Understanding Jargon And Slang in Translation

May 01, 2018

Content slang and jargon

Many translation customers want to know, ‘What is jargon and slang?’ In some ways, they are very different. Jargon is generally used within the workplace. It is the words, phrases, abbreviations, and acronyms that are associated with a specific profession or industry. In some cases jargon is even more specific and is associated with a specific business. There can be medical jargon, scientific jargon, business, jargon, etc.

Then there is slang. This is very casual language, sometimes called ‘street talk’, that is often used by younger people to communicate with one another. People who use the same slang terms often have something in common. This includes sharing an ethnic background, being of the same generation, or coming from the same areas. Frequently, slang terms become mainstreamed and larger groups of people begin to find their use acceptable.

There are also similarities between slang and jargon. Both can be a bit polarizing. Many dislike the use of  jargon because they feel as if it makes things needlessly complex and hinders communication. There are similar sentiments about slang. Some feel it is coarse and unprofessional. Others feel as if it excludes those who may not understand what specific words and phrases mean.

On the other hand, many feel as if jargon is, at times, the most accurate way to communicate specific industry concepts. Similarly, because slang is so culturally rooted more formal or mainstream terms may not be accurate substitutes when translating or simply communicating.

Can Someone Hire a Slang Language Translator or a Jargon Translator?

The answer is yes. A good translator or localization professional should be able to translate slang or jargon as long as they have the right qualifications. In order to understand and translate jargon, the translator will most likely need industry relevant knowledge. Another option is to have the translation customer provide the translator with a dictionary of words and phrases that include jargon that may not be familiar to the average person.

The same is true with slang. However, in this case a translation professional will need to have some cultural understanding to know whether or not a slang term in one language will translate accurately. If not, they will need to find a word or phrase that does communicate the same idea.  Here’s an example.

A translation customer owns a chain of donut stores called ‘Rock And Roll Donuts’. Their catchphrase is, ‘Killer donuts like your mama never made.’ In America, the word ‘killer’ in this case is slang for good, cool, amazing, or awesome. But, it’s more than that. It’s a bit of an edgy term that contributes to a youthful, slightly rebellious branding.

Not only will the translator need to find a suitable translation for the word killer, they will need to find a word or phrase that conveys the same meaning.

What is the Bottom Line?

When slang vs jargon is considered, neither is any better than the other. Both can complicate a translation. On the other hand, sometimes both are absolutely necessary to communicate effectively. Our general advice is to consider more mainstream language if possible. If not, recognize how jargon can be a barrier to communication as well as slang. Then, understand that it might take a translator a bit of time to work through them.