Ig Nobel Prizes: mini-opera 2002 -- The Jargon Opera

Libretto: "The Jargon Opera"

A jargon-free mini-opera in 4 acts

Words by Marc Abrahams

This opera will have its premiere Thursday evening, October 3, at the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.

[For photos, etc., see upcoming the Jan/Feb 2003 issue (the annual special Ig Nobel issue) of the Annals of Improbable Research]


The Original Cast

Opera Director: Margot Button
Singers: Margot Button, Jane Tankersley, and Michelle French, accompanied gamely by Nobel Laureates Richard Roberts, William Lipscomb, and Dudley Herschbach
Pianist: Greg Neil (playing with a broken hand!)
Narrator: Karen Hopkin


Divas Michelle French, Jane Tankersley, and Margot Button elucidate the basic concept of jargon.

Photo: Matt T. Yourst / MIT Tech.

ACT 1 -- Listen Up!

NARRATOR (spoken): The 87th First Annual Meeting of the International Jargon Conference is about to begin! The first scheduled event is a breakfast session. As the opera starts, the conferees are busy substituting food for thought. Let's join them now, as the secretary calls the conference to order.

[MUSIC: Prokofiev's "March From The Love of 3 Oranges"]

[NOTE: The CONFEREES are always munching on food, except at those few moments when they are actually saying something. So are the CONFERENCE SECRETARY and the CONFERENCE CHAIRPERSON. Some of the CONFEREES also are taking notes, or at least pretending to.]

Listen up! Listen up! Finish eating -- listen up!
Listen up! Listen up! Listen up!

Listen up, now, Jargon Conferees!
I will shout
All about
How to say
In the most grand sort of way
Anything nasty or gray.
Just use a...

CONFEREES (chanting in unison, and taking a noisy bite of food after each line):
YUM! Sim-plis-tic cli-ché!
EEE! Sim-plis-tic cli-ché!
YUM! Sim-plis-tic cli-ché!
EEE! Sim-plis-tic cli-ché!

Pay attention, Jargon Conferees!
I will screech
In a speech
Seven ways
Anyone can par-aphrase
Any old com-muniqués,
Like puffy

CONFEREES (chanting in unison, and taking a noisy bite of food after each line):
YUM! Lin-gui-stic sou-flés!
EEE! Lin-gui-stic sou-flés!
YUM! Lin-gui-stic sou-flés!
EEE! Lin-gui-stic sou-flés!

Take a note now, Jargon Conferees!
I will blurt
And assert
How and why
You should just com-plexify
Ev'ry word! Go 'head and try!
Add that extra syl-la-ble! Each syl-la-ble is bil-la-ble!

[The CONFERENCE CHAIR bows, grabs a hunk of food, and stalks off haughtily, chewing, as the CONFEREES applaud wildly.] 


Chief jargoneer Margot Button.

Photo: Matt T. Yourst / MIT Tech.


ACT 2 -- Whose Jargon is Best?

NARRATOR: Every year, the highlight of the International Jargon Conference is a lively debate on the old question: "Who has the best jargon?" Join us now, as the conference chairperson polls each delegation to get everyone's opinion.

[MUSIC: SOUSA'S "The Liberty Bell"]
[NOTE: the music has the form A A B B C C A B]

Which kind of jargon, I want to know, is better than the rest?
What type of jargon, in gen'ral is much better than the best?
Who is the generalissimo whose jargon has such... zzzzest
That it genteelly has rich appeal even to a comm-u-nest?

CONFERENCE CHAIRPERSON (shouted): Consulting!

The jargon spoken by all con-sultants is of consequence,
Though some complain that the essence is devoid of any sense.
Essentially, it's this sen-sibility of excellence
That gives consultants today an excellent source of recompense.


Well, medical jargon might be better still.
It manages without care to fill the bill
With patients and terminol-o-gy and skill.
Who cares if now and then there's overkill?

CONFERENCE CHAIRPERSON (shouted): Financial!

A CONFEREE (in a manner indicating "this is just between you and me, and yes, I know it's off topic"):
Consider intrinsic value. Here's a tip --
A piece of investment wisdom from the hip.
Fiduciarily speaking, I advise you to skip
Enron, and run and buy a money clip.

CONFERENCE CHAIRPERSON (shouted): Technical!

Hey! En-gi-neering jargon is complex,
Robust, re-dun-dant, rife with double-checks.
Outsiders think it's hell --
And that's what makes it swell!
The detailed specs,
And all the codes and modes and network nodes!


Good ar-tists and their cri-tics all agree
That what THEY SAY exceeds what YOU can SEE.
What they express with paint
Is sometimes very faint --
But oh so bright, conceptu'ly!


The lingo of all the li-terary critics is supreme,
With subtext that is super-ior to each and ev'ry theme.
Then some smart kiddie constructs a meaning such that it will teem
With other meanings -- that's mea-ningfully the mark of a-cademe!

CONFERENCE CHAIRPERSON (shouted): Everybody!

But, though we may disagree on which is best --
Which jargon is act-chaly the juiciest --
Our fav'rite thing about jargon -- Gosh, now, who could have guessed? --
Is that it bothers people we detest!


Nobel Laureate William Lipscomb and jargano-soprano Jane Tankersley.

Photo: Matt T. Yourst, MIT Tech. (photo copyright 2002 Matt T. Yourst / MIT Tech)

ACT 3 -- For Scientists Only

NARRATOR: Like all big conferences, the International Jargon Conference has hundreds of sessions on specialized topics. Let's drop in on one of them -- a special seminar for scientists. The topic of this session is: "Haphazardly Selected Superficial But Advanced Strategies for Indirect Peer-to-Peer Communication." For those of you who are not professional scientists, this translates roughly as "How to Write a Scientific Paper."

[MUSIC: "O Mio Babbino Caro," from Puccini's "Gianni Schicci"]


If you write scientific
Papers, don't do a dumb thing;
Do not be too specific,
Or else you might say some thing.

Describe all of your data so it
Seems to be quite precise,
But there's no need to show it.
That would be my advice.

Yes, sci-i-ence
Of mea-ea-ea-sur-ing
Wi-i-ith great precision
Tha-at which does not matter.


Left to right: Nobel Laureates Rich Roberts, Dudley Herschbach, and William Lipscomb, and (in black shirt) David King, chief scientific advisor to the British government.

Photo: Ruby Arguilla / Harvard University News Office.



Jargoneers Jane Tankersley and Michelle French.

Photo: David Holzman.


ACT 4 -- Harmonious Misunderstanding

NARRATOR: At last the International Jargon Conference is coming to its ever-so-happy end. In five days of talking jargon, jargon, jargon, everyone has had his or her say, and no one knows what anyone else meant. Now let's join the conferees as they sing their traditional farewell - the "Grand and Glorious Anthem of the Jargoneers."

[MUSIC: Arne's "Rule, Britannia"]

They say that better understanding
Would... make us thrive.
But if we knew what others truly want,
We might not wish them to stay alive.
Mis-under-standing may be the thing
That lets us survive.
True understanding... turns people rather shrill.
It really, really, really, makes them want to kill!

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!

The Mid-East hag-gl-ing for peace is
Go-ing to fail
'Till open, clear communication ceases,
As at Harvard, or even Yale.
The trick to dick-er-ing is to fudge on ev'ry detail.
Mis-under-standing... that's mutu'lly assured
Some-how lets any major diff'rence be endured.

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!

The his-to-ry of every nation
Hither and yon,
Is basic'ly a simple compilation
Of how babble defeated brawn.
All armies get exhausted, but jargon just jabbers on.
Jargon is better... than anything around.
It makes your en-e-my suspect his mind's unsound.

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!

The Klingons often fired a phaser
At Captain Kirk.
But Kirk was such a powerful re-phraser
His words made all of them berserk.
The Klingons always fled because they thought, "He's such a jerk."
Jargon is better... than anything in space.
It tri-umphs over a con-vention-al arms race.

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!

Harmo-ni-ous misunderstanding --
That's what we need.
Our leaders must use jargon in demanding
We pretend they know how to lead.
Our children must learn jargon before we teach them to read.
True understanding... makes people rather ill --
They'd really, really, really, rather lis-ten to swill!

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!

Hail to jargon!
'Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo'nious!!

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