At some point since the creation of academia, scholars decided that being “smart” meant that you had to write in a style so complicated that only fellow intellectuals could comprehend the text.  Apparently their publishers bought into the idea as well, and in doing so they made sure that smart people stayed smart and the laymen continued to stare dumbfounded at the words, trying to make sense of them.

I’m not the first to hate this trend—George Orwell penned “The Politics of the English Language,” in which he laid waste to the aforementioned intellectuals—but I might be the first to hate it this much.  Indeed, it seems entirely possible, rather, logical, that as a writer and appreciator of clear and concisely composed language, written with the obvious purpose of communicating and relating ideas and paradigms to an audience, that I would espouse the value of composing texts that are accessible not only by those readers with a command of complex language (probably those readers that have, because of their economic privilege, been able to afford education at a system of higher learning), but also by the laymen, the underprivileged, and, in doing so, promote the spread of knowledge to a universal population.

Yeah. Put that in your proverbial pipe and smoke it.

I joke around, but the sad thing is that this mockery isn’t far from the truth.  Yesterday my girlfriend read me a few passages from one of her textbooks, and the language was so overwritten that I couldn’t understand a single thing.  Just read this out loud to one of your friends and see if they get it:

But precisely because this kind of history was deeply concerned with the stories of peoples, each empirically different from the other, it looked with suspicion, even hostility, upon the attempts of the exponents of the new “social science” to generalize, that is, to establish universal laws of society. (Open the Social Sciences. Wallerstein et al.)

Oh my good lord.  Was the history deeply concerned, or was it just concerned?  And are the peoples empirically different from each other? Or is it the stories that are different—I can’t really tell.  Is the history generalizing or establishing?  Pick one.  If you’re trying to imply that in establishing the laws it was also generalizing, that’s a new idea and deserves a new sentence.

The sad thing is that by using excessive language, these academics trick people into thinking that they’re incredibly smart.  I know students who throw “indeed” or “furthermore” in front of a sentence that is actually presenting a contrast—but they do it because they’re trying to emulate scholarly writing.  They throw “-isms” around with abandon, and spread adverbs on so thick you can barely see through to the verbs.

I try to show them that just because the writing is complex, it doesn’t mean that the ideas are.  In the sentence I quoted earlier, the author is just trying to say that historians resisted the push to turn their field into a hard science.  It’s the wording and sentence structure that makes it seem cleverer than it really is.