How hard is it to say what you mean?

Deep in a long discussion, Phil writes, in evident frustration:

I don't like argument by innuendo. Say what you mean; how hard is it, for cryin' out loud?

Actually, it is hard! I've spent years trying to write directly, and I've often noticed that others have difficulty doing so. I always tell students to simply write what they did, in simple declarative sentences. (It can be choppy, that's fine: "I downloaded the data. I cleaned the data. I ran a regression" etc.) But it's really hard to do. As George Orwell put it, good prose is like a windowpane, but sometimes it needs a bit of Windex and a clean rag to fully do its job.

P.S. I feel similarly about statistical graphics. (See also here.)

More like this

Telling the truth, and getting it exactly right, so that others can take it at face value and rely on your words, is extremely difficult.

Lying is too easy. The hard problems are the most interesting, and are the ones most in need of superbly expressed findings.

Good evening,
I hope you are well.

It's easy to say what you mean.
I do it all the time.
And the reader/listener is my audiences. Def plural.

Part of it is recognizing in myself what I mean.
No mean feat, imo.
Then putting it in words that take advantage of various listeners worldview (like that german word with the geist).

Then deciding if I want to pull the earth out again.
Do I wish to address them with their Bibles?
Do I wish to risk educating them with some Science?

Yep, so easy to say what I mean, to paraphrase what we mean, to try and find a clue
as to what they will hear and maybe, just maybe, understand.

It's so easy to say exactly what I mean.
I am the master of the words, not the slave...
-credit to mr. dumpty ...

It's also,
a pain in the ass to get someone to hear it.


By netjaeger (not verified) on 24 Mar 2010 #permalink