Examples of Jargon in Literature

Jargon refers to the specialized language used by a particular group or profession. It includes technical terminology, acronyms and phrases specific to certain industries or activities. In writing, the use of jargon can be useful for precision within a field, but also risks excluding general audiences.

What is Jargon?

Jargon is vocabulary endemic to specific disciplines or communities of practice. It encompasses:

  • Technical or niche terms – e.g. “hemoglobin” in medicine
  • Acronyms pronounced as words – e.g. “RADAR” for radio detection and ranging
  • Abbreviations and initialisms – e.g. “A.S.A.P” for as soon as possible
  • Idioms and specialized slang – e.g. “low-hanging fruit” in business
  • Shared shorthand phrases – e.g. “86 the bacon” in food service

Jargon frequently involves nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs with nuanced meanings in certain contexts. This language has evolved organically within professions due to the need for precise communication about complex concepts or activities.

Why Do Writers Use Jargon?

Writers use jargon to:

  • Quickly and efficiently convey domain-specific information to knowledgeable audiences
  • Establish authority and credibility within a particular field of expertise
  • Bond with readers who share common knowledge, experiences, and lexical norms
  • Comply with conventions and expectations of language use in certain publication venues
  • Exclude outsiders from comprehension to assert insider status

Importance of Using Jargon

Jargon serves important functions when writing for specialized audiences by:

  • Allowing more precise, concise communication about complex concepts
  • Signaling membership in specific fields or groups
  • Establishing shared professional norms and discourses
  • Meeting reader expectations shaped by exposure to domain terminology

However, excessive jargon also risks:

  • Confusing or alienating general readers
  • Obscuring meaning through overly technical vocabulary
  • Creating barriers to mainstream understanding of important ideas
  • Reinforcing exclusivity rather than open knowledge sharing

Examples of Jargon in literature


“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

“So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again.”

Ishmael tries to figure out the meaning of the strange gold coin nailed to the mast. He struggles to interpret this mysterious symbol by using the metaphor of lifting up the heads of the philosophers Locke and Kant.

He jokes that thinking about the ideas of Locke brings understanding one way, while considering the ideals of Kant brings a totally different interpretation. Melville’s use of this philosophical jargon and metaphor serves a couple purposes.

Firstly, it shows Ishmael wrestling with different viewpoints to try and make sense of the meaning. Secondly, the specialized language highlights Ishmael’s scholarly but obscure musings contrasting with the practicality of the hardened sailors. Here, the use of jargon conveys both Ishmael’s thoughtful nature and the puzzles of discerning deeper truths.


“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

“Listen to the motor. Don’t gun it when you’re driving. Sometimes she won’t idle down, but don’t race her.”

The excerpt shows the moment when a gas station attendant gives Tom Joad advice on driving his family’s overloaded Hudson Super Six car on their journey west. The attendant uses car jargon to explain how to gently handle the temperamental engine to deal with the heavy load without further breaking the vehicle.

Terms like “gun it,” “idle down,” and “race her” use driving and mechanic slang to warn against pushing the car too hard or fast. This conversational dialogue between working men realistically shows the relationship between man and machine in the migrant experience.

Steinbeck uses the jargon to emphasize the Joads’ dependence on cars and mechanics to make their exodus, which emphasizes the importance but unreliability of technology and transport for supporting westward movement and relocation during the Dust Bowl period.


“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

“I hope tomorrow will be a fine day, Lane. I ought to get some riding in before dinner.”

Algernon uses riding jargon that subtly denotes his wealthy lifestyle. The leisurely riding and late dinner convey Algernon’s privilege as an unencumbered bachelor. This exemplifies Wilde’s use of upper class vernacular to reinforce the play’s satire of trivial aristocratic society.


“Neuromancer” by William Gibson

“It was a valuable corporate secret, how to do this with an MA, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want the competition to get hold of.”

Gibson uses cyberpunk jargon like “MA” to depict a dystopia of advanced virtual technology exploited by corporations. The specialized terminology alludes to sinister experiments, reinforcing the novel’s critique of unchecked corporate technological ambitions.


“All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren

“Willie didn’t look right or left but went on to the Pork Palace Café and ate his eggs and sausage and hot biscuits and butter.”

Warren uses Southern diner jargon to characterize Willie as a man of common tastes, juxtaposing his populist image with his hunger for power. The focus on regional food lexicon connects Willie’s ambitions to the “common man” even as he compromises principles.

Examples of Jargon in Poems


“The Collar” by George Herbert

“But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling,
Child! And I reply’d, My Lord.”

The speaker describes growing increasingly upset and anguished about feeling enslaved to God, using dramatic language like “rav’d” and “more fierce and wilde.” However, amidst his tormented lamenting, he hears a voice gently calling “Child!” This familial term stands out from the speaker’s agonized tone. It references a more personal, loving relationship with God.

The speaker seems to recognize the calming effect of this affectionate address, as shown by his moving response, “My Lord.” The simple but meaningful word “Child” encapsulates the core bond between man and God in Christian belief.

By having this tender address cut through the speaker’s inner turmoil, Herbert conveys the power of spiritual connection to transcend even emotional chaos. The poem uses the word “Child” as a turning point in the speaker’s crisis of faith, ultimately affirming his belief in the divine by ending his ranting and firmly answering “My Lord.”


“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

“In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.”

Prufrock observes the entrance and leaving of a woman. She was discussing about Michelangelo. Here, the use of the term “Michelangelo” creates a form of jargon. It is a highly specific and venerable name associated with the renowned Italian artist. The reference attests to Prufrock’s highbrow cultural inclinations and his desire for intellectual and emotional connection with the women around him.

The jargon also highlights the distance between Prufrock’s aspirations and his actual social interactions. It illustrates his feelings of alienation and inadequacy. Eliot emphasizes Prufrock’s introspective disconnect from others and his own insecurities.

Related Literary Terms

Dialect – Dialect is a language, which is specific to a region or social group with its own diction and colloquialisms. It is similar to jargon but tied more to demographics than profession.

Register – The level of formality used based on context, audience and purpose. Jargon is often associated with technical registers.


In summary, jargon allows efficient communication in specialized domains but also requires consideration of audience comprehension. The best practice is using jargon strategically rather than reflexively.

Examples of Jargon in literature
Examples of Jargon in literature

Read also: Literary Devices Comprehensive List

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