Jargon can undermine our communication

This morning, I reached out to members of another forum to solicit help with a diabetes technology question. The first response I received was helpful but did not address the root cause of what I was observing.

The second response asked me, "Did you check the ‘widget arm on the maniform’? (Not the literal term but as equally obfuscating.) When I responded that I was not familiar with the “widget arm on the maniform,” they followed up with another attempt to clarify my problem by using another specialized term that I had no familiarity. I admitted my unfamiliarity with their language and politely requested that s/he use simple terms.

Their answer? Crickets.

Here’s a dictionary definition of jargon.

When I returned to school to complete my college degree many years ago, I took an English composition class. I remember that the primary responsibility of the writer was to take his readers from where they are to where he wanted them to go.

I despise undefined jargon in the written form. I know why it’s done – it’s a simple shorthand way to compact a lot of meaning into a short form. It works best when used in the context of a group who all understand the definitions of the jargon used. When I was a shop avionics technician, we talked in acronyms all day long.

Our audience at TuDiabetes does not share a complete knowledge of all the acronyms that many of us have incorporated into our vocabulary.

Think about the perspective of a newly diagnosed diabetic when they come to a forum like this and they receive the following comments or suggestions:

  • What was your IOB at the time?

  • Do you use RAAI or some other medication?

  • Did you stack your insulin?

  • Were you diagnosed with DKA?

  • Do you use MDI or CSII?

Use of these terms, without an embedded or contextual definition, smacks of elitism, laziness, and exclusion. A newly joined member of this community may feel totally un-welcomed and intimidated by what they might perceive as a knowledge base that is frightfully beyond their reach.

I know many parts of our common culture play fast and loose with acronyms. It can be great fun to interact with other people who understand it and it facilitates the fast-paced and entertaining rhythm of the exchange.

But there’s a dark side to that communication style, one that is clubby and exclusionary. In a forum meant to reach out to people who share our physical misfortune, we should always put in the extra effort to define our terms and make people feel welcome. It takes more work but over time will bring you better responses to your efforts to help.

I try to define all the acronyms I use and will try to translate mg/dL into mmol/L (units of blood glucose measurements). I know I’m not perfect in this but I think my effort helps.

Please consider this aspect and when you review your post or comment and ask yourself, “If I were newly diagnosed and bewildered by this new world I’ve been involuntarily been thrust into, would I easily understand what I’ve written?”

Edited title to replace “poison” with “undermine,” and “communications” with “communication.”


How about a glossary tab in the forum header plus a welcome note to all new members to be sure to check glossary tab for abbreviations used by posters and what they mean? That way posters continue to save time posting and members won’t feel so overwhelmed and will have a quick and easy way to get educated. If someone thinks that is a good idea, pass it along to an admin.


Here’s a resource.

I think you miss my point, however. Written communication is best thought of as a gift, one made with the reader in mind, and tidily placed in a self-sustaining package for them. I don’t think adding a few key-strokes to simplify the reader’s absorption of your message is too much of a burden.


Depending on the message, yeah, it actually is.

If somebody has no comprehension of IOB and BG then it is almost certain that they need to have a much different conversation. This does not have to be seen as a negative but it is a reality.

Writing every message as a basic primer would serve one aspect of the DOC while significantly neglecting the needs of another portion of the DOC.


Sorry to read this.

I’m sure everyone can remember being the new kid on the block at the pickup baseball game and just trying to fit in. What we remember best are acts of simple kindness and goodwill that ease our entrance into overwhelming social situations.

We all go through situations like this. It’s the first day on a new job, a dream job. Or the first day in high school when you just want to fit in. Or the trying to make yourself a valued member of a sports team that you admire. Life is full of these kind of experiences. Sometimes people forget how they’ve felt in these situations.

1 Like

You think that’s bad, you should hear all the terms used in the Operating Room. The stuff we discuss here doesn’t hold a candle to the very technical jargon used there. Google should be used by those new to diabetes if they are overwhelmed by the jargon used in a diabetes discussion. Isn’t that why Google was invented? To both find things on line and to teach us, in bite sizes, what various terms mean? :slight_smile:

Who wants to write out “long hand” when a widely known acronym or term will suffice? I sure as heck dont and always let others intercede for me, if someone asks me what I meant by a term that is familiar to those who have dealt with diabetes for a while. I figure if they are that interested/confused, they can Google.

I used to watch Big Brother UK all the time and got used to biscuits being cookies and chips being french fries etc. But if I didn’t understand a term I would type it into the internet under UK English slang.

You can type things into your computer for some things, but it isn’t always the easiest on some of the narrower used initials. I think the best solution is actually TuDiabetes having a definitions link, but that might not be something they want to keep up. I’m not sure I would have thought to look up Acronyms to find a definition, I’m not sure at first how much I used the search function even. I do know I still run into not knowing a term, I misunderstood soaking and took it literally as meaning getting wet.

But I honestly would hate spelling out every single acronym, on every single post, especially things so commonly and often used like BG. And I remember guessing what BG and finger sticking meant at the beginning, so I do try, if I know I am directly answering someone new to spell out some terms. But I think they like most of us will learn basic terms pretty fast,

LOL! I lived in England as a kid so I learned about “lorries”, “bonnets”, “boot” (for the trunk of a vehicle) and to pronounce aluminum as AL-YOU-MIN-E-UM. You say PA-TAY-TOE, I say PA-TOT-TO. :slight_smile: When I came back to the US around age 9, folks thought I was English.

I strongly agree.

WOE took me forever to figure out! And for clarity’s sake hat stands for way of eating.

Keep it clear and concise and jargonless …and my personal issue is readability.

Huge long paragraphs are more difficult to read, maybe that’s just me.

That and really reading carefully and responding to the concern and/or question(s).


Sorry NatureOrbs, I know that I am guilty of all of those things. I picked up WOE (way of eating) from the Bernstein forum years ago. Normally I would say diet, but that can be offensive to some folks. It becomes really natural to use abbreviations, but not always easy for the reader.

I remember coming to this site in 2012. I had never experienced social media in any shape form or fashion. Even the basic acronyms were unknown to me.

I approach jargon today with the intent to teach, many times after using jargon or an acronym I will try to explain it for the newcomers, many times I have followed an acronym with the words in parenthesis following it.

I don’t believe that jargon will ever disappear and I am conflicted on whether it should.
While I feel at times that it is unhelpful I also realize from where it gets its origins.

Diabetics are like any other group of people that share a common cause, purpose or profession. When we talk to others that share the same interest familiarity starts to invade the talk. It makes it easier to be part of the group if you can walk the walk and talk the talk. Feeling that we are part of community is important.

Jargon is there, lets not use it to exclude, If you feel that not everyone will understand, explain it, or its best left out of the conversation.


Just a point. This is an online site. Not a magazine you pick up at the store.
it seems like other online diabetes sites uses these acronyms . Rather than eliminating them, education and essay to find definitions would help.


IOB. Ok that means insulin’s on Board, which means ? Which seems to require another definition. For the definition. Actually this one one I did not know, because I don’t use insulin.

Another example. WOE which means??? Way of eating, which means? To me it does not mean diet, diet to me means a strict list of do’s and don’t. Can do this can’t it that.

My way of eating is to control the food I eat to what does not spike me past 140.
Is that a way of eating or a diet. ?

Specifically I tend to do low carb eating. It is not a Keto diet (I don’t follow all the rules and macro nutrients. But I do believe I eat a low carb way of eating an approach to how I consume carbs.

I guess I believe that most people on line could do a little research on the acronyms list.

To add a thought. I “play” a piano. In quotes because I can play most things, maybe not as well as I like. The piano score is full of notations and acronyms which fiicilitates the interpretation among those using the score.

Does everyone understand it , no. Can anyone who really is interested understand it. YES>

1 Like

Diet to me means, what you are eating. Not usually dieting. Unless you say I am on a diet, but that still could mean a specialized diet! Usually you would say low carb diet, vegan diet, low sodium diet etc. But what’s in your diet to me means what you eat and doesn’t mean dieting. To me anyway!

Insulin on board is how much insulin you’ve already taken and is still expected to be used.

1 Like

I am a T2 here WOE for me is like insulin to T1.
My WOE eating is the way I control my BG and survive. Just as I see it.
Years ago at a diabetes meeting a mentioned that food was my medicine.
Let’s just say it was not accepted, But for me it is how I avoid complications and keep my A1c under 6.

1 Like

I think that is wonderful!

I agree with this. Incidentally, I also hold this same opinion about accessibility. I think most people just forget about it. But adding alt text to images (on this site, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever) would help so much in including people with visual impairments, yet it’s hardly ever done. So instead of the same information as everyone else, I get things like, “53%20PM Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 12.53.53 PM.png” read to me (the screenshot above). I am constantly talking about this and at times feel like I’m talking into a void because I just don’t think it’s on people’s radar when they post, but hopefully it’s something that will change over time. I think inclusion does matter.

It’s probably because my profession is in education, but I try to be clear about what I"m writing, and that often includes defining acronyms (though I’m sure I do slip up from time to time). However, I do think it’s fair to take direction from the context of the thread. If the original post uses acronyms, and you’re answering one of their questions, it doesn’t make sense to define acronyms for them. Of course, if someone pops in and asks what such-and-such means, it would be good to define it at that point. And if knowingly responding to someone who is new to diabetes, it’s a good idea to define them the firs time they’re used.

I try to put mg/dl in brackets in my posts, because otherwise I feel like most readers won’t know what I’m talking about. I use mmol/L and since most of the online diabetes community uses mg/dl, I can pretty much translate in my head. But I’ve been told most who use mg/dl can’t translate to mmol/L in their head, so I estimate for them.

A glossary or translation table is nice, but it can also be annoying to go back and forth between documents.

1 Like

This entire piece was well written.

"Use of these terms, without an embedded or contextual definition, smacks of elitism, laziness, and exclusion. "


When I was very new at this it was distressing all the Jargon.

Had the magnification on the computer screen all the way up and could still hardly read my eyes were all messed up, mind tired out and it was not fun having to learn all that Jargon at the same time.

1 Like

Thanks for this reminder, @Jen. You’ve written about this here before and I did actually do it a time or two. But I am guilty of not adopting it fully! I will make an additional effort to make this more of a habit.

Thank-you for that. My habit to provide the equivalent mmol/L when I post mg/dL numbers has lead me to understanding mmol/L better. Canadians are not the only readers here who use mmol/L. Many in Europe also use that system.

By the way, I think mmol/L is relatively simple to understand.

  • 4 mmol/L (72 mg/dL) is low normal threshold

  • 6 mmol/L (108 mg/dL) is mid-normal

  • 8 mmol/L (144 mg/dL) is the high normal threshold

  • 10 mmol/L (180 mg/dL) is hyperglycemia

  • 3 mmol/L (54 mg/dL) has been designated by the Hypoglycemia Study Group as the threshold for severe hypoglycemia.

I suspect this may be true for some users of the mmol/L system as well. It’s what motivates me to do the embedded translation.