Simple Language is Better

I’ve ranted about this before, but here’s yet another article (this time in The New Yorker), “Why Simple Is Smart” about how using simple language is better, and using overly elaborate, verbose, or jargon-y language is a sign of insecurity, not knowledge.

Simple is smart. High school taught me big words. College rewarded me for using big words. Then I graduated and realized that intelligent readers outside the classroom don’t want big words. They want complex ideas made simple.  If you don’t believe it from a journalist, believe it from an academic: “When people feel insecure about their social standing in a group, they are more likely to use jargon in an attempt to be admired and respected,” the Columbia University psychologist Adam Galinsky told me. […] Why? It’s the complexity trap: Complicated language and jargon offer writers the illusion of sophistication, but jargon can send a signal to some readers that the writer is dense or overcompensating. 

Derek Thompson

Aside from that central talking point, the rest of the article is also a nice read, discussing some basic tips towards better writing (writing musically is an interesting note, for instance). It’s a quick read, so just go read the article yourself.

Loving Language

I was talking with a friend the other day about what I call “intellectual fappery.” This is in reference to the sort of academic papers (in particular in art criticism or art theory) that are so wrapped up with jargon and linguistic flourishes that it’s unreadable to a lot of people. It never made much sense to me that they’d do this (why make it harder to win people over to your point of view), and I sort of presumed that it was some sort of smug self-aggrandizement, speaking opaquely to keep out the riff-raff. (Another alternative is that they’re simply too inept at communicating their ideas, and so hide it behind linguistic flourishes.)

I had a minor epiphany, though: while some may be putting on airs, a lot may simply be in love with language. Not in terms of communication, but as expression. Flowery turns of phrase, using ornate, overly complex language not because they want to obscure their message, but simply because they think ornate, overly complex language is pretty. In short, an entire body of writing (looking at you, art theory and art critics) that prioritized form over function.

This doesn’t really make it any more fun to read (especially since you’re usually subjected to it as part of studies, rather than reading it by choice), but it does at least seem like a kinder way to look at things.