I read and write a lot of bullshit — you may even have detected some of it right here — and most of it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the long, stuffy words and worn down business metaphors cover up a simpler message: “I don’t actually know, can you figure it out for me?” and we often don’t even realize this ourselves.
I doomed mankind with a free text editor
Morten Just
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Importantly, we do this for a reason, I think, and it’s not just laziness/bad writing.

Communication is performance as well — a method of representing yourself to your audience. That way of talking is performative — it communicates a tone, an attitude you are taking toward the subject and your audience, and your own ability to be intelligent. Whether it actually IS any of those things is irrelevant, because it’s a symbol and not the referent.

Ironically, obtuse professional/academic language is intended to bring clarity to the communication by using the style of communication as a means of establishing context and limiting the number of ways a communique could be interpreted. I think of military jargon — this is used in a life or death situation; the people using it aren’t using it just to look cool, but instead of saying “there are enemies nearby you” you get neat movie-ready jargon like “danger close” or “be advised zebra, there are tangos bearing down on your location, over.” The listener to either of those communiques, unless he or she literally grew up speaking military, must subconsciously spend extra resources to translate those terms into the Standard American English they grew up understanding; their native tongue. What makes it worth that extra delay? The fact that it establishes a context for the communication: this is a serious communication; this is not my opinion, this is fact. This information is relevant to your military purpose.

There are similar attempts to limit contextual reinterpretation inherent in most jargon-filled business emails, academic papers, etc.

This is not to say we should embrace jargon and obtuse language without concern; a good writer needs to weigh the advantages of potentially being more accurate against potentially being misunderstood completely by someone ignorant of the terminology.

And all of this isn’t even getting into the issue of when to use an unusual term instead of an easy, common word simply for the sake of surprising a reader — to get them to pay attention for fear of losing the thread of meaning.

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