While teaching speech communication at the University of Georgia, I left the campus twice weekly during a summer session, to instruct a highly unusual audience: thirty-one inmates at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, enrolled through the university's extension program. Immediately, I noticed that my prison students used words and phrases totally unfamiliar to me.

To establish greater rapport, to teach more effectively, and to become more aware of what was being said in classroom and hallway conversations, I needed to understand the vocabulary of the big house. So I asked the group to prepare a glossary for me, defining their code words. Believe me, I learned those word definitions quickly. They remained very useful during the six weeks I taught there.

Deciphering the lingo of a target group is especially significant for job seekers, either while networking or when you reach the interview stage.

Let's say you want to cultivate professional relationships on the golf course. That’s a subculture with a distinct vocabulary. You'll have to understand bogey, dormie, banana ball, lateral hazard, honor, a sandy, handicap, shank (golfers will shudder at the mention of that word), away and many other terms.

Suppose you have applied for a position in the medical arena. Then get ready to talk intelligently about HMO, PPO, MRI, managed care, malpractice, outpatient surgery, home health, hospice, “Medicare,” “Medicaid,” and more.

When you are seeking employment with a law firm, brush up on plea bargaining, appellate court, mistrial, hung jury, writ of habeas corpus, “affidavit,” “deposition,” “subpoena,” and other lawyer terms.

Interviewing for a stockbroker position? Then study up on arbitrage, bulls, bears, odd lot, short sell,and penny stocks.  Or if you are seeking an academic post, you will  become familiar with tenure, full time equivalent, sabbatical, graduate faculty, audit, and exempt.

Certainly if a professional move takes you to a new region, you face a potential language barrier. A person moving to the southern United States can't acclimate comfortably until he or she understands putting on airs, deer stand, much obliged, y'all, a mess of fish, the back forty, dinner on the grounds, and call on.

To learn the lingo quickly and accurately, I suggest that you:

- Identify the groups you want to market to, in addition to those that you are cultivating now.

- Read each group's publications. Frequently you can find the Annual Report on the corporate Web site. Request back issues of newsletters, magazines, and press releases. Study the mission statement.

--Talk with two or three organizational leaders and employees. When they use terms that puzzle you, ask for clarification. You can do that without losing credibility. In fact, you will appear interested rather than uninformed.

- Attend special events open to the public. Stay tuned to pick up pet words and phrases.

- Tactfully ask for invitations to insider events, such as strategic planning sessions.

- List new words and their definitions, and keep them handy. You could easily compile a glossary for your target industries.

- Incorporate the company's jargon in your conversations, presentations, handouts, and proposals.

Truly, when you learn the lingo, you will ingratiate yourself to prospective employers. To conclude with an old southern expression, you will be singing off the same page.