Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Genealogical Buzzwords

A "buzzword" is a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. Genealogy, like many other pursuits, has its fads and buzzwords. We usually unconsciously implement these "buzzwords" into our own language when we talk about what we do and when we communicate with others. Sometimes buzzwords are important-sounding, usually technical, words or phrases that are often of little meaning and used chiefly to impress laymen or non-adherents. Often, buzzwords are coined in response to an overly active concern for "political" correctness.

In our current online genealogical community, buzzwords and political correctness are both very evident. Mixed in with these types of words are a sprinkling of acronyms and other obscure terms that are hallmarks of the "in" genealogist. When you start to overlay genealogical buzzwords with the proliferation of the jargon terms in the computer industry, you might begin to understand that to a non-initiate, genealogy can seem to be impenetrable.

Probably the most currently used genealogical buzzwords originate with the popular DNA fad. You could make a whole dictionary of obscure and technical DNA related terms that the common person, outside of the few cognoscenti, would have no idea of their meaning. Those steeped in the hallowed halls of DNA research revel in their use of words that were previously only the purview of geneticists and biological researchers. Using the terminology, like all use of buzzwords, helps to validate the insider and exclude those who are not aware of the importance of their work notwithstanding the fact that most genealogists have no idea how DNA is supposed to help them find their ancestors.

The main issue with buzzwords (and political correctness) is to make sure that you can differentiate between the jargon and the reality. For example, has an "App Gallery." The word "app" is both computer jargon and a current buzzword. Short for "application," it was originally used to refer to the limited-use programs on cell phones, but soon became an alternate term for all programs. Unfortunately the unfamiliar term "app" used in conjunction with the term "gallery" fails to communicate what is essentially a catalog listing of computer programs that support family history. To those involved in the computer industry or the online world, the word "app" may seem a standard term, but to most outside the community, it is a coined word with little or not meaning and the word "gallery" is most commonly used to refer to a room or building that is dedicated to a specific purpose, usually the display or sale of works of art.

As a linguist I am very much aware that languages are living, changing constructs and that, especially with English, we can expect new words to be coined regularly. But genealogists inherit a huge vocabulary of terms that have a special meaning in the context of our research and recording. Take for example the term "pedigree." The most common use of this term refers to purebred animals. It is only genealogists that substitute the term "pedigree" for "ancestry," as in "I am recording my pedigree." To make things more confusing the term pedigree also is used as an adjective as in "pedigree chart" to refer to a specific type of form.

Obviously I could go on and on and comment on virtually every term used by genealogists, but the point is that we need to become more adaptable to the differences in jargon although I do resist most of the trend towards political correctness.

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