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Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I'm reading a book called The Sense of Style by Stephen Pinker, and I highly recommend it. It's a kind of practical style guide - a guide to writing well - that puts effective communication before rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I'm loving it. 
In the book, he writes about jargon, and how it kills good writing. In a chapter called The Curse of Knowledge, he says that some theorize that opaque prose is intentional - that academics and technical writers are intentionally opaque because it makes them feel smart. Pinker offers an alternate explanation for opaque writing - that perpetrators of it are simply ignorant of what their audience doesn't know.
I think both theories are wrong - at least when it comes to technical writing. Opaque prose happens because tech writers have to do two opposing things at the same time - be accessible and be succinct. See, the problem with jargon is that jargon happens when there's not already a word for a thing. Which means that when the tech writer tries to translate technical jargon into plain English, it take some fancy footwork to define the term without adding excessive verbiage. A good tech writer finds a way, but it's no small feat translating a term for which no direct translation exists.

Speaking of words for which there's no direct translation:

  • Schadenfreude (German): Taking joy at the suffering of others. Like the feeling I get when Loki tries to jump onto something, but forgets to take his morbid obesity into account and drops like a rock.
  • Fargin (Yiddish): The opposite of schadenfreude - taking joy in the success of others. I feel fargin when the Indians win. Like every true Clevelander, I feel fargin and schadenfreude at the same time when the Indians crush the Yankees. 
  • Sitzpinkler (German): A wimp. Literally translates to "man who sits down to pee." More men should do this - nobody likes cleaning urine off the rim.
  • Yaourt (French): To sing along in nonsensical noises. After my piano lesson last week, I found myself singing the tune I'd just learned, but substituting "princess" for the real lyrics. I didn't even know I was doing it. My subconscious does some really weird crap.
  • Tartle (Scots): When you go to introduce someone to somebody else and realize too late that you've forgotten their name.
Seriously, mom, do not watch this. 
Unless you want to learn a whole
passel of swears.

Info comes from the Huffington Post, Cracked, and Better Than English

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