results in obscuring rather than clarifying.

I’m actually surprised by the rampant use/misuse of jargon in the land of mountain biking because my experience over-all is that mountain bikers really want to share the sport they love with new riders. I suppose they’re probably not even aware that they are using language that excludes others from participating in the conversation. To be fair, it’s impossible to talk about technical issues without using specific language, which is why I so appreciate James’ approach in Beginner Basics: Tweaking Your Setup for that Perfect Fit. James takes the time to explain what the lingo means, giving it context and inviting the newbie into the conversation.

I’m not saying that no one should use concrete, specific language. Far from it. Just use concrete specific language that actually means what it means to the rest of the world (why oh why oh why are clipless pedals the kind of pedals you clip your shoe into … WHY???). I do think though that there’s a lot of room for conversations that include learning riders rather than excluding them. Does it really matter if I call the thing I sit on a saddle or a seat? Do I need to know a top tube from a head tube to enjoy my ride?

At least some mountain bikers are able to have a little fun with how they speak. Shockingly, this doesn’t even contain any swearing!

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