comment by So8res ·
2021-03-21T01:48:50.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Crossposted from Twitter, might not engage much with comments on LW and I may or may not moderate replies.
Thread about a particular way in which jargon is great:
In my experience, conceptual clarity is often attained by a large number of minor viewpoint shifts. (A complement I once got from a research partner went something like "you just keep reframing the problem ever-so-slightly until the solution seems obvious". <3)
Sometimes a bunch of small shifts leave people talking a bit differently, b/c now they're thinking a bit differently. The old phrasings don't feel quite right -- maybe they conflate distinct concepts, or rely implicitly on some bad assumption, etc. (Coarse examples: folks who think in probabilities might become awkward around definite statements of fact; people who get into NVC sometimes shift their language about thoughts and feelings. I claim more subtle linguistic shifts regularly come hand-in-hand w/ good thinking.)
I suspect this phenomenon is one cause of jargon. Eg, when a rationalist says "my model of Alice wouldn't like that" instead of "I don't think Alice would like that", the non-standard phraseology tracks a non-standard way they're thinking about Alice. (Or, at least, I think this is true of me and of many of the folks I interact with daily. I suspect phraseology is contagious and that bystanders may pick up the alt manner of speaking w/out picking up the alt manner of thinking, etc.)
Of course, there are various other causes of jargon -- eg, it can arise from naturally-occurring shorthand in some specific context where that shorthand was useful, and then morph into a tribal signal, etc. etc. As such, I'm ambivalent about jargon. On the one hand, I prefer my communities to be newcomer-friendly and inclusive. On the other hand, I often hear accusations of jargon as a kind of thought-policing.
"Stop using phrases that meticulously track uncommon distinctions you've made; we already have perfectly good phrases that ignore those distinctions, and your audience won't be able to tell the difference!" No. My internal language has a bunch of cool features that English lacks. I like these features, and speaking in a way that reflects them is part of the process of transmitting them.
Example: according to me, "my model of Alice wants chocolate" leaves Alice more space to disagree than "I think Alice wants chocolate", in part b/c the denial is "your model is wrong", rather than the more confrontational "you are wrong". In fact, "you are wrong" is a type error in my internal tongue. My English-to-internal-tongue translator chokes when I try to run it on "you're wrong", and suggests (eg) "I disagree" or perhaps "you're wrong about whether I want chocolate".
"But everyone knows that "you're wrong" has a silent "(about X)" parenthetical!", my straw conversational partner protests. I disagree. English makes it all too easy to represent confused thoughts like "maybe I'm bad". If I were designing a language, I would not render it easy to assign properties like "correct" to a whole person -- as opposed to, say, that person's map of some particular region of the territory.
The "my model of Alice"-style phrasing is part of a more general program of distinguishing people from their maps. I don't claim to do this perfectly, but I'm trying, and I appreciate others who are trying. And, this is a cool program! If you've tweaked your thoughts so that it's harder to confuse someone's correctness about a specific fact with their overall goodness, that's rad, and I'd love you to leak some of your techniques to me via a niche phraseology.
There are lots of analogous language improvements to be made, and every so often a community has built some into their weird phraseology, and it's *wonderful*. I would love to encounter a lot more jargon, in this sense. (I sometimes marvel at the growth in expressive power of languages over time, and I suspect that that growth is often spurred by jargon in this sense. Ex: the etymology of "category".)
Another part of why I flinch at jargon-policing is a suspicion that if someone regularly renders thoughts that track a distinction into words that don't, it erodes the distinction in their own head. Maintaining distinctions that your spoken language lacks is difficult! (This is a worry that arises in me when I imagine, eg, dropping my rationalist dialect.)
In sum, my internal dialect has drifted away from American English, and that suits me just fine, tyvm. I'll do my best to be newcomer-friendly and inclusive, but I'm unwilling to drop distinctions from my words just to avoid an odd turn of phrase.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Maybe one day I'll learn to cram an idea into a tweet, but not today.Replies from: Viliam
↑ comment by Viliam ·
2021-03-21T16:06:16.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This reminds me of refactoring. Even tiny improvements in naming, especially when they accumulate, can make the whole system more transparent. (Assuming that people can agree on which direction is an "improvement".)
But if I may continue with the programming analogy, the real problem is pushing the commit to the remaining million users of the distributed codebase. And not just users, but also all that literature that is already written.
I like the "my model of Alice" example, because it reminds everyone in the debate of the map/territory distinction.
On the other hand, there are expressions that rub me the wrong way, for example "spoon theory". Like, hey, it's basically "willpower depletion", only explained using spoons, which are just an accidental object in the story; any other object could have been used in their place, therefore it's stupid to use this word as the identifier for the concept. (On the other hand, it helps to avoid the whole discussion about whether "willpower depletion" is a scientific concept. Hey, it may or may not exist in theory, but it definitely exists in real life.)
There are of course ways how to abuse jargon. Typical one is to redefine meanings of usual words (to borrow the old connotations for the new concept, or prevent people from having an easy way to express the old concept), or to create an impression of a vast trove of exclusive knowledge where in fact there is just a heap of old concepts (many of them controversial).