“Real Artists Ship”

Colin Johnson’s blog

Shibboleth (1)

It is commonly stated that in-groups within e.g. careers or activities use specific language as a way of ensuring the coherence of the group and to exclude outsiders. I’m not too sure how reasonable this is—I can see some examples of it, but the argument often just boils over into the whole “all jargon is just obfuscation” argument, which seems wrong to me.

However, there is a variant on this which I think is more interesting. That is, the use of specific generic terms by people within a group. Comedians always refer to the places that they work in as “rooms”, and people in the theatre talk about “spaces”. IT people call computers “machines”. Classical musicians refer to the individual bits of music as “pieces”, and in music theatre the words are called the “book”. Is it possible that these specific choices act as these kind of in-group markers? Or is that just arbitrary—you have to call it something, and so you end up settling on one specific term? But, that argument seems a little flaky—there are also some perfectly good non-generic terms that could be used instead, that are if anything more informative—e.g. “computer” rather than “machine”.

I wonder if this has been studied properly at any point?

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