What do you call the practice of using (overly) complex words specific to a subject? I am thinking of scientific or academic fields where the common terminology used in the field is very unapproachable to someone not in the field. The situation I am imagining is when one professor gives a lecture using field specific language and the topic seems very difficult to approach to the lay person. On the other hand, another professor may give a lecture conveying the same information using terminology and phrasing easily understood by outsiders.

Is there a word to describe this difference in style practice?

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    Gobbledygook, perhaps? "The professor's lecture was complete gobbledygook." – Mick Nov 10 '16 at 18:20
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    Good question, the word "arcane" can be handy here. It can be used either pejoratively or positively. "Man, that speaker used a lot of arcane terms from her speciality..." – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 17:19

To describe such pedantic style, consider jargon.

From dictionary.com:

  1. the language, especially the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group, e.g. medical jargon.
  2. unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish. any talk or writing that one does not understand.
  3. language that is characterized by uncommon or, pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning.

Example: Use technical terms and Jargon to impress the customer!

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    +1! I wish I could select both answers. "Esoteric Jargon" is the phrase I will use – co_biostat Nov 10 '16 at 20:47
  • Jargon is the language itself. Jargonism would be the corresponding term for the use of it, by a jargonist. – Nij Nov 10 '16 at 22:52
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    Sure, I agree it is jargon when using specialty specific words. Jargon is also the word used in this scenario in business communication textbooks. However, I think you probably nailed the situation much better with your third word: pedantic. The act of giving an overly complex lecture is pedantic, while the overly complex terminology itself is merely jargon. – Travis J Nov 11 '16 at 0:12
  • hi @co_biostat - I wish you would deselect the other incorrect answer, and select this one :) "Jargon" means "a specific type of language". (Indeed, exactly what you ask.) "Esoteric" does not, at all, in any way, mean "a specific type of language". "Esoteric" is nothing more than a synonym for "complex". Thus: your question is (correct me if I'm wrong): "What's a term for esoteric language?" or "What's a term for complex language?" The answer is something like "jargon" "technobabble" etc. – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 17:24
  • Note that - very simply - the sentence "He used a lot of esotericism" means nothing. You might as well say "He used a lot of complex." Complex/esoteric what? Diagrams? Math? (However, if indeed you are asking for a word for a persson who uses jargon - I don't know. Maybe sesquipedalian.) Cheers! – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 17:27

Consider "esotericism". The word "esoteric" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest

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    While the language used within a field of study may seem esoteric to an outsider, I think the term you're actually looking for is jargon. There exist entire dictionaries to describe the jargon of specific fields - and yes, people on the outside would consider this jargon to be very esoteric. – Terry Wendt Nov 11 '16 at 2:10
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    ...or technobabble. – KlaymenDK Nov 11 '16 at 14:30
  • I think this describes well what the language is like, but the original question asked about "the practice of using" jargon. – Andrea Lazzarotto Nov 11 '16 at 14:41
  • A word most people wouldn't understand to describe the very same problem. – Ski Nov 11 '16 at 15:14
  • I agree that, really, this is not correct. Esoteric is an adjective - like complex - which describes the thing ("language") the OP is indeed asking about. Indeed: the very question the OP is asking is: "What's a term for very esoteric language?". (The answer being something like jargon, technobabble, etc.) – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 17:22

If the topic is not natively impossible to understand, but the speaker is choosing overly-complex words, consider "sesquipedalian". ("Sesquipedalian" has a negative connotation.)

from vocabulary.com

Sesquipedalian can also be used to describe someone or something that overuses big words, like a philosophy professor or a chemistry textbook. If someone gives a sesquipedalian speech, people often assume it was smart, even if they don’t really know what it was about because they can’t understand the words. Each of those long words is referred to as a sesquipedalia.

If you feel like this choice of overly-complex words is more a product of their education and scholarly background and less a product of their ego, you may use 'erudite', although this doesn't necessarily imply that the lecture was difficult to follow. I believe that 'erudite' is neutral-positive in connotation.


having or showing knowledge that is learned by studying

If you think that the topic material itself is the primary source for their use of jargon, then you can just call it 'technical'. The following sources refer to this exact type of material as 'technical', and they appear to be using the word 'technical' to describe what you are describing.

blog post about how you should 'clarify' instead of 'dumbing down' technical details

different blog post about how to explain 'technical' things to non-technical people

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    For what it's worth, the best adverb to intensify 'technical' in this context is 'overly'. As in, 'he gave an overly technical presentation'. – Jeutnarg Nov 10 '16 at 23:44
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    Sesquipedalian is a fantastic word of which I was previously ignorant. However is it not self-referential and in itself sesquipedalian? – BoldBen Nov 11 '16 at 1:04
  • I think the OP is asking for a word that labels the words/language in question, not the speaker. (I could be wrong.) – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 17:25
  • @JoeBlow the second two can be applied to either, and sesquipedalian comes with a paired word for the long words themselves: "sesquipedalia" (it's at the end of the block quote) – Jeutnarg Nov 11 '16 at 17:26

If the first professor is deliberately using obscure terminology in order to confuse people, then you could call that obfuscation, from the verb obfuscate.

From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/obfuscate:

  1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: "A great effort was made ... to obscure or obfuscate the truth" (Robert Conquest).
  2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore.

If the professor is not deliberately trying to confuse people who aren't expert in the field, then obfuscation is NOT the right word. In that case, as others have already pointed out, jargon is the best word to use. "His explanation was full of jargon, and I was lost immediately. The other guy did a much better job of explaining it."


The most appropriate term for the use of unnecessarily complex language or jargon in order to convey a message is convoluted.

(esp. of expression in speech or writing) having a complicated structure and therefore difficult to understand

Convoluted sentences, explanations, arguments, etc. are unreasonably long and difficult to understand:


"His grammar explanations are terribly convoluted."


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