Stop Confusion don’t Eschew Obfuscation

20 volumn OED

Oxford English Dictionary

     I really, really dislike gobbledy gook and jargon. Although I understand that at times there is a need to use multi-syllable words I believe that most of the time they are used to impress, not to inform. Like large diamonds and flashy cars are used to show off wealth polysyllabic words are used to show off a big vocabulary as if that was an indication of wisdom. I have preached about it in several of the book reviews I have done over on and I expect that I will again.

     There was a great example of when it is necessary to use big words to get your point across in a recent episode of Modern Family. Ed O’Neal’s character was playing, and winning, Words with Friends with his granddaughter, the smart one, and she was convinced he was cheating. When she confronts him he simply explains that he has a large vocabulary. Not in those words of course, he explains it in a sentence packed with an impressive number of syllables, giving indisputable evidence of the truth of the statement. That is the only reason, in my unhumble opinion, to use those words, when nothing else will work. Why is it we see the value of the common man but not the common word? 

     A teacher I used to work for once told me that the reason we learn language is to communicate. If we try to communicate with words that people may or may not understand are we sure we are communicating? Howard S. Becker in his book Writing for the Social Scientist, said much the same thing. Over use of technical jargon and obscure words interferes with communications. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article  on much the same topic this week. However I have never read the book in question and although I agree with what Mr. Gladwell is saying I also have to allow for the possibility that Christopher Chabris is correct in this instance. There are times when some obscure word that requires the reader to grab a dictionary and read all the way to the final, most obscure, definition, is exactly what the writer needs to express their idea.

     Like curse words, technical jargon and academic speech need to be reserved for when they are truly needed. Common words, comfort words that fit like an old slipper are almost always the best choice to express your ideas. However if your hammer slips and you split your thumb open like a grape “Gosh!” will not be enough to accurately express the moment.

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Filed under Book review, Education

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