Thursday, April 24, 2014

“Say what you mean and mean what you say”


While checking out the news, I found an interesting article by Neil Macdonald entitled, “Why politicians and academics don’t just say what they mean.”  Alongside its primary topic, stated in its title, the article also refers to a forthcoming book written by Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, titled, “The Sense of Style.”

In the article, Macdonald writes that in Pinker’s book, Pinker expresses no patience for those who say that complex, obscure language is useful and necessary when speaking to an expert audience.  Pinker also adds that meta-concepts (i.e. concepts about concepts) are like the layers of packaging that a consumer has to go through to get at a product.  Furthermore, Pinker calls the qualifiers that reporters use and editors would call journalistic caution—such as “apparently,” “evidently,” “rather,” “comparatively,” and “presumably”—“wads of fluff that imply that writers are not willing to stand behind what they are saying.

This describes to a tee the verbal garbage that many politicians and academics—especially lawyers—try to fill us up with/make us swallow.  I most enjoyed what is offered as Pinker’s diagnosis of this type of verbiage: “In explaining any human shortcoming, the first tool I reach for is Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”  In other words, many politicians and academics are just plain stupid!  Worse yet, if we believe those who continually throw that trash at us, the same applies to us!

All of this to say, we need to live by the adage: “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”  More importantly, we should hold our so-called leaders to that standard.  This world would surely be a better place if we did!  And if, by chance, this doesn’t work… Blame it on fast foods!

- B. J. T. Pepin

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