PlainTalk is talk that is meant to be understood. It is ordinary, and meant to serve a purpose. You could call it “functional.”

PlainTalk aims to talk neither above, nor below, the listener’s intelligence. It is a kind way of speaking. The goal of Plain Talk is to be understood. You could call it “friendly.”

PlainTalk is not about eliminating jargon, nor is it about talking rough. It’s not about being condescending, and it’s not about treating everyone like a 12 year old. That said, it’s watchful for the curious 12 year old out there, who wants to understand; It is an inclusive way of speaking. If we imagine PlainTalk were a living person, it would be a person that liked everyone, but grappled with elitist impulses.

PlainTalk is regularly misunderstood. In addition to ideas about what PlainTalk is, this wiki has ideas about what PlainTalk isn’t.

A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. 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. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)


Division in Process

There’s a lot of content on PlainTalk here; We’re in what may be a year-long process of dividing it out into pages.

So far, we have:

Plain Talk Examples

(note: Lion is skeptical about this example, because it plays into the arguably harmful misunderstanding that PlainTalk means “rough” language. Harmful, because then people argue: “Well, that’s why we don’t want to use PlainTalk– because we’d have to make it rough… that’s what PlainTalk means, that’s what it is.”)

Examples of PlainTalk vs. non-Plain Talk


I think an excellent example of PlainTalk, especially in technical circles, is found in the HeadFirst? series of books, by KathySierra. In particular, the Wiki:HeadFirstDesignPatterns book is likely the best introduction to DesignPatterns that I have ever seen. – L

Plain Talk Resources

I want to note that: I think the Simple English Wikipedia is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s working. See the section below on “School Reading & Plain Talk.” I fear the Simple English Wikipedia is making the same mistakes that schools make, when they try to do something like Plain Talk.LionKimbro

What PlainTalk is Not

There are many misunderstandings about what PlainTalk means.

Class and Plain Talk

Ya’ dunna hav’ ta’ rite like a hick ta’ speak Plain Talk. In fact: Don’t. The tragedy of For Dummies books.


Is PlainTalk Condescending? No.

PlainTalk is talking up, not down. Unless you talk down to your closest friends. In which case, you’re fucked, no matter how you write. TO WRITE.

If you give me some pile of facts that clearly imply some conclusion, I am smart enough to (eventually) figure it out. If you explicitly state that conclusion, will I be offended that you don’t think I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own? Not at all – that is the whole point of communicating, so that everyone doesn’t have to figure out everything for himself, from scratch.

Must Everyone Understand Plain Talk? No.

No. When two people are talking to each other plainly, they often use jargon that not everyone understands (see ComplexPlainTalk), because each of them knows the other one does understand that jargon. Occasionally, they even invent new terms and teach them to each other, to speed up communication.


Other Issues

How to Learn Plain Talk

Listen to how ordinary people talk!


The Plain English Campaign’s “ How to write in plain English” is very good.

Strategies for Plain Talk

Analogy. Make use of the complexities people already know. Short sentences, common words. Digging for root meanings. Rudolf Flesch’s “Turn it into Chinese” method. Repetition, Rephrasing- “time to think.” Diagrams and Images. Keep writing attached to People. (Relevance, and “The Grammar of Gossip.”) Write to one reader, rather than an abstract cloud.

Some surprises:


Law & Plain Talk

Efforts by lawyers who like Plain Talk. Are Plain Talk contracts legal? (YES.) Political struggles for Plain Talk. Wins for Plain Talk. Lawyers who hate Plain Talk.

“Clarity: The worldwide lawyers’ group campaigning for plain legal language. Its aim is the use of good, clear language by the legal profession.”

What is the “1978 “Plain Language” consumer protection statute” ? It is mentioned by Uriel Wittenberg DavidCary

(That paper is REALLY interesting. I imagine the law could even be drawn up as schematic.)

I know that the Plain Talk movement has existed for a while in Lawyers circles. (As has been a conscious anti-PlainTalk movement, which argues that it is dangerous for people to think they can read the law.) – LionKimbro

Law in a schematic diagram ? interesting. Would VisualWiki:HookupLanguage? be a good place to discuss that ? – DavidCary


School Reading & Plain Talk

How they fail: The Rudolf Flesch examples. Making Pirates not speak Pirate; Eliminating jargon – terrible! Unreadable! Uninteresting! Mechanical rules for making PlainTalk, and how they fail. The problem of certification and reliance upon certification. What else is there?


Sales and Plain Talk

Salespeople have a looong history of using PlainTalk. It’s likely that a big part of the reason why academics scorn Plain Talk, is because people associate PlainTalk with crooked salespeople and lying politicians. (A subject for later in this page.)

But why do salespeople have a long history of PlainTalk? It’s probably because their paychecks depend on it. They are rewarded for communicating clearly with the public.

Consider cellphone salemen; Good sales follow these kinds of guidelines:

A bad sales person does the following:

So how does this translate to Wiki? Well, know your context and read around so that you can be clear for your group. Then, do what a salesperson does: Start general and clear, and have specifics ready. Don’t treat people like they’re idiots, either by talking over their heads or talking down to them. Pretend you’re getting paid to make people understand things that they’re (1) not aquainted with and (2) interested in. Remember that the average person is pretty smart, but may not know as much as you do about what you’re talking about.

I’d want to give this passage some reservation. I’m trying to bring the power of PlainTalk to a wider audience. People already associate PlainTalk with crooked politicians and used car salesmen. I think that’s a large part of the reason that academics avoid PlainTalk: They want to avoid the guilt by association. We’ve already seen what some people think of PlainTalk: The attitude is “Anybody promoting PlainTalk is trying to bring our society to idiocy and television and complacency, right?” (Actually, the exact opposite.) I was intending to write a section on politicians and salespeople, saying, “Yes, these people use PlainTalk, and they even use it to manipulate and control people. But, that doesn’t mean that we should avoid PlainTalk.”

It’s not the channel that’s wrong; It’s what’s filling that channel that’s causing us problems. However, it needs to be worded carefuly, because I know both salespeople and politicians, and they’re not (most of them) bad or broken people. They’re just institutional filling; Otherwise, they’re out of the system. And if you’re not in the system, you’re nobody. Actually, this all leads to a pair of enormous doors; Doors to conversation about mental rights, freedom, gigantic social machines; There’s so much space out there, it’s bewildering. At any rate, I don’t want to offend my friends, and I want to give my respects to an industry that has both deeply wounded, and profoundly aided, every one of us. That said, there is some necessary distancing for the purpose of this article: If we’re going to build a case for PlainTalk, we need a “yes, but” attitude (I think) towards salesmanship.

(I’d written more here, which I’m moving to ThePowerOfQuestions.)

How do you want people to talk to you ?

Imagine someone about to express an opinion you disagree with, or some fact that you know is incorrect.

Would you rather him say it in a way that you immediately understand what he is saying? Or would you rather he cloak it in a bunch of fuzzy terminology, so that you don’t realize what he said for hours, or days?

Is there SpaceForMetaDiscussion?

One of things we can take from this entry, is that people talk in the way that they are rewarded for talking. I’ve argued before that Academics talk funny because they are rewarded for talking funny. In sales, it’s the opposite: You are rewarded for being understood. And they come out being able to speak plain. I don’t know if we can make a total case for this- allowing us to extend our conclusions to Academics. But maybe..!

By all means, feel free to revise it! I was thinking about the “people talk in the way that they are rewarded for talking… You are rewarded for being understood” – but I couldn’t articulate that directly. I guess since I’ve done the sales thing, I don’t think of salespeople as bad people mostly – just people trying to make a buck. To me, it shows how (1) accessable plain talk is and (2) how sucessful it can be. It’s really important to our culture and it should be extended. But please do reword the section and try to make it more coherent.

That’s great! That means you can even it out, after I have a whack at it! But I’m busy w/ too much to rework it right now. I started, though.

“ … rewarded for talking funny.”

Good point. Maybe I should start rewarding Academics and Politicians for speaking plain ? I hadn’t realized they’re caught in the dilemma of either (a) alienating potential voters by clearly saying things that many voters disagree with, or (b) making ambiguous statements that voters are free to mis-interpret as things they agree with.


There have been a few people making fun of Academics who talk funny – see and Bill Beaty .

Metrics for Plain Talk

You can express any particular idea in many ways. Some ways are harder to understand than other ways.

Some people suggest re-writing text using “constrained writing”, limitations that don’t necessarily make it easier or harder to read – constraints such as writing in “e prime”, or in the present tense / past tense, or making every other line rhyme. The process of re-writing text several different ways helps a writer explore different ways of expressing an idea. That makes it more likely that a “better” way will be found.

In general, given 2 different explanations of the same idea,

Some of these things can be objectively measured with a fairly simple computer program, and combined into a “readability index”. For example, Flesch's scale. Fog. Others. (See Wikipedia:Readability_test for details).


(quick note: I don’t really buy into the metrics, buy hey- these probably won’t harm you, and you should probably be aware of them.)

Lion's Edge Thoughts

These are thoughts that I belive in strongly, but for some reason, don’t want to group into the main article.


PlainTalk Must Mean Something

PlainTalk tends to be about things that people care about. PlainTalk draws crowds. PlainTalk focuses on meaning- How to turn a sentence into PlainTalk, by focusing on root meanings of words.


Rome, and the Golden Rule

“Speak Unto Others as You Would Have Them Speak Unto You.” And: “When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do.” (Confucious on Adapting Customs.) But also: Social Struggle: Our duty to Change Society and our Selves.


the Assumptions of PlainTalk


Are Ordinary People Smart or Stupid?


Self-Image, Confidence, and Plain Talk


Why Plain Talk is Scorned


Politicians, Ad Writers, and Other Despicable People

PlainTalk to manipulate. (Used as ammunition by those who embrace non-PlainTalk!)


Story Tellers, Authors, and Other Lovely People

PlainTalk to empower, PlainTalk to teach, PlainTalk to feed and cure, PlainTalk to Love.


Is PlainTalk Professional?

Office stories. How teams talk to themselves. How teams talk to others. Philip Greenspun, and his PlainTalking? army.


Mathematical PlainTalk

Einstein said: I was very fortunate to have been exposed to math books that worked by intuition. That’s rare, and that sucks. Math books should exercise intuition; Formalism should only be this after-thought thing, to cross your t’s and dot your I’s. (however he wrote it.)

Pictures and diagrams in mathematics. Wonderful paper linked from Visual Wiki comparing mathematics to a world where everyone studies and reveres written music, but it’s taboo to actually play any.

And, as usual- the stubborn refusal to allow intuitions to be given primacy in mathematics teaching. For the same usual reasons: Because we absolutely need these convoluted symbols. Anything else is begging for ignorance, right? Ignoramous.

"SpeakEasy Math" by Bill Lauritzen promotes the controversial idea of teaching math and geometry in (gasp!) English, translating the Latin terms “circumference” and “diameter” into “around” and “across”, and the Greek terms “hexagon” and “dodecahedron” into “six-nik” and “twelve-face”.

He goes on to write:

“The subject of biology is now often called “life science.” Geology is often now called “earth science.” These are steps, perhaps inevitable, in the right direction. What if the respiratory systems were the “breathing system”? Sounds unscholarly, I know.”



Translating into English? Doesn’t that risk something getting lost in translation? Clearly we need to find out who the experts are in each field, and use their language for conversing in that field:

  • Greek for mathematics and geometry.
  • French for diplomacy and fashion.
  • Latin and Arabic for theology.
  • German and Russian for rocketry.
  • Chinese for the culinary arts.
  • British English for cryptanalysis and naval terminology.
  • American English for nuclear weapons.
  • Canadian English for ice hockey.

Clearly one language just isn’t up to expressing complex ideas like “Allah only knows the puree that would result if a submarine would launch a nuclear missle on a ballistic arc, during the Stanley Cup finals.”

Awesome. I want to try it.

Plain Talk on the Internet / the Future of Plain Talk

PlainTalk: Destiny of the HiveMind.

Groups of people, decoding texts together. How OpenSource software development is affected by PlainTalk. How openly developed software is like PlainTalk.

Future of PlainTalk: Including VisualLanguage with our PlainTalk. What self-respecting engineer doesn’t draw diagrams of how things are connected? (Generalized PlainTalk Interdisciplinary Pattern Languages?! Chinese forms, like Flemming knows about.)



Plain Talk & the 1st Amendment

No; Nobody’s trying to take away your 1st amendment rights. No militias are being mobilized against people who can’t talk straight. In fact, the PlainTalk’ers of the world are working hard to secure your right to speak lunacy. They just might not want to hear it- that’s all.

Calm down already.



Lots to write. It’s still skeletal, but it’s more than we had before.

Perhaps this will prevent (some) future confusions? But I doubt it- people will read this, not be convinced, and want to make counter-cases.

Regardless, this is a subject is important to me, and that I want to write about.

Oooooold Discussion

This is a page that I’ve been meaning to write a long time.

There’s so much I wish to write on the subject.

I think the ability to speak and write PlainTalk to be one of the most important life skills someone can have.

There’s a reference I’m looking for. Somewhere on Meatball, there was talk of a social scientist who gave evidence that the way we talk and dress is very closely tied to our social status. I’ve been looking for it for a while now. If anyone knows of it, I’d love to work it in here.

i don’t know the meatball reference (meatball’s native search is too primitive; i’ve got to build myself a little google search for it), but heh, whichever social scientist it was is just the new kid on the block. the ancient greeks and romans knew of this already. don’t have time right now, but this google search brings up lots of potential sources. i’ll get back to that later, if you don’t get to it first.

Discussion from TreeVsSemiLattice

(cut from TreeVsSemiLatticeLionKimbro)

i’m with you regarding plain talk in general. however, i don’t think i want to completely separate it from specialized language – i envision instead an introduction for a concept in plain talk, and then at the end a section where more specialized terms are named, so people acquire new vocabulary with which to search for further information.

I don’t think there are any “rules of plain talk.”

Our goal is to make things understandable.

I would ask myself, when introducing a new word:

  • Is it right? Is this a word that fits this situation?
  • Is it necessary? Could we possibly do without this word?
  • Is it kind? Will this make people struggle?

If it meets those three things, then I would personally say, “go right ahead.”

If the new word is incorrect, or unnecessary, or something we can’t explain, then I would think that we should avoid it.

I wouldn’t haggle over edge cases. Only communicate the basic spirit.

Yes, I agree with this page basically, our goal is to make things understandable. A higher degree of multilinguality within a contemporary discussion as I proposed just to ChristopheDucamp changes the feel. Instead of using a nice (but rare) idiom you might consider using five more words and say it in a way that the non-English speakers get it right away (maybe even put the idiom in brackets behind it, so they both learn something and don’t have to grab their dictionaries). HardAndSoftLanguage relates. I appreciate every attempt to sensibilize the use of language. Plain Talk, yes.

what mattis said. i definitely like the idea of giving people more language power – don’t leave the idiom, or scientific term out completely, but explain first what you mean in plain, simple language, and then add the idiom/term afterwards.

Lion, what do you mean by “Keep the writing attached to People.”?

Right, right. Keep the writing attached to people. It means- in every sentence, there are people. Find them, and put them right out in front of the reader.

Here’s Rudolf Flesch’s example, from his chapter, “The Grammar of Gossip.”


Du Pont this week announced a new product as highly potential as its nylon. It is wood impregnated with chemicals which transform it into a hard, polished material. Engineers call it “compreg.”


The Du Pont people announced this week a new product as highly potential as their nylon. They have impregnated wood with chemicals and transformed it into a hard, polished material. Their engineers call it “compreg.”

Here’s a modern day master of PlainTalk: Philip Greenspun. He knows about finding the people, and exposing them. I feel comfortable just linking to his blog, rather than a specific entry. Because I know that on any day, Philip Greenspun is going to be writing about people, people, and more people. He does not write about anything, except in that it relates to people. He knows how to find the people in anything, and he writes about it. I mean, I’m not joking: Just go through his blog entries. Almost every one of them is overflowing with people.

Check out Philip's book. Read how he writes about Database Management Systems. It’s PlainTalk, and it works. It works spectacularly well.

So, as a general rule, if you want to write PlainTalk, check to see if you are writing about people. If you aren’t, expose them. They’re there. They must be. I mean: Wherever you go, there you are.

It’s so very tempting to use all these cool words I pick up in Scrabble and Boggle games. Then I can impress people with how smart I am.

But what’s really my goal here ?

  • Do I want people to be really impressed with my vocabulary ? “Just listen to all those $50 words. That David is one fine speaker. I’m glad we have a real professional to take care of that complicated stuff that makes my brain hurt.” Or
  • Do I want people to understand something, even if they go away thinking “Shucks, that wasn’t so hard. But that David really needs to act more professional.”


What’s most important to me right now is explaining the idea of PlainTalk. I see a lot of people honoring what is painful to read. I see a lot of people struggling to learn how to talk in a painful way. I think it cloud’s people’s minds, and I think it leads to darker lives. I’m interested in clarity. I’m very interested in clarity. When I read things written by people I really admire- Einstein, Martin Luther King, Madeline Le’Engle, Napoleon Hill, Mark Twain; I’m always amazed by how much they stress clarity and clear thinking and plain talk. And they talk about it! They say: Speak plain, think clear. Yes, the world is a confusing place, they say. You’ve got propaganda going this way and that. You’ve got all these confusing things. All these ego’s flowing this way and that, all these energies going back and forth. So, you want to keep it clear, you want to keep it simple. Speak plainly. Put things into your own, natural terms.

Just a moment ago, I was reading something- it was like a paragraph- a gigantic brick of text. And I had to keep saying, “Okay, so what does this mean?” And the whole paragraph was actually like 2 sentences, when you cut out all the crap.

People struggle to obfuscate stuff! Someone was sitting there, thinking, “How do I make this more professional?” And like: If someone sat next to them, and said, “Hey! What’cha writing about?” …they probably would give 2 clear sentences. But somehow, when they set it to paper, they had to start working on encrypting it.

Really, sincerely,..:

  • I think we have a lot of troubles in the world.
  • They come from a zillion sources.
  • One of them is a lack of clear thinking, and clear talking.

If you think about it a certain way, communication between people is the “thought” of the HiveMind.

As an individual, we hear lots of voices in our head, going back and forth. We call them “thoughts.”

As a HiveMind, we communicate the voices with our mouths, and by our typewriters and screens. This “talking” is like the thought of the HiveMind.

The call to PlainTalk is the call to Clear Thinking.

I think it’ll work, because I (personally) think clearer when I think in PlainTalk. Yeah, I make use of symbols and jargon. But the symbols are on an economy, and the grammer and phrasing between the symbols is all Plain. And all the things that happen in PlainTalk- I recognize as going on in my head.

As much as people are different, I think we’re also very similar. And I think PlainTalk works (pretty much) for everybody.

One reason I think this is that when I work out problems with people, we do so in PlainTalk. We don’t go into fancy schmansy talk. I don’t know anyone that does that and actually gets work done. No, we go into PlainTalk. And then it works. When I was in college solving DE’s and special relativity problems and working on traveling salesmen and what not, it was the same thing. Sure, we used jargon. But it was on an economy, and it was all in the context of PlainTalk. So, I believe that it is reasonable to believe that PlainTalk works for most everybody. And so I believe that it is reasonable to believe that it is some sort of basic processing in the brain.

Hey! What did Einstein say? He said: (paraphrasing) “The sort of reasoning I do is the same sort of reasoning that everybody does, every single day.” He didn’t say: “I have the mystical ability to think in 4 dimensions.” He didn’t say: “I’m naturally super-briliant, my mind performing calculations that you cannot possibly imagine.” No, he said: “I do the same kind of basic mental manipulations that everyone else does. I just happen to do them in this particular field.” I don’t think he was modest. I think he was telling the truth. (Why?) Because that’s the same thing that a lot of people that we call “brilliant” say as well. And because it actually makes sense, if you suspend popular disbelief for a moment.

Uh… anyways,… I’m diverging… Let’s roll back…

Ah, right. So, this is the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about PlainTalk, and why I think it’s important.

I should say another thing-

I don’t think that the adoption of PlainTalk depends on me, or anything like that. I think it’s already there. Like I said: When people set to solve problems, when they really set to solve problems, I think they tend towards PlainTalk. (Probably part of the reason people trust it so much.) I think wiki has already proven itself to be plain talking. I mean, look at C2. Or Wikipedia. Or what have you. Compare them side-by-side some comparable industry textbook or Encyclopedia. It’s amazing, the difference.

But I think it’s good that we consciously recognize what we are doing. And we can hold it as an ideal.

There are a lot of people who aren’t aware of PlainTalk. I wasn’t myself, consciously, until about 2 years ago (I think.) I think it hit my unconscious radar significantly somewhere around 6 years ago.

I know many people that, once I explain the idea to them, they go, “Ohhhh yeaaaaaaah! You’re right! That’s really interesting!..” That’s a sign to me that it actually means something, and that it’s a worthwhile idea for spreading.

Honestly, I believe that there is a larger story around this.

Here’s my metaphysical story:

We’re the Human race. Here we all are, in a big boat. Yay! See us here? We’re the Human race.

We’re coming out of darkness. (Booo!) There were terrible times behind us. Slavery, murder, poverty, starving, yadda yadda yadda. The whole nine yards. And those are just the obvious oppressions. The worst are the mental oppressions, I think. Lots of suffering.

I believe in “Progress.” I think we’re moving forward. I think we’re figuring ourselves out.

When a person grows, I think, I believe they start to recognize the patterns in their lives, and they start to shift things around, optimize things, figure themselves out. I think they figure out who they are, what their values are, what they want to do. I think they learn to become more responsible, take care of things, etc., etc.,. And, I think it’s reasonable to think that the global HiveMind is basically doing the same thing.

We’re just now, I believe, coming to our mental faculties. I think we’re seeing the motions of self-organizing, as the various hooks and pieces link up together, into their proper places. “Proper” defined as “working where they want to work.”

I see “non-PlainTalk” as something of a relic of the past. I think that it was a slavery mechanism. I think it’s used, basically, by the social organisms to consume people, and keep them in place. I believe the non-Plain Talk language is a mechanism to make clear who belongs where, and at what level, and with what degree, and so on. If you want to get to such-and-such rank in such-and-such division, you must speak such-and-such way. I read on Meatball somewhere something about a research paper- the paper was famous for showing that your ability to get somewhere in a company, or to join a new class (as in money, not as in school,) or whatever- this research showed that a large part of all this is how you talk and how you dress. The way you talk shows your gang colors, or something like that.

Like I said above, I think the basic problem solving language is PlainTalk. I think that in these companies, or in colleges, or wherever- when the people are actually solving problems, internally- I think they use PlainTalk. I say this because I’ve seen it. Sure, they use their jargon. (I don’t know how many times I need to reiterate: PlainTalk isn’t about “no jargon.”) But if you listen, they’re talking very differently than how they talk when they address a big meeting, or write a paper, or whatever. When that happens, suddenly they obfuscate everything, even by their own standards. And part of the training for these kinds of meetings, is that you have to learn how to de-code what they said. And I think it’s basically a seperation mechanism. I don’t think it’s a conscious one, in most cases. Rather, I believe that the social organism has arranged itself this way. I don’t think it has a “consciousness” or an “awareness” of it’s own, but I do think you can start to treat it as it’s own person, it’s own entity, with it’s own corpus, and I think it leads towards a manipulation of language. People start to talk funny. That’s how you know you’re in hallowed grounds, talking about important things, yadda yadda yadda.

Now, what does PlainTalk mean about all this?

Well, I think PlainTalk is (one of) the social organism killer(s). Or rather, it kills a certain type of social organism, one that’s super-common right now. I think it’s connected with bottom-up organising.

What’s so special about PlainTalk? Well, it’s the natural language of problem solving, right? Clear thinking, Plain talk. I mean, if we can take that idea- that PlainTalk is a sort of “natural language of problem solving,” or that it’s the “basic thought of a HiveMind,” well- that makes it very different than other kinds of speech.

What would it mean if large numbers of people were speaking PlainTalk? That would mean that people are trying to actually solve problems together, wouldn’t it?

Now, you might think that everyone is trying to actually solve problems together, right?

But, this is not the case!

Think of Enron for a second. Is Enron trying to actually solve problems with the public? No; of course not. To do that would be suicide to it’s Social Organism, right? So is Enron going to speak PlainTalk? No, of course not; that would be suicide to it’s Social Organism.

See? This is how it happens- it doesn’t necessarily happen consciously. Nobody sets out saying, “Oh, I’m going to subvert the world, and they way I’ll do it first, is to change how people talk!” It doesn’t happen like that. What happens is that an organization starts to want to be unaccountable, it starts to want privacy and seperation. Does that happen by being intelligable? No, it doesn’t. So you cut off lines of communication, and you start encrypting the conversations you’re actually wanting to have. Over time, people start to think, “Oh, if you want to get ahead, if you want to be cool- you learn the encrypted language.” But somehow, people forget that they’re being fooled, and people actually start to believe that the encrypted speech is superior to their own. This is, I believe, a recipe for disaster. And I think it’s a recipe that’s already been copied over and over, in countless family cookbooks, and served over and over and over again, to the point that people have forgotten just how deadly it is to honor obscurity over clarity. Basically, I think that most people in the world think that they are stupid. And I think they think they are stupid, because they don’t recognize the value of their own thinking power- the very power they use every day to get to work, to raise children, to survive, etc., etc.,. But they think they are dumb, and they’re not. And I think part of the reason why is because they/we’ve taken this poison. People see the powerful people talking in fancy language. Part of this is necessary- necessary jargon and all. But a huge part, most of it, is completely unnecessary.

Okay, so where was I- oh, right: How mass PlainTalk changes things.

Mass PlainTalk sets a standard. If people speak PlainTalk in wiki, if people build great, powerful things in PlainTalk, then there will be pressure on Social Organisms to speak PlainTalk.

When Social Organisms (other than the HiveMind) rule TV, printing, books, newspapers, magazines, and when people are not able to easily communicate with one another and self-organise- When those are the conditions, then people are mentally powerless. They do not have the strength to be able to say, “Hey! Mr. Journalist! Why don’t you talk some sense?” Because the response is: “Oh, don’t worry about this. This is way beyond you. You could never understand it. It’s because you’re dumb, you see? We’ll turn it into baby talk for you, and you can understand it then.” And then people accept that. Because who are they? They’re all alone. They’ve got an enormous establishment in front of them. And the enormous establishment is made of powerful people who obviously must be brilliant, because you can’t understand a thing they say, right?

But now, let’s introduce Wikipedia, and the HiveMind, and PlainTalk. Now people have a new standard. They can say to the organization: “Look, you’re not talking sense. Everyone in the world is talking sense, but for some reason, you can’t talk sense. You told me that things were like X. Well, that’s hard to decode, but these folks over here made it perfectly clear for me. Why couldn’t you do the same? Are you all idiots? What’s wrong with your mouths?” Right? That’s the attitude from the empowered public to the news media, or to the government officials, or whatever- once they have confidence in their own thinking ability, their own speaking ability, their own organizing ability.

If everyone can understand, and then pressure organizations to talk in a way that makes sense, then that is very powerful. That turns the tide. Then those organizations that can talk PlainTalk, and operate transparently; they succeed. People support them enthusiasticly. And those that can’t, those that want to be secret, and stuff like that- those organizations will be in peril. (See the LargeOrganizationsDilemma for more on this line of thought.)

Supporting elements.

It’s like LuigiBertuzzi said, on WikiAsYouLearn: There’s something about meta-communication. The ability to talk about process and communication. If you are talking, that means (in a way that I don’t have good words for) that you’re working together to solve some sort of problem.

It’s like JurgenHabermas?. MurrayAltheim asks, “How can you think your ideas are similar to Habermas? You don’t read books, you don’t read philosophers, how could you think such a thing?” Well, because I read what people say about JurgenHabermas?. And from what I hear, I recognize the same basic patterns as appear in my thinking. He believe in progress. (check.) He said that he believes people can work things out. (check.) He thinks that since people communicate, it’s a sign that people are working to solve problems. (check.) On the face of it, this sounds like a very silly thing to say. “What, because people talk, it means that they’re working to solve problems?” Well, no, not in the sense of people making sounds at each other. But if you look at this kind of talking that I don’t have a good word for, but which clearly exists, then you can see that: Yes.

Hey! Here’s something interesting: No two countries that have McDonalds in them, ever go to war with each other. They just don’t. It’s never happened. If two countries have McDonalds in them at a particular time, then those two countries do not go to war. This fact (which I read in a book of Visual Language made to help people understand their government, and the issues of the day- I think it’s title is “Understand”) is used to demonstrate a general principle: When two countries economies are intertwined, they do not go to war with each other. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but it’s an interesting idea, if it’s true. (And I think it’s true.) (Thomas Friedman discovered and published this fact, and it was true for many years … I think there have been only 2 exceptions so far: when the U.S. bombed Serbia, and later when the U.S. bombed Belgrade, Yugoslavia.)

Let’s think about Iraq for a second. Did we trade with Iraq? No. In fact, there were very strong and severe blocks against trading with Iraq, right? So, if the interaction of economies has something to do with whether there are wars or not, well- that’s interesting. If you want to go to war with someone, you make sure you don’t trade with them. If you want peace with someone, you make sure that trade exists.

Could it be that trade is some sort of cybernetic communication system? (Wikipedia:Cybernetics)

Augh. It’s late. I need to go to sleep.

Before I go: I just saw an interesting page, about complicated ideas, but written in Plain Talk. It’s about Artificial Intelligence. There’s an interesting part where they talk about how complicated everyday thinking is. It also talks about Plain English. I strongly believe that PlainTalk is our “natural protocol.” I mean, that’s why it’s called Plain, right? Because it’s everywhere.

Okay. Sleepy time.

Interesting thoughts on why obfuscated language develops. I hope you are right that more and more people will solve more and more of the big, complicated problems. The sort of problems that previously, people didn’t do anything about, because the big words tricked them into thinking they weren’t smart enough to fix it.

DavidCary 2004-09-10 20:46 UTC

I have found a metaphor to explain the difference between “good jargon” and “bad jargon.”

It is: “encrypted” vs. “compressed.”

Encrypted jargon is jargon that is used to either:

  • impress (influence)
  • conceal (make a message visible only to a particular group, that knows how to decrypt the message)

Compressed jargon is jargon that holds a lot of concepts in a small space. It is born of functional necessity.

I believe that there’s a cycle that words go through, in a crowds that think about stuff.

It goes roughly like so:

  • 1. A group of people research a problem.
  • 2. As the group builds concepts that rely on other concepts, they build a compressed jargon. It is built out of necessity. One word compresses a bunch of other words down into one.
  • 3. With time, some members of the group note the ability to impress others with their language. Encryption begins.
  • And also, people who do not understand contribute to the jargon, by hitching a ride on it. They add words that have no real meaning, but yet still have the power to impress.
  • 4. Encrypted & Compressed mingle together, and become the standard for thinking in that problem space.

I believe that thinking in problem spaces is substantially harmed by encrypted communication. It’s just easier to solve a problem when it’s de-crypted. However, compression helps too.

The case for PlainTalk is the case against encryption, not compression.

There’s also the “tower of babel” effect (if I understand that this word goes with this idea correctly..,) where: People come up with different names for the same thing in different places, and they have to talk a lot before they figure out what terms to use in order to communicate. But that is something else, beyond the scope of talking about PlainTalk. That’s just a fact of cutting edge fringe research communities.


Maybe this is like Boudrillard’s loose process that “signs” (words, cultural icons, …) go through?

  • A word means something.
  • A word starts to lose it’s meaning.
  • A word starts to cover for the lack of something. (This is like people who don’t understand a lingo, but are pretending to, in order to give themselves confidence, gain points in arguments, or otherwise impress people.)
  • A word means nothing at all; It’s its own thing in it’s own world. (This is like attraction to styles of talking that we have no understanding of what was actually going on when people actually spoke like that. Consider mock-latin, stuff like that.) He called this “simulacra.” A simulacra is a word, sign, whatever, that goes off and lives in it’s own dimension, with no bearing whatsoever to reality.

I do sometimes wonder though: Perhaps information isn’t really lost? Perhaps there’s some magical thread that continues, even in the simulacra- the word that has divorced itself entirely from original meaning? I don’t know the answer.

I really ought to start separating out some of these concepts onto separate pages.

lives in it’s own dimension ? That is a little too abstract for me.

I’d like to point out Wiki:ScienceShouldBeEasy , which has the opposite point of view.

I think Wiki:TwoThingsCanBothBeTrue .

I believe that both

  • Some areas of study have a lot of detail, so it takes years of study to get a correct understanding of all the details. Explaining the next concept is vastly easier if we have convenient words (jargon) to refer to previous concepts.
  • There are always many ways to explain something. It’s unlikely that any particular explanation, even one used by teaching professionals, happens to be the best one. Often there’s a bunch of details that one doesn't really need to know to have a correct understanding. You can get the right answer without knowing any of the “shortcuts” that let you get that answer in a fraction of the time.

Wiki:ScienceShouldBeEasy would be a good refutation, were it actually the opposite point of view.

I am actually really frustrated about this.

Nobody seems to get it. I have not once said that PlainTalk means you can’t use jargon, you can’t use complex ideas.

Not once. Never.

I don’t understand why nobody else gets it.

I’ve devoted a ***** of energy to explaining this very simple concept. I will pull out my usual example: “We need to cache the data in the listener.” That’s plain talk for programmers.

Can I have some confirmation of understanding here?

Anybody? Does anybody get this simple concept? Anybody?

God damn smily face Lion head in the corner. Where’s my angry face when I need it?

David, I challenge you this way:

  • Go to a Particle Physicists conference.
  • After the conference, people will cluster into groups, and go out to dinner. Tag along with some group.
  • Listen to them talk Particle Physics over dinner.
  • Compare and contrast with the way they talk Particle Physics in their paper.
  • (It’s interesting to compare and contrast both of those two with the way they talk about Particle Physics when they are “on stage” as well- as speakers at the conference.)

What you will find is that they use simpler language, shorter sentences, plain jargon to their situation, while they are talking over dinner. They will explain around rough edges, and introduce new ideas with plain elegance.

When you look at their papers, you’ll find that they use very complex and wordy language, looong sentences, a different set of jargon, and frequently, horrendous explanation.

That is, when they must communicate over dinner, they will make use of PlainTalk. When they are writing their papers, they will do all these horrible things to it that they were trained to do.

The presence of jargon, in itself, does not mean it’s plain or not.

You have to look at the type of jargon they’re using. “Are they encrypting ideas, rather than just compressing them?”

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ( Albert Einstein )

Lion, lest you burst, yes, PlainTalk makes sense to me. Your physicists at dinner example is a very good one, too.

Ah, I think it’s finally starting to sink in. I found the compressed vs. encrypted contrast helpful, but maybe that’s just because I’ve been playing with data compression algorithms for a long time.

I already knew: When I find something easy to understand, then it is PlainTalk.

I’m starting to understand: When I find something difficult to understand – it may still be PlainTalk.

If I know very little about some topic, I may be unable tell the difference between highly compressed PlainTalk written from one expert in that topic to another expert, and a pile of encrypted PainfulTalk. At least in written form. It may be obviously plaintalk if I overhear those two experts chatting over dinner.

One reason they’re so similar is that some encrypted talk comes from people who are not experts, but they’re trying to sound like experts – to bluff us into thinking they are experts.

(Extremely compressed data is indistinguishable from random noise).

So, how can I rail against PainfulTalk when I can’t even be sure that’s really what it is when I see some ?

That’s a good question that deserves an answer. We’ll get to that.

I just realized, though, that I haven’t really stated why I care so strongly about PlainTalk, and why I’m talking about it.

One of the major reasons I am pushing PlainTalk here, is because I want to be able to argue the use of PlainTalk.

That is, I look at Wikipedia, and I see entries where they are using non-PlainTalk when they could just as well be using PlainTalk.

And there’s this thing of: “Wait, if we write in PlainTalk, then we’re not a real encyclopedia. So, we’re going to write the way the experts write: obfuscated and needlessly obscure.”

And so, I want to say: “Well, here’s PlainTalk, and here’s this theory of PlainTalk, and, I think if you look at it, I think you’ll change your mind.”

I want to see the Internet turn into the best educational system the world has ever seen. That’s a very realistic, realizable goal. That’s entirely possible. We just have to do it. And we will do it. It just takes time, explanation, stuff like that.

So, my purpose isn’t so much to rail against non-PlainTalk, though that’s certainly a part of aggitation.

My purpose is to make a solid justification for why we want to write in a new way, rather than repeating the old ways.

(Sort of like: I like to joke that, “at the very least,” at least WikiBooks doesn’t include page numbers. I feel like, in a lot of ways, we’re working at recreating the old world in the new world, because the old world is the only thing we really know. But we should make use of the liberties that the Internet and various technologies make available to us. VisualLanguage, PlainTalk, etc.,.)

A note, for placement.

strstr is for finding a string within another string.


 char *strstr(
   const char *string,
   const char *strSearch 

Which is looking for what in which?

UNIX man page:

 char *strstr(const char *haystack, const char *needle);

Ah, now i see.

I’m sure that the Microsoft camp has some good reasons for us about why it can’t be so simple.

An interesting idea sparked by a study of "Identity Signals" - in particular, notes on fashion, time, status.


If I use non-PlainTalk words, then I am signaling that I am in-the-know about some topic. If I use complicated words correcetly, that few else know, that shows that I have gained some costly information. Nobody else will know how use the words correctly, because it costs so much to learn that. By doing that, you, the recipient, can know that I’m someone you want to talk with.

In the world just described, PlainTalk is a problem. You don’t want to teach others how to speak your language, because it’ll reduce the chance that other experts can find you. This is the process described on SocialConstructionOfScience, just described in other words.

Do I believe it? Am I converted? Not for a second. I’ve seen smart people say dumb things, even though they are using fashionable poor language. The signal, to me, is an anti-signal: It means to me that “I’m following a fantasy conversation with a high cost of admittance.” Only a handful can invent new words, in that language. If that handful takes a dive over a cliff, everyone using their language goes with them. I would rather speak PlainTalk. That way, if I say something dumb, it’s easier to see it, both for me, and for the people around me.

But more important: I think the most important thing we can do is work for ourselves and the public: to make ideas as clear as possible, for as many people as possible. That includes ourselves.

I found yet another person trying to argue against plaintalk. I hope it’s OK to collect all such “reasons” here, so that we can utterly demolish each one. :-)

“… I think that there is a point to not making text (in almost any circumstance) as “basic” as possible, removing any expressions that are even slightly unusual. That harms more than it helps, allowing people’s vocabulary to decay, ultimately depriving people of the capability of being stringent without having to use two extra sentences to explain themselves (yeah, I exaggerate a bit). Trying to simplify texts everywhere will only make the readers feel truly alienated when they come across a text that hasn’t been simplified for them. Isn’t it better to leave these expressions around helping everyone to keep their vocabulary up? (Besides, if they’re here, it’s reasonable to assume that they want to learn something, right?).” --Probell

Well, my first impulse is that I guess s/he has a point there. It’s true that if everything were simplified it might be difficult to keep subtle nuances in the language. But I don’t think we’re in any danger of that now. Maybe once everything is simplified and complicated language is dying out, we can have where people will rewrite articles using big words so that the interested reader can keep up their vocabulary :) .

Some people are struggling with “How do I teach students not to make stuff more complicated than it needs to be?”: Wiki:TeachingSimpleVsComplexSolutions .

I see that people have strong, opposing views on communicating using comic strips. It reminds me of the plain talk controversy.

  • A: “This sort of thing is the best way to get something through to the public. What’s more likely to get people interested: pages of plain text or a comic strip?” B: “Dumbing down the level of intellectual discourse… is never a good thing.” [1]
  • C: “A Comic format to emphasize the point of the very important issue of radio regulation? No. If it took making the article into a cartoon format to get through to someone, that particular person most likely did not care enough about the issue in the first place, and if they do now, they’ve already shown themselves to be less than active in the area. Chances are they’ll remain so. No, a properly written article on the benefits and draw backs of licensing the airwaves would have been better” [2]

These people seem so confident when they claim “No, no, no”. Is there some way to objectively compare different communication techniques that I missed?

Well, argument C isn’t really claiming that the comic strip is not an effective communication technique - only that it’s not needed at this point. I think it depends who you’re talking to. If you want large segments of today’s public, a comic strip (or a flash animation, or a video clip) may be a better choice than something written. It wouldn’t be worth it to make a comic for publishing results in bleeding edge quantum mechanics research (though the use of visual language may help - maybe someday we’ll have something “kinda like comics” for quantum mechanics researchers … when it’ll be much easier to make).

I believe that it is important to have people informed about important issues in radio regulation (because of the way democracy works), but it’s not particularly important to have people informed about bleeding edge quantum mechanics research (unless you’re a quantum mechanician that wants funding - but it’s not important to society).

I think most people would admit comics are more effective, but they are also more expensive to create. Right now, they also have an advantage that there aren’t a lot of comics for information and not entertainment - so this gives them an artificial advantage over text: the few that are there do attract more attention.

Ah, good news. I’ve spotted a Wikipedian who seems to support PlainTalk:

“The problem is about half of all typographers and type designers are too close to the trees to see the forest. They perpetuate archaic anachronistic practices … the Latin thing carries snooty, pompous, authoritarian implications that put lay readers off. … All I’m asking for is the text in Wikipedia to be humanized by making it realistic and relevant to lay readers.” -- Arbo

Alas, some misguided Wikipedians appear to actively fight against PlainTalk.



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