Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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20 Ellul 5762 - August 28, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Words, Meaning and Jargon

by R' Zvi Zobin

Jargon is a specialized vocabulary whereby a non- literal meaning is given to a word to indicate a specialized meaning. Jargon saves time because instead of using a lengthy explanation or non-technical word, the `initiated' can use just one word to express all he needs to convey. Furthermore, often the word of jargon conveys various subtleties and overtones of meaning that cannot be expressed in regular language.

We call the jargon of the Bnei Torah `Yeshivish' and using it enables us to talk to each other without having to explain ourselves too much. Through using it, we can understand more, faster.

If we are reading a text written in one language, but think in another language, then to understand the original, we need to translate it into the other language. Then, when we want to compare our thoughts back to the original, we need to translate them back into the language of the text again. This is laborious and expends much mental energy. When we think in the language of the original words of the text, we short- cut the need to translate at both stages.

Therefore, when we learn complex subjects, like gemora, we feel more comfortable when we try to think and speak using as much of the original language as possible, because then the information goes in easier and faster. So it is easier to follow and discuss the deep lomdus of the gemora when using `Yeshivish.'

The other side of the coin is that it is possible to use jargon words like building blocks, without knowing what they mean.

The alternative to using jargon is to use regular language. This lessens the possibility of mindless discussion. The gedolim have stressed the importance of a person learning "in his own language" so that he can achieve true and total understanding. However, having to "spell everything out" makes gemora discussion laborious and precludes the analysis of fine points.

A further point is that every language reflects the mindset of the people who speak that language. One of the purposes of learning gemora is to enable the discussions of the Tanaim and Amoraim to `reprogram' our way of thought to enable us to think as the Torah wants us to think. Therefore, consistently learning gemora in `pure' English will hinder the student's ability to get into the `mindset' of the great Sages.

For example, when first learning with a talmid, we need to translate the word `baalus' as meaning `ownership.' However, the Torah concept expressed by `baalus' is not the same as the legal meaning of ownership and if the talmid assumes that it is the same, then he will become confused by many sugyas of the gemora.

Therefore, there needs to be a gradual transition from learning in clear, understandable language (which will be slow and labored), to eventually learning more efficiently in jargon. Once the student becomes fully initiated into the jargon, navigating the sea of the Torah will become more pleasant and he will be able to cover more ground, faster.

This point is important for parents who learn with their children. Not all children pick up jargon at the same rate. Therefore, it is possible that the teacher is using jargon that your child has not yet fully integrated. You will then need to explain the text using language he can understand and then go back and show him how to use the jargon.

On the other hand, if you are confident that your child or student does relate to the concepts efficiently, you can slip into the jargon and encourage him to speak that way. However, from time to time, you can check up on him by asking him to explain a point using regular language.


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