Jargon? Beware

Joe Wallace Freelance Social Mediaby Joe Wallace

I recently had to sort out an issue thanks to an innocuous bit of jargon that created massive confusion on the part of some readers on one of my client sites. The problem had to do with whether an IRS tax break for military people stationed overseas applies to someone with a military assignment in Hawaii.

The tax break, technically speaking, is intended for people who are at military assignments outside the United States. But there’s a bit of military jargon that defines stateside military jobs as being in “CONUS” as in, Continental United States. Does Hawaii count for the tax break? Is Hawaii a CONUS base?

By strict military interpretation, yes. Hawaii is an overseas base and military members get pay and benefits accordingly. There’s one specific benefit called OCONUS COLA, which is a cost of living allowance for people stationed abroad. People stationed in Hawaii can draw this benefit.

By the IRS definition, Hawaii is technically part of the United States and therefore people assigned there aren’t eligible for the tax break.

The presence of the phrase “CONUS” and “continental United States” in the article led some to believe that having a military assignment in Hawaii would qualify them for the tax break. According to the IRS, the answer is, “No, it doesn’t”.

Military readers often think “USA bases” when the term CONUS is used. But the literal interpretation of CONUS–the contiguous 48 states or “lower 48” excludes Hawaii and the U.S. protectorates.

If the jargon had been omitted, there would have been no confusion. It’s a great lesson in the power of brevity and the need to write plainly and without jargon–even when your audience expects it.

It’s just a shame that I didn’t follow my own advice on the brevity front for THIS POST. Better luck next time, eh?