Don’t try to write “fancy”

My father was a DA, so he knew a lot of cops, and read their reports. He would remark to me how cops who could speak perfectly sensible, comprehensible English would suddenly lose that ability when asked to write a report. If you asked them what happened, they would say “When we walked into the house, the guy ran out the back.” But their report would read “Subsequent to our perambulating onto the premises, the potential perpetrator absconded from the domicile in a rearward direction.”

This was inspired by listening to a fancy pants documentary narrator, who just said, about some part of Turkey, “The region has a high rate of annual rainfall.” What he wants to say is “It rains a lot over there.” But that doesn’t sound sufficiently fancy for his pompous self, so he gussied it up, and in doing so, screwed up. Because “annual rainfall” is already a rate. So if you start talking about “the rate of annual rainfall,” you’re talking about the rate of a rate. Essentially, because he wanted to talk fancy, he wound up taking the second derivative of this Turkish region’s rainfall. (Yes, I know, that would be the instantaneous rate of change of an instantaneous rate, but you get the idea.)


  1. I see the same thing from younger engineers I work with, especially from those who have English as their second language. They are perfectly fluent, but somewhere along the line they learned when they're writing a formal document (say a test report) it should read like this:

    A multitude of potential candidates were henceforth selected for further investigation. Procedurally eliminating disfavored candidates allowed...


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