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An Imbroglio of Briars & Quicksand March 29, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

A recent post, Words From Which I Need A Break, included the following 25 words which Arvik felt should be granted an extended sabbatical:

I follow your construct, Arvik. 

Sadly, rhetoric and discourse are intertwined in the ethos as well as in the socio-economic, gendered, interpretation of identity.
Verisimilitude and meta-linguistic narrative have taken the place of daring authenticity in a paradigm of class conflict

Both capitalists and Marxists manifest a “double-vision” which causes them to lose their self-perception, thwarting personal growth in favor of a primal, inherent need to reclaim the ultimate loss of innocence which arrives thusly

Painful to read, isn’t it? 

Sometimes wading through the written word is like getting sucked into an imbroglio of briars and quicksand.  

Instead of building from Point A to Point B, certain writers circle around and around the point they are trying to express, ostentatiously using as many esoteric and cumbersome words as possible. 

Cautious readers must wear hip boots or waders to protect against the muck and mire . . . and the occasional thorn. 

When I can’t follow a writer’s line of reasoning on a subject with which I am generally conversant, I naturally assume that the problem lies with the writer and not the reader.   :mrgreen:

Lest you accuse me of hubris, let me remind you that I had no difficulty as a Philosophy major in college deciphering the wanderings and wonderings of Kant, Hume, Sartre, Hegel, Descartes, and even Socrates. 

In law school, I studied and digested 75 page “briefs” of the United States Supreme Court . . . with only rare indigestion or stomach upset resulting from the effort.

Based on past experience, it is my reasoned opinion that good writers, even those espousing amusing philosophical musings, are able to convey complex ideology in a straightforward manner without resorting to obscure references and circular reasoning designed to throw others off the scent. 

They bring readers into the fold, rather than leaving them out in the cold.

When writers obfuscate, I wonder whether it stems from a lack of mental clarity on their part . . . maybe even they don’t understand what it is they are attempting to say.

If that appears the most ostensible or plausible explanation, I try to be charitable and give them the benefit of the doubt.

After all, if we don’t know what we want to say, would we say anything? 

In some cases, I suspect that lack of clarity in sentence after ghastly sentence stems from a latent desire to confuse and mislead readers.

I know that seems counter-intuitive but . . . maybe watching readers scratch their heads or stall in the middle of the tracks makes befuddled or bemused writers feel intellectually superior to the masses.

Who knows?

WARNING:  Using an external reference point to measure the worth of our  words may lead to delusions of adequacy.

No rules.  Just write!

What about you?  Have you ever waded into a writer’s work and become lost in a quagmire of obtuse construction?  What did you do? 

Did you beat a hasty retreat or wallow a while longer?

Related post:  Simplicity ~ A Friend (SoulDipper)


1. Lisa - March 29, 2011

😀 This made me laugh, because it is so true. I am convinced that some people try to write in a way to make them sound smarter, (often because they want to validate their higher degrees and positions of, ahem, authority). I have a few papers written for a specific class in my doctoral program, with a specific teacher whose ego was huge and who was completely sexist, that I’ve read recently and said, “what in the world was I saying.” I wrote this in a style that would please him, and I’m sure I understood it all at the time, but now it might as well be written in ancient Greek. When it came to writing my own dissertation, I was proud when one of the Professors on my committee said that it was so clearly written that you didn’t have to be an expert to understand it. Of course, that probably excludes the evil theory chapter from hell where it is almost impossible to write without using completely esoteric terminology. The joy of blogging, I think, is writing to be understood.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Glad you enjoyed this, Lisa! 😀

It doesn’t happen often, but if I read a post (or comment) twice and still can’t ascertain the point that someone is trying to make . . . I stop reading that writer’s words.

Why bother? When there are so many people who write clearly without unnecessary obfuscation.

2. Cindy - March 29, 2011

Erm … *splutter* … if you knew what I was editing at the moment, you would understand why I am rolling around with mirth … thank you, just what I needed to break the prosiness of my afternoon … *stumbles off snorting loudly*

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Oh, I am NOT jealous. 😎

That would be my worst nightmare, being asked to edit a pseudo-intellectual’s overweighted prose. Ack!

In the margins, have you scribbled K.I.S.S. . . . K.I.S.S. . . . K.I.S.S.?

(Keep It Simple, Stupid)

viewfromtheside - March 29, 2011

kiss usually helps !

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Sounds like Cindy’s got her work cut out for her with 14 different voices to reconcile.

Still, it’s better than being schizophrenic and having 14 different voices in your head. 😉

3. William D'Andrea - March 29, 2011

As the writer Thomas Wolfe wrote, “One so literate that none can comprehend; so erudite that he cannot communicate with his fellow creatures, would be a henious perversion of nature.”

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Excellent quote, William!

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

4. Paula Tohline Calhoun - March 29, 2011

OMG, Nancy! I am filled with laughter – and a lot of it aimed at myself! You did a fabulous job of integrating your words into your post, and it was completely readable and understandable as far as I am concerned anyway!

I was beginning to let my old ego run away from me after the first couple of paragraphs, and then got my come-uppance in the rest of it! no matter – it is a hard habit for me to break. My Dad started teaching me to love words when I was VERY young, and therefore, I have no trouble understanding the words, and I think everybody else does too, because they come naturally to me. Don’t they to everybody? 😀 LOL!

Here’s a link to a poem I wrote about this very thing that Arvik might enjoy:


Thank you, Nancy, for a very entertaining read! It is absofabuluteously wondiferous.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

I use big words . . . if they pop into my head of their own accord. But some writers (not you!) seem more intent on demonstrating the length and breadth of their vocabulary than on actually being understood by others.

I don’t think we should “dumb it down” but I am convinced that we should not “ham it up.” 😉

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Excellent poem, PTC.

When we use vocabulary we are comfortable with, others generally enjoy the read.

When we trot out big words just to impress, readers get lost amid our Ego’s insatiable desire for applause and acclaim.

5. adeeyoyo - March 29, 2011

I read something recently over, and over, and over… ad infinitum… and had not the foggiest idea what it was about. I beat a hasty retreat, perhaps to return, but probably not!

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

If I read a comment 3-4 times without being able to discern the author’s intent, I conclude that the author’s intent was to confuse, not communicate. 😎

I leave their hazy words for others to wrestle with and head straight for the Exit sign.

6. viewfromtheside - March 29, 2011

circular discussions seem to occur when the persuader is trying to use the thing to explain the thing, which eventually falls in on itself, leaving everyone unsatisfied.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

You’re so right . . . it’s smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand designed to throw us off balance. 😉

7. Debra - March 29, 2011

omg…that was hard to read…and I thought…where did Nancy go? She has been kidnapped. I want Nancy back…I can understand Nancy…her words are full of meaning. The words (this post) are bloated…not the trimmed manner of Nancy.

Nancy, we will find you. Never fear. And when we find you, that person(s) who took over your post for today..will be made to listen to … ‘Mary had a little lamb’ over and over..well, no that would be too horrible.

good post and I am smiling :):) hope this comment brings a smile also:)

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

I am laughing out loud, Debra. And I’m delighted to know you would miss me if some pseudo-intellectual took up residence on SLTW.

Worry not, I shall be back tomorrow. I just couldn’t resist writing this bloated and overblown “How NOT to Write” post.

8. Carol Ann Hoel - March 29, 2011

Since blogging, I’ve run into such narrative and dissertation and wallowed in it, as you say, only to find it didn’t help. I’ve learned to retreat quickly, leaving these wordy writers to their intellectual discourses that led me only to oblivion.

Whether I get lost in my simple-minded way or these writers are lost in their own pseudo complexity, I cannot say. Blessings to you, Nancy…

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Your strategy seems wise, Carol Ann. 🙂

Here’s to saying what we mean . . . as simply as we can.

9. Piglet in Portugal - March 29, 2011

Interesting post Nancy…if I have to look up more than 3 long words in the first sentence…errr paragraph, I usually head for the exit LOL 🙂 🙂
Joking aside…while my style is semi-humorous trivia, I do enjoy and appreciate the style of great writers…like yourself and several others.

I agree with Carol Ann Hoel’s comments above.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

I like coming across a new word or two in posts and comments as long as it’s clear from the context that the author knows what it means and isn’t tossing it about gratuitously. 😉

10. oldancestor - March 29, 2011

I spend 8 hours a day up to my ears in corporate documents, doing my best to chop out the bloat. I don’t have enough time to get it all, though.

Most of the writing world seems to have missed the “less is more” memo.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Less is more, OA.

We should strive to chop out the bloat . . . allowing our words to float more easily in the cyber sea.

oldancestor - March 29, 2011

It’s funny. I read your post today about 5 minutes after I ranted to my co-worker about the same subject.

Two issues that bug me in particular:

1. The need to turn adjectives into verbs and verbs into adjectives (did you know ‘partnering’ is an adjective now?)

2. Capitalizing words for no reason.

“It is advisable that, when working on an Accounting Project, employees align with the most partnering Manager available. For projects that are Time Sensitive, staff members must receive Code One Clearance before submitting Financial Reports.”

And the editing wheel of death grinds on.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

That is just AWFUL!

The most partnering Manager

11. Rosa - March 29, 2011

I love words, even big ones! But only if I can understand what the author is trying to say… not very impressive when we can’t extract any meaning!

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Reading is a delightful way to expose ourselves to new words, ideas, and concepts.

In the right hands, words are valuable assets and allies.

12. estherlou - March 29, 2011

Loved this post. The words in the beginning are a great example of writers I choose not to read…too much effort. I like to be entertained, not have to dig out a dictionary to figure out what they were trying to say.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Thanks, Estherlou! I agree with you.

I love thought-provoking posts and comments that encourage me to examine my assumptions and beliefs about the world . . . but I want them to be written “in English” not in some obscure jargon, understood by few and enlightening to still fewer.

13. kateshrewsday - March 29, 2011

Whoops! I quite like some of those. Ethos, with its greek leanings, for example: I laughed out loud at thusly 😀
I think we need each and every one of the words in existence because the great writers among our peoples use them like colours on an artist’s palette. Some people use ’em wrong: but I just nod and giggle, boys, nod and giggle.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

I quite agree, Kate. It’s not the words in need of a sabbatical. 😀

This post came about because Arvik is nearing the end of a semester spent hearing profs and classmates overuse these 25 words to the point that they grate like fingernails on chalkboards. I couldn’t resist combining all 25 into an incomprehensible imbroglio.

Ethos also happens to be a vegan restaurant in Orlando that my sister frequents.

14. souldipper - March 29, 2011

Since my mother majored in English, our family was exposed to a wonderful vocabulary. When I headed out to explore the world, I easily doled out all sorts of big words. Impressed people, it seemed. Except those who know the denotation of some of those words. Seems I could be just a tad “off”. Sorta like hearing that one perfect note in a musical composition played off key.

Clarity and simplicity is a theme today. It’s a darned good one! Thanks.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Finding out that I’ve been mispronouncing and/or using a word “off key” for days, months, or years at a stretch is rather eye opening.

I never blame the word. 😀

15. poeticinteraction - March 29, 2011

Dear Time Out Box: Don’t know what the problem, (aporia) is: I found the coherence.

I follow your construct,(1) Arvik.

Sadly, rhetoric(2) and discourse(3) are intertwined in the ethos (4)as well as in the socio-economic,(5)gendered,(6) interpretation(7) of identity(8).

Verisimilitude(9) and meta-linguistic(10) narrative(not given)have taken the place of daring (11)authenticity(12) in a paradigm (13)of class conflict(14).

Both capitalists(15) and Marxists(16) manifest (17)a “double-vision”(18) which causes them to lose their self-perception(19), thwarting personal growth (20) n favor of a primal(21), inherent(22) need to reclaim the ultimate(23) loss of innocence(24) which arrives thusly(25 -i.e. thus).

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Delighted to see that you “found” all 25 highlighted words, LL. Of course, playing “word search” is not quite the same as ascertaining meaning. 😉

poeticinteraction - March 29, 2011

Dear Time Out Box: I agree. Also. Finding coherence is also not necessarily synonymous with finding ‘meaning’.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Aah . . . now you are seeing the problem. When we read, we want to ascertain the writer’s meaning and intent . . . not stumble through a laundry list of vocabulary words demonstrating little more than coherence and cohesion.

16. poeticinteraction - March 29, 2011

Dear Time Out Box:

It’s up to the reader. The author is dead. The post-moderns, (my interpretation) are ‘negating’ both the logic of circular reasoning and infinite regress: the first in the use of deconstruction of presence by bringing out the aporias or contradictions within identity based logics, and the second, i.e. the infinite regress being assimilated into the ‘differance’, or the abyss of deferred meaning. It is on the agenda, that the onus is now on the individual to learn to ‘think’. In other words, I find this is giving such a credibility to ‘insanity’, that would allow one to find ‘meaning’ even in ‘nonsense’. Would you deny the brilliance of Lewis Carroll, for instance. In other words, I applaud myself in finding ‘meaning’ within the juxtaposition of random words written arbitrarily in order to point out the absurdity/sublimity of academic over-determination. Peace…….

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

17. Mel - March 29, 2011

<– laughing

There's something to be said for keeping things simple.

I think you said that.

Didn't you say that?

<– laughing

You made my entire evening.
It's a pleasure to cross paths with you.

nrhatch - March 29, 2011

Yay! Spreading laughter is what I’m after. 😀

18. Tilly Bud - March 30, 2011

I think my WordPress is playing up. I’m sure I left a comment on here and ticked the notify box. Unless I’m – gulp – in the Time Out Box?

nrhatch - March 30, 2011

Nope. You are NOT in the Time Out Box. 😀

On rare occasion, that has happened to me. I think that I’ve pressed “Post Comment” and close out the page . . . losing what I’ve written.

19. lesliepaints - March 30, 2011

Jumping up and down and clapping, Nancy! I am not a writerbut an avid reader (someone writers need to buy their books). This is very well stated. There is one author and one author, only, who is wordy and I have followed. It is Gregory MacGuire. His words seem to add to the total feeling of the story and I have learned that I do not have to have the definition for every word he writes in order to understand what he is trying to portray. The rest of the time???? Simple is BEST! Thanks for an interesting post!

nrhatch - March 30, 2011

Sometimes the “extra” words add to our enjoyment of the read ~ even if we have to re-read a sentence or two to capture nuances. I’m a fan of Jane Austen’s work. She often writes sentences with “zingers” buried in them which are fun to find.

But “beating around the bush” in non-fiction work demonstrates poor writing skills . . . at least in “my book.”

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Spit it out. Less is more.

Glad you enjoyed. 😀

20. Greg Camp - March 30, 2011

You managed to understand Hegel? I wasn’t worthy, and I have my doubts that Hegel was, either.

I tell my students that the longer the word, the shorter the definition. If they wish to use a lengthy word, they must be certain that the meaning is exactly what they need. That, alas, requires work.

nrhatch - March 30, 2011

It’s been many moons since I read Hegel ~ perhaps the Philosophy professors helped us over the hurdles and rough patches. 😀

I try not to discriminate against words of any length ~ in reading or writing. And I love the challenge of finding just the right word . . . when circumstances warrant the effort.

But some writers seem to traipse out of their way to meander down thought pathways that merely complicate matters, rather than distilling them down to the essence.

21. eof737 - March 31, 2011

I think we all fall victim to it… at least once in our lifetime. I try not to read stuff like that anymore. Like you, I covered that territory in college and grad school. But I love paradigm and personal growth. 🙂

nrhatch - March 31, 2011

Unless it’s the “only” source of the material in question, I prefer to read more straight forward writing.

22. colonialist - April 21, 2013

One of my great hates – related in a way to this – is the coining and use of ‘buzzwords’ adopted to put across some theory. These are then systematically flogged to death.

nrhatch - April 21, 2013

Yes! Buzzwords are a big buzz-kill. Which, in essence, was the point of Arvik’s initial post.

nrhatch - April 21, 2013

Her post also features a very funny Calvin and Hobbes comic strip . . . or comic square.

23. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary | Spirit Lights The Way - June 10, 2014

[…] Place) * Seeing Behind The Words (Candid Impressions) * Being Misunderstood (Candid Impressions) * An Imbroglio of Briars & Quicksand […]

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