Re-Post: Too Abstract

Original Post Date: 6/17/2017

Sometimes people speak too abstractly and lose something in the translation. Such as when a headline says, "Wrestling still isn't sure what to do with women..." What they really mean is that women do not occupy a major role in the wresting industry. "Wresting" isn't a thing that can do things to women. People personify concepts such as "wresting" and give it agency. This is partly in an attempt to understand it better and creates a subject in which to assign blame. You can't understand something better by defining it incorrectly and to blame a concept incapable of physical action is irrational.

Another example of this is when someone says "we" when referring to all people. Someone may say, "We are all just animals," or, "We all want happiness," or, "We are fundamentally good," what they are doing is abstracting their own concept of who they are and projecting it onto the world of people. In many cases it would be more accurate to say "I" in these circumstances. (One can make accurate generalizations about all humans but they have to be based on some evidence and not just an assertion about the nature of humanity.) Also, I used absolute examples here, which is another example of people not using precise language. Absolutes are rarely accurate.

When people use idioms and cliches too much they are also utilizing abstraction to a degree that can lead to a lack of precise thinking and communicating. Prescribed phrases such as, "Obviously" or, "Don't cry over spilt milk", allow people to blurt out what seems like the right thing to say but is really just an automatic response indicating a lack of contemplation and autonomy. (More examples of idioms:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” 
― George OrwellPolitics and the English Language

I try to listen for people blathering and I wonder whether they know just what they have said. 

The art of bullshitting becomes a fast friend to those that find it difficult to admit that they don't know something. Abstraction makes this easier as well. Saying vague things like, "Boys will be boys," or, "it is was it is," one can hide in the abstract instead of the concrete and plain.

Try to use your own words and think about what it is you're actually trying to communicate. It isn't always necessary to create an elaborate metaphor or use a pithy phrase. Sometimes, "I'm hungry," or,"I'm sad" are more effective than, "I could eat a horse" or, "It is what it is." 

Metaphors can be very powerful tools for communication so sometimes they are highly effective and aid the speaker in relating a concept to their audience and I have used plenty of pithy phrases but I think it is important to get out of the automatic response system and search for the right words to express myself as much as possible. It can be clunky at times and awkward pauses are bound to happen but I enjoy the rare occasions where I say exactly what I'm thinking.