Saturday, December 17, 2011

wordy wordness

I'm fond of language, and I like to think of myself as a decent writer. I may or may not be a decent writer in the grand scheme of things, but I feel that I'm above average with respect to the field I'm in and the people I've had the opportunity to work with.

To me language, and specifically the English language with all its various and sundry adjectives and adverbs, can really give straightforward concepts real color and texture in the way they are perceived.
That made him less believable.

His credibility was damaged.

The confidence in him was shattered.

"I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that." Roosevelt declared.
A proper wordsmith can take common terms and rearrange them into something special. There are people in all fields that exemplified this, for example in organic chemistry Professor Danishefsky writes beautiful and eloquent papers that not only describe beautiful science but are beautiful themselves.

Of course these few individuals are counterpointed by an army of hacks that get tired of using "yield" for yield and want to flower up their speech, but seem unable to structure a story that is both accurate and understandable. Sometimes journal articles read like a high-school student wrote a bad parody of Shakespearean scientific practices. The use of 50 cent words can be a beneficial addition to a well-written passage, but won't salvage a limp story. Embedding a few sparkly gems in a turd does a poor job of disguising the fact that it is a turd.

In the last few years some turns of phrase have taken on an odd sort of popularity in the science world, and I find it a little disconcerting. I have heard "inform" being bandied about lately, which is not a problem itself, but the usage tends to be somewhat galling.
Hopefully the data will inform you research.

Use what you find to inform your literature searching.
Inform my research? You mean all I have to do is tell my research something and it will do it? Wow, if only I knew that years and years ago!

What exactly is this inanimate object/concept going to do when I tell it these lovely factoids? Maybe I should inform my car next time I'm going to drive it, or maybe I need to inform my toilet that I'm going to violate it next time I eat a super greasy meal after 10 beers.

It may be a hangover (see what I did there!) from my graduate advisor jumping on anyone that anthropomorphized anything, but this seems to be a particularly obvious situation that makes little to no sense.

I guess there will always be people writing and presenting their work, and trying to emulate those that they look up to. I just wish they would proofread more often.

Side note: if you want to increase your douche-itude by using words like "exogenous" to describe additives to your flask, think about what the phrase actually means and implies before you publicize it. For example reagents that commonly come in their own bottle are always exogenous with respect to the reaction, and if you claim something is exogenous that implies that another is endogenous. If you can't think of an endogenous example, then you shouldn't be able to think of an exogenous one either.