It has been raining here for the last few days, which means that I have spent a lot more time inside than usual. For entertainment, I have been watching a string of back-to-back BBC Horizon documentaries. I think I am becoming addicted to these little hour-long snippets of science. One of my favorite things about this show is that it takes what would otherwise be considered bland, tedious or overly-technical subjects and presents them in an easy to digest format complete with cool music and pictures and analogies to engage the viewer.

What does that have to do with feet you might ask? Hold on, it comes back around.

At work the other day, I was unpacking a shipment of new Pedorthic brochures and I was struck by how absolutely boring they were. The whole profession of Pedorthics tends to fly under the radar. Maybe this is because the majority of the public can’t even say the word. People ask me all the time what I do for a living, and it bothers me that I cannot explain it to them in less than a paragraph. There has not been one time that I have been able to say “I am a Pedorthist” and the person replies “Oh, cool, I have a sister/brother/friend who is a pedorthist…” The typical response is “What’s that?” I usually end up telling them that I make orthotics. Then I have to go into a long explanation about what orthotics are.

I am starting to feel claustrophobic; I am surrounded by jargon like a fly in a spider web.

Gah. We might as well define jargon while we are at it:


[jahr-guhn, -gon] noun

1. the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group

2. unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish.

3. any talk or writing that one does not understand.

Yup. That’s jargon. And it tends to form around professions like moths to porch light, or like mold on stale bread, or dirty dishes in my kitchen sink, or bathroom jokes around jr. high boys.  You get the picture. It collects. I’m coming to realize that it is not necessarily a good thing.  I think originally jargon forms in order to unite people of a certain profession. New terms have to be invented so that they can be used as a kind of “short hand”. But soon, these words and phrases begin to act as a segregating device. If you are on the “outside”, then you won’t understand what I am talking about. And we can act smug and superior while talking over your head.

Well, I am here to say; that it is not only mean – it’s childish. And I am picking on my own profession as one of the worst offenders.  Actually, the entire medical community is famous for this:

–          Your average run of the mill bruise = ecchymosis

–          The way your joints move = Arthrokinematics

–          Your red blood cells = Erythrocytes

–          That funny “head rush” feeling when you stand up from the couch = Osteostatic Hypotension

–          The study of how hormones affect your brain and behavior  = Psychoneuroendocrinology

(And these are just the terms I can think of off the top of my head; they are by no means the worst!)

What is the deal? Did they think this was Scrabble? This is real life, and there are no extra points awarded for using more than seven letters.

My point is this: although we may be able to “jargon” with the best of them. I think it is important to be able explain your profession in short, easy to understand words that everyone can appreciate.  Sure, it might not sound as impressive or intimidate strangers as satisfactorily as rattling off some obscure technical lingo – but I think it is actually harder! You have to really fully grasp a concept in order to translate it into every day speech.

If the physicists and mathematicians on BBC Horizon can explain String Theory or the importance of Prime Numbers in a simple way, I think we can simplify our profession too. Stepping outside of your group’s “jargon cocoon” shows that you care about those around you enough to want to tell them about all the exciting concepts you have discovered.  It works the other way too: people start caring about your profession when they can really understand what you are actually doing. This is how cool things happen – when people of different disciplines talk to each other and bring their expertise to the table and mix it all together.  This is what the field of Pedorthics (and probably medicine in general) needs.  Often, when you cut through the jargon, the underlying concepts end up being quite easy to understand.  That is when you can start solving problems.

It’s like a quote I heard on one of the Horizon episodes

“When the solution is simple, God is answering”.   – Albert Einstein

Walk Well.

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