Monday, January 18, 2010

Will your jargon indicate that you’re an infidel?

Earlier this month at the 45th SIEO/NACE Sun Valley Symposium I heard two examples of jargon that might upset religious sensibilities.

Just before my speech Ken Plaizier, of Emtek, spoke on “A Brief History of Pipeline Inspection.” In the printed program his title had been “The History of Smart Pigging.” In pipeline jargon a pig is a plug that slides through the pipe. One explanation for the term is that it as one type of leather plug slid by it made a squealing sound like a pig. There is Pigging Products and Services Association with a web site which discusses different types of pigs. “Smart pigs” are sophisticated in-line inspection (ILI) tools that sense and record when and where there are imperfections in the pipe. In Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries they are not called pigs because Muslims don’t eat pork. Pigs are not halal (roughly equivalent to kosher), so referring to them would be very offensive.

The final speech at the SIEO/NACE Symposium was by Trent Howard of Total Corrosion Solutions. He spoke on “An Accurate Method to Find and Map Gas Leaks.” Trent described an integrated mobile system mounted on an all-terrain vehicle. It simultaneously detected methane, carbon dioxide, and other hydrocarbons. This system was controlled by a laptop computer equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). Once a map of the pipeline was loaded into the computer the operator could begin his drive. For each leak he found, he could produce a detailed report for management to use to direct repairs.

Trent kept referring to the their system by the acronym LDS (for leak detection system). I think I heard a few chuckles from the audience the first time he used that acronym, because LDS is better known as referring to “Latter-Day Saints.” The web address of will take you to a comprehensive site from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Trent would have been better off if he had used a longer acronym without another common meaning (and a very different association). He might have called their technology a Leak Detecting and Locating System (LDLS).

Jargon and acronyms can carry unintended associations. Back in 2008 Peggy Jordan discussed Why Clarity Counts. She mentioned a client who kept using the term STD to refer to “short term disability” when a more common meaning is “sexually transmitted disease.”

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