Checking the 'Pulse' of Ag Industry Jargon

Twice in the last few weeks, I’ve heard confusion over the definition of a pulse. The first time was over a meal with friends. It was a vegetarian dining experience which involved a most-delicious bowl of hummus (which saved me complaining about the lack of protein). We got to talking about the merits of ingredients like chick peas, when someone mentioned the great amount of effort the pulse industry has put into advertising. But, she said, it might need a little work.

“Very few people know what a pulse is.”

Two others at the table agreed they were confused about the definition of a pulse.

Over this past weekend, a similar quandary.

A farmer shuffled over to me at a social function and quietly asked for the definition of a pulse, after a conversation where he realized he couldn’t come up with an answer.

Dangers of Industry Jargon

Before we discuss the dangers of agricultural jargon, perhaps a brief description of the term ‘jargon’ would be beneficial. ‘Jargon‘ refers to vocabulary used by a specific group, profession or trade. It is language not typically understood by people outside of that group.

I love this. Forbes contributor Micah Solomon calls the use of industry jargon an “unrecognized killer of a positive customer experience”.

Solomon cites clarity as one of the main reasons to avoid industry jargon, and, it appears this is what’s happening with the term ‘pulses’ — consumers (or citizens, as I prefer) are lacking clarity. And while jargon might strengthen a team, it can also cause everyone else to feel like outsiders.

And it’s not something unique to pulses. We do this with all kinds of terms and acronyms in agriculture. Heck, even the word ‘agriculture’ proves hard to define, not to mention the machinery we use, the classes of livestock we refer to, or the complex inputs that drive our farms.

Clearing Up the Confusion

What can we do to improve the general understanding of agricultural jargon, or avoid using it in audiences with people outside of the industry?

There are many ways to make small-talk group friendly. Using general terms like ‘harvest’ or ‘cattle’ can help others understand the just of the conversation. So too will avoiding acronyms (or at least describing them without being asked). But, in daily conversations, it’s not really something to stress about.

For marketing companies, it’s much more important to ensure audiences understand the message and/or the product. But it’s a bit of a balancing act.

Think of brands like Kleenex and Bobcat. Once unknown names, the words are now often used as general descriptors of tissues and skidsteers (respectively). Marketers call this ‘brand genericide’, and it’s actually not always considered a good thing, as the brand becomes “synonymous and indistinguishable” from its competitors.

Some communications pros have suggested testing your terminology on your grandma. In an agricultural context, grandma may have grown up on a farm, so you might want to try a cousin or friend who lives beneath the big city lights of Regina or Toronto.

Somewhere between your neighbour’s painfully slow, nearly bankrupt business and the box of generic tissues you call Kleenex, is the ideal marketing strategy. It considers the consumer — their knowledge, wants and needs. It recognizes the value in avoiding or defining jargon.

Read more on avoiding jargon


Finally, What is a Pulse?

And we couldn’t go through all of that and never discuss the very term that started this conversation.

IYP-Pulses-Facts-infographicAccording to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, a ‘pulse’ refers to the dry seed of a legume crop harvested solely for that purpose.

Only legumes harvested for dry grain are classified as pulses.  Legume species when used as vegetables (e.g. green peas, green beans), for oil extraction (e.g. soybean, groundnut) and for sowing purposes (e.g. clover, alfalfa) are not considered pulses.
– FAO’s Definition and Classification of Commodities

Pulses included kidney beans, navy beans, faba beans, chickpeas, dried or split peas, mung beans, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, several varieties of lentils and some lupines.

Hang on, what’s a legume?

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