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I'm stuck understanding the difference between argot and jargon.

According to many sources, e.g. Wikipedia:

Argot is a secret language used by various groups—including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations.

Jargon is terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event.

My confusion is based on reading that the term of argot has appeared to describe a language of lower class young people in France. Can't recall the link, however.

Do they both refer the same term?
To be specific, computer professionals speak with argot or with jargon?
To be even more specific, let's stick to a community of computer pro's whose native language is other than English. The terminology in question includes "file", "deadline", "overflow", "hit" (as per Web page), and so on.

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A slightly off-topic remark: argot is the French for slang (hence the meaning you have read somewhere). As such, it encompasses many different varieties: there's a suburban young argot (quite unintelligible to outsiders), a quite “regular“ one (everyone understands that a bagnole is a car or that a clebs is a dog, but they won't use it in a formal context — some of them even avoid it no matter what) and even an ancient variety, preserved in literary and cinematographic works: cf. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San-Antonio or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Tontons_flingueurs. –  JPP Nov 14 '12 at 1:21
The French wikipedia says “Great argot specialists object to this cryptic hypothesis and even its defenders have to amend it. According to G. Esnault, “An argot is the oral set of nontechnical words who appeal to a social group.” (from the Dictionnaire historique des argots français, 1965). In other words, even if it is possible for a speaker to use argot words to be unintelligible to other people, that does not mean that using argot is primarily motivated by an encryption desire.” (The quick and dirty translation is mine). –  JPP Nov 14 '12 at 1:29
A slightly less off-topic summary: at least in French (but that's where those words come from), “jargon” implies the words are technical and “argot” implies they aren't. (Of course, the distinction isn't always clear cut). –  JPP Nov 14 '12 at 1:35
jargon refers to words used in profession and argon is usually informal slang that people use in order to hide things(e.g thieves) –  user5182 Sep 15 '14 at 0:06

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Based on just the definitions you quote, computer professionals do not speak argot, they speak jargon. The jargon of computer professionals was not constructed for the purpose of hiding the meaning of what they are saying from outsiders - it may have that effect, but that was not the purpose. The purpose is to have short hand words that have specific defined meanings that allow for more efficient communication. For example the word "file" can replace the phrase "a block of information stored as a unit on an information storage device". So jargon is a matter of efficiency.

From your definitions "argot" has the purpose of secrecy that would prevent eavesdroppers from understanding the meaning of the conversation.

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This is very correct, from the Wikipedia's definition of argot. However, other sources (e.g., Urban Dictionary) don't insist on secrecy of argot, focussing on the professional nature of it. –  bytebuster Nov 13 '12 at 8:14
@bytebuster Urban Dictionary does not have a head entry for argot, do you have an example? –  Mark Beadles Nov 20 '12 at 16:26
@MarkBeadles My fault, I've seen it somewhere but I fail to recall where exactly. –  bytebuster Dec 12 '12 at 21:06

In the particular meaning of argot, the words are more or less synonymous, though I think argot is now much less common than jargon in this sense. As you say, argot has another meaning, that of street slang.

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This is correct. To the OP's example, do computer professionals speak with argot or with jargon?, either word could be used. –  Mark Beadles Nov 9 '12 at 17:47

It seems possible to conflate professional vs. ad-hoc usage, and inclusivity vs. intent to broadly communicate.

In much literature of fiction "thieves cant" is BOTH professional and inclusive, and would be considered the poster child for the term argot. If you do not know this language you are not welcome to the contents of its conversations either, an added social aspect.

Slang is ad-hoc but is inherently formed out of the intent to broadly communicate.

Jargon is professional terminology. In addition, whether or not it is ad-hoc (which may lead to internal slang; see also "TLA"/three-letter-acronym and similar meta linguistic phrases) it is driven from the attempt not so much to broadly communicate, as to DEEPLY communicate - to provide more content in the same amount of verbal space.

To complete the grid, language of broad intent to communicate but a professional aspect would lead to those languages that have an enforced formal grammar and approved words. Possibly French. For letterings, the Joyo Kanji, with which Japanese newspapers are printed, so that enough of the country can read it even though there are many more symbols in their writing.

Ad-hoc language linking groups together that have difficulty communicating otherwise could be a pidgin and would probably avoid slang lest the already rocky communication fail entirely.

There is a blurred line in the computer industry, because there was a small group of people who collected the industry-and-academia slang and anecdotes into a compilation entitled "The Jargon File".

Hope that helps.

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"jargon" and "argot" have not the same meaning. Indeed we say that computer professionals speak with jargon, which is the specific vocabulary for informatic.

In other words:

  • jargon means the whole specific vocabulary relative to a field (like biology, informatic, physics, ...)

  • argot means words that are not really correct and which are not in dictionnary. They are often used in the street by young people.

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You have chosen a meaning of ''argot'' which is not relevant to the main part of the original question. As bytebuster says, that is one meaning of ''argot'', but the relevant one is given by bytebuster first. –  Colin Fine Nov 9 '12 at 17:05

The confusion in the answers here arises that in different traditions (and different languages) jargon and argot are used to describe the opposite concepts. This is further complicated by the term slang which is gaining popularity and is more and more used to describe both.

But the problem is mostly with the labels, not the concepts. Essentially, there are three concepts that differentiate a particular sub-code of language based on the social context of its use.

  1. Code used for professional and specialist communication. Commonly referred to as jargon but also occasionally argot or slang (some dictionaries of slang will include some examples of this code).

  2. Code used for lower register (informal) communication by the wider community. This is the most common understanding of 'slang'. But under the French influence also referred to as 'argot' and also not uncommonly 'vernacular', 'demotic' or even 'dialect' with various nuances dropped or preserved depending on context.

  3. Code used by outsider (often criminalised) communities often with the specific purpose of keeping communication secret. Most often termed 'argot' in specialist literature but commonly also described as 'slang' (e.g. Cockney rhyming slang).

So it is worth to always specify exactly what you mean by your terms if the distinction between these three is important. Otherwise, pretty much any of these three terms will get the general sense across.

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