I doomed mankind with a free text editor
Morten Just

Insist on Clear, Not Simple

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
- NOT Einstein
“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”
-Einstein, (emphasis mine)
(Source: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/05/13/einstein-simple/ )

It’s a worthy goal to explore ideas and experiment. Kudos to you for the creation of the text editor, and for initiating interesting discussions.

However, I doubt many human endeavors would be fruitful without specialized vocabulary and precise language.

Do we want our physicians to say to us, “The results of this test mean you’re screwed?” Or our interior designers to say, “Your couch will be over there. It’ll be blue. And soft. And big?”

Yes, specialists need to translate their fields’ specialized vocabulary of for us, but I want more information than most six year olds before I make a decision.

Yes, it is easy to bullshit with long words. But the business metaphors which obscure meaning are generally as simple as can be. (List your own favorites to check.) That’s how they obfuscate — by covering both a lack of knowledge and necessary complexity with content-free oversimplification.

Have you seen The Big Short? Even Hollywood had to resort to a woman in a bubble bath to keep our attention for part of the explanation. After seeing the movie, can you explain the financial crisis to a friend? How about while using only your 1,000 word list? Not just, “The banks screwed up,” but the details of how and why the crisis occurred?

Why does so much marketing sound the same? Because people try to be so simple and uniform that they lose the power to differentiate their messages and products. Why does some marketing sound so preposterous? Because some try desperately to differentiate — too often with language instead of products.

Language is more than word choice. It’s vocabulary, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics. (As an exercise, rephrase that sentence — maintaining clarity and precision — limiting yourself to the 1,000 word list. You can do it, but it’s going to be a lot longer. The sentence retains its essential meaning for a reader, even if they happen to be unfamiliar with, say, “pragmatics.”) Vocabulary is not the only option for clarifying — or obfuscating — a message.

People should ask questions when they don’t understand. And everyone, particularly specialists, should be able to explain things clearly. And the 1,000 word idea is fun to explore! But the limitation is ultimately unsatisfying, because clear communication is so much more than simple vocabulary.