Jargon-busting for writers: diving into ‘biodiversity’

Last week’s post highlighted why jargon-busting is important – especially when we set about communicating with people outside our closed circle.  Our jargon words, our secret language,  separate us and give us our mantle of authority and expertise.  It can be hard   to realise that that mantle is often is a barrier.  Good writing for non-specialists needs to break that barrier down.

‘Biodiversity’ is a word that people in our writing workshops often anguish over.  It seems to me that it is dear to the heart of many people working in nature conservation. Maybe it sums up better than any other, better even than ‘ecology’, why they do they work they do.

Yet ‘biodiversity’ still needs translation.  It is not a word (yet) in common parlance, although I confess it has made some progress in that direction in its relatively short existence.

Biodiversity is a young word.  Rather tellingly, the New World Encyclopedia tells us that  ‘ Biodiversity is a neologism (recently created word, term, or phrase), literally meaning biological and diversity. The word biodiversity itself was coined by W. G. Rosen in 1985   …   Since 1986, the terms and the concept have achieved widespread use among biologists, environmentalists, political leaders, and concerned citizens worldwide. This use has coincided with the expansion of concern over the rates of extinction observed in the last decades of the twentieth century.’

So, this is a made up word, invented by scientists for talking to themselves. Later, picked up by a range of specialists connected with environmental politics.  A word for our times but one used, this definition suggests, by a limited circle of people who are ‘in the know’. Therefore, a jargon word and one that needs help and interpretation if we are to widen the group of people who understand its importance.

When faced with one of these troublesome words in public communication it is not enough to offer a definition or explain it.  We get behind it, to dive into the word and find the vision and usage behind it. What a word this is  to dive into. The phrase ‘diving into biodiversity conjures vivid images; a pool in Tasmania with parrots, pandemelons and tree ferns, a northern pool with seal and polar bear, or a rain drop with hummingbird.  This is ‘biodiversity’, that dive can bring you out anywhere, face to face with any living thing ever.

Tasmania does biodiversity particularly well.

I  like to think the good, white-coated folk who gathered around the table in search of a new word to encapsulate and celebrate the wide, varied and complex natural world had a sense of that too.  If so, they were picking up an awesome challenge …

Try it yourself.  When stuck with a jargon word, finding imaginative alternatives is a good exercise.

So what were the alternatives to ‘biodiversity’? What might they have considered?

‘Bioconnectivity’? No, that’s too much like ecology.  ‘Bioamount’? No, we already have ‘biomass’ – and what a great lumpen word that is. We need need more excitement more spark. ‘Biobrilliance’? – no, people will think its only about glowroms and fireflies.  ‘Bioawesomeness’? – NO, not in this university! (biogobsmacking, biofekkinggreat, and biofairdinkummate, went the same way). Biolove was too tree-huggy (they couldn’t know that, 25 years later, there would be ‘biophilia’) and ‘biomagic’ only for the mycologists.

Given the alteratives, biodiversity isn’t actually that bad. But it still a word that people do not say in the pubs and bars.  It is still, despite all those lovely intentions, a word we cannot use in interpretive writing.

You try it.  What do you want biodiversity to say for you? Today, in this piece of writing?

Biorichness, biorarity, biovariety, biobewitching, biowonder, biofamily, biobloodymarvellous?

Get into it. Go deep.  Feel the diversity and the connections. Find the strand that connects to what you have to say and follow it. Write your way out of biodiversity so that others can find their way into it.


NOTE: I am developing a new training course on writing for nature and wildlife interpretation.  If you would be interested in hosting or attending such a course, or the ’50 words’ course referred to above, let me know on susan@telltale.eu.

All pictures thanks to Peter Phillipson. For more go to Peter’s Flickr stream. Follow Peter @ TellTalePeter on Twitter.

About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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