How much jargon is too much?

I’m working on some scriptwriting for a museum about a religious order. It’s really interesting. Reading about a fairly ordinary Victorian woman who started having visions in her mum’s house and felt that God was talking to her is fascinating. I think it’s because something so out of the ordinary was happening in such an everyday setting.

You suddenly see the small moments of beauty in it and you can almost imagine what it felt like. She feels sure that something extraordinary and meaningful is happening to her and feels that she should do something with her life, but she’s not sure what or how, and right to the end of her life still wonders exactly what it all meant. There’s an interesting story in it about fighting for what you believe, and she did have to fight to set her order up, but in a way it’s living an ordinary life with drops of something completely out of the ordinary and beautiful and terrifying in it that’s so fascinating.

Anyway, my point was jargon. You can’t use jargon in a museum (or any kind of writing) because it alienates anyone who’s not an insider. The trick is doing this without alienating the insiders. And at the same time, sticking to the incredibly low word counts without explaining every term, and without cutting out so many words it stops making sense. The result in museums is often patronising and dry – everything is explained simply and carefully to the lowest common demoninator. I think that that’s failing. Poetry explains things concisely and well without being dumb or text book. It’s possible to quickly outline something without using all your word count up on explaining one idea. And it’s worth putting them in a personal story to make them come alive and make sense.

I think you need a little concisely and invisibly explained jargon so that your visitors leave feeling like insiders even if they arrived as outsiders. You can take an easy and confiding tone and teach people what they need to know without them realising it. We learn all kinds of things when we read a good novel, we just don’t realise we’re doing it.

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