Monday, January 04, 2016


Randall Munroe has a book called Thing Explainer in which he tries to describe things in simple words and illustrations; and by simple words he means the 1000 most common words in English.

I was curious about how accessible my blog is. By that standard, not very. 2/3 of the vocabulary in my front page of posts wasn't in the 2000 most common words, and 1/2 wasn't in the 3000 most common words. Yes, my Better Half teaches ESL.

I should try the experiment of forcing myself to use easier words and shorter sentences when covering science stories. I suspect I make too many assumptions. On the other hand, explaining what sigma is in each post makes them drag, and nobody is going to read a post in which they have to follow half a dozen vocabulary definition links. The post in which I tried to motivate symmetry arguments and multiverse speculation had so much background material that I'm not sure anybody but me stayed awake to the end.

My target is literate people who are going to know more than a measly 3000 words.

FWIW, AVI's word use ratios were about the same.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have been at this for decades, because I wanted to raise bright children and speak with bright people. Yet I also want to speak to intelligent people who have not had a lot of education, or perhaps just not encountered a particular word. I do not use the absolute upper end of my vocabulary, because that seems showy. Yet vocabulary can be a way of shortening and refining communication, not just prancing around. I use difficult words in order to be precise, but I try to be aware of them and place them in a context that the reader will guess an approximate meaning. I assume that my readers will go one to other writers on the same topic, and I want them to hav ebeen introduced to likely words. I don't use too many per sentence. I add a bit of hint if I fear the word may be unfamiliar.

In topics that have an insider vocabulary that is unfamiliar to me, I don't try to pretend that I understansd what I don't.

james said...

My sentiments exactly. I'm often called on to explain some technical matter to a friend of a friend, and in blogging I miss the ability to wave my hands around :-)