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Thread: Why do scientists use words they don't need to use?

  1. #31
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    Simple Answer

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    There is no simple answer to this. I could point you at a linguistic PhD thesis on the factors that affect the choice of coordinated pronouns, if you are interested.



    OK.There is a simple answer. But it is wrong.
    Is you sure ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    Is it "me and my colleagues" or is it "my colleagues and I" ?
    Seems to me that the "me" version is correct for an object, and the "I" version for a subject.

    "My colleagues and I told the boss that he was a jerk. So, he fired me and my colleagues."

    Whether to mention the one before the many or vice versa, I have no idea. More of a humility issue than a grammatical one, I'd guess.

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    There’s something that occurred to me, and I might be wrong, but I would tend to say “my colleagues and I had an argument,” but “me and my colleagues argued with the boss.” And I would never say “me and Susie went to the park.” So it seems selective. I wonder if it has to do with showing whether the subject is inclusive or exclusive, in other words if we were doing something together or towards one another.


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    Here is the rule I use:

    Think about the singular case.
    • When you would use "I" for yourself, use "Charlie and I" for the two of you.
    • When you would use "me" for yourself, use "Charlie and me" for the two of you
    • Whether to list yourself or the others first depends on etiquette, politeness, hierarchy, etc.


    Thus "Can I go out to play" matches to "Can Charlie and I go out to play," and "That belongs to me" matches to "That belongs to Charlie and me."

    ETA: Jens , you should say "my colleagues and I argued with the boss."

    Fred
    Hey, you! "It's" with an apostrophe means "it is" or "it has." "Its" without an apostrophe means "belongs to it."

    "For shame, gentlemen, pack your evidence a little better against another time."
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    "No," explained the nurse. "There's a difference between 'stop' and 'discontinue'. If I stop the infusion, I just turn it off - I couldn't send you back to the ward like that. If I discontinue it, I disconnect it completely."
    He managed a grudging harrumph, but then said, "Well. But my point remains."
    "Shouldn't that be 'stays'?" asked the nurse, brightly, before I could even open my mouth.
    She's not being paid enough!

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    Here's my two cents about jargon-- conciseness and clarity above all, but sometimes those two are in opposition because there are reasons to use more obscure or verbose language. Every subfield uses jargon to identify themselves with that subfield so others will take them more seriously, and also because (sometimes) the jargon contains specific implications not present in "plain language." The second reason is scientifically valid, though the first is more questionable because in principle, it is not one's "crew" that matters, it is only one's scientific argument. Nevertheless, in the real world, people have to make choices about who they will listen to, and it helps to be able to "talk the talk" when trying to convince someone they should give you the chance to "walk the walk."

    That said, there is definitely a pitfall in overuse of multisyllabic and jargony words, that can obscure a point being made even when read by other experts. As such, we all must make a conscious effort to simplify our language, as a kind of language-related version of Occam's Razor. Einstein said that scientific theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, so this extends easily to the language used in science-- it should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. I routinely include a final step of going through what I write and look for situations where five words can be replaced by two, or a short word can stand in for a longer one, because this will often improve clarity. But going too far down the road of "plain language" would eventually start introducing ambiguity, so that's where you stop the process.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Here's my two cents about jargon-- conciseness and clarity above all, but sometimes those two are in opposition because there are reasons to use more obscure or verbose language. Every subfield uses jargon to identify themselves with that subfield so others will take them more seriously, and also because (sometimes) the jargon contains specific implications not present in "plain language." The second reason is scientifically valid, though the first is more questionable because in principle, it is not one's "crew" that matters, it is only one's scientific argument. Nevertheless, in the real world, people have to make choices about who they will listen to, and it helps to be able to "talk the talk" when trying to convince someone they should give you the chance to "walk the walk."

    That said, there is definitely a pitfall in overuse of multisyllabic and jargony words, that can obscure a point being made even when read by other experts. As such, we all must make a conscious effort to simplify our language, as a kind of language-related version of Occam's Razor. Einstein said that scientific theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, so this extends easily to the language used in science-- it should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. I routinely include a final step of going through what I write and look for situations where five words can be replaced by two, or a short word can stand in for a longer one, because this will often improve clarity. But going too far down the road of "plain language" would eventually start introducing ambiguity, so that's where you stop the process.
    I agree. I remember having an argument with quite possibly a basement dwelling teen some years ago on Slashdot.

    He/she/it was complaining about another posters use of the word "capacious" suggesting it was pompous and could easily be replaced by the word "big".

    I tried to point out that while big would work, it didn't explain how it was big. Capacious on the other hand told the reader that the item had a large capacity, as might voluminous. If the item had been big and solid then massive would be in order.

    I don't remember their response to that argument now, but it got upvoted a few times.
    Last edited by headrush; 2019-Nov-15 at 05:37 AM. Reason: Changed some terms.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Oooooh, yes please.

    Grant Hutchison
    Sorry, didn't get back to this thread before: https://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/Grano.finalthesis.pdf

    I like it because it highlights the difference between the "natural" language we acquire (for example, "me and John did something" in my case) and the "prestige" language we are taught ("John and I did something"). When there is a conflict between the two, some people will insist that the prestige form is "correct" ad the "natural" or dialectical form is "wrong".

    This is related: https://arnoldzwicky.org/2019/11/12/comedic-nomconjobj/
    The new paradigm for case-marking of pronouns, including the nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj) in to Kim and I — now judged to be the correct form by a large population of young, educated American speakers, as against the judgments of older speakers, who use instead accusative conjoined objects (AccConjObj), as in to Kim and me.
    Last edited by Strange; 2019-Nov-15 at 11:57 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    "No," explained the nurse. "There's a difference between 'stop' and 'discontinue'. If I stop the infusion, I just turn it off - I couldn't send you back to the ward like that. If I discontinue it, I disconnect it completely."
    This is similar to the difference between cease (stop doing that) and desist (and don't do it any more in future). Lawyers, of course, are another group with extensive jargon incomprehensible to outsiders (not always with good reason, beyond tradition).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    This is similar to the difference between cease (stop doing that) and desist (and don't do it any more in future). Lawyers, of course, are another group with extensive jargon incomprehensible to outsiders (not always with good reason, beyond tradition).
    One law term I've heard is breaking and entering. Apparently they both mean the same thing. Break comes from old English and enter comes from the French. When the Normans invaded they used both terms to make sure the law was understood.
    Consequently you don't actually have to break anything while illegally going into a property to be guilty of the crime, as break means to cross the threshold.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Sorry, didn't get back to this thread before: https://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/Grano.finalthesis.pdf
    Thanks. That's going to be an interesting read.
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I like it because it highlights the difference between the "natural" language we acquire (for example, "me and John did something" in my case) and the "prestige" language we are taught ("John and I did something"). When there is a conflict between the two, some people will insist that the prestige form is "correct" ad the "natural" or dialectical form is "wrong".
    I think this idea that there is a "prestige" version of the language, combined with the insistence of some that it is the only "correct" version, is what produces the reactive view that some people "use words they don't need to" or are "trying to sound well-educated and smart". And the reaction to that is that some other people will deliberately avoid certain vocabulary for fear of being thought (gasp) pretentious. It's a minefield out there.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by headrush View Post
    One law term I've heard is breaking and entering. Apparently they both mean the same thing. Break comes from old English and enter comes from the French. When the Normans invaded they used both terms to make sure the law was understood.
    Consequently you don't actually have to break anything while illegally going into a property to be guilty of the crime, as break means to cross the threshold.
    Interesting, and very plausible (given the existence of so many legal doublets and triplets that say essentially the same thing with different etymologies), but I can't at present find a reference for "break" ever being synonymous with "enter". The OED defines "break" in this context as "to enter [an enclosed space] by breaking part of its circuit". Hence the crime of "theft by housebreaking" in Scots law, which is the equivalent of English burglary.
    Similarly, the legal usage of "breaking and entering" seems to involve the use of force in order to enter, even when that force is as slight as pushing open a door left ajar - so the business of "breaking part of its circuit" is being invoked again, I think.

    ETA: By the way, there's a nice straight-faced joke in my link, which provides a list of conventional legal doublets:
    Many modern legal scholars and writers advise that these doublets should be eliminated altogether, as they are unnecessarily superfluous and/or redundant.
    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Nov-15 at 04:39 PM. Reason: link

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Thanks. That's going to be an interesting read.
    I think this idea that there is a "prestige" version of the language, combined with the insistence of some that it is the only "correct" version, is what produces the reactive view that some people "use words they don't need to" or are "trying to sound well-educated and smart". And the reaction to that is that some other people will deliberately avoid certain vocabulary for fear of being thought (gasp) pretentious. It's a minefield out there.

    Grant Hutchison
    I suppose the prestige version of the language is probably the one that is defined to be "correct" by a particular (elite, for want of a better word) subset of the population. In reality, it seems there is a continuum of dialects with some more suited to formal ("prestigious") uses and some in less formal situations (between friends and family, storytelling, etc).

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    like "stochastic" instead of "random", or "unity" instead of "one"?
    I'm quite late to this thread, but I've enjoyed reading it. There have been some thoughtful answers and discussions. But I noticed parallaxicality has not chimed in again, so I don't know if the answers have sufficed. I'd ask them, who is the audience, and are the scientists speaking or writing? Whether or not the words they use are necessary depends on the context in which they are used.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Interesting, and very plausible (given the existence of so many legal doublets and triplets that say essentially the same thing with different etymologies),...
    Nice list. There seems to be value in their redundancy (hyperbole?) given the impact they are intended to have.

    Similarly, the legal usage of "breaking and entering" seems to involve the use of force in order to enter, even when that force is as slight as pushing open a door left ajar - so the business of "breaking part of its circuit" is being invoked again, I think.
    Yes, that's how I see it as well. Both "breaking" and "entering" are needed since simply entering a facility (e.g. store) is hardly illegal, and one can break windows without entering. I served on a jury where the burglar -- convicted after an excessive amount of deliberation -- both "broke" through the window and "entered" into a home in order to steal jewelry. I don't recall whether or not he broke the glass, but he did break that critical barrier separating him and the private zone called home.

    [An extraordinary amount of time was taken to determine guilt because of one juror's strong reluctance to accept the objective evidence against him. When declared guilty, the judge told us he had two prior felonies, but they were counted only as one, thus we had to recommend a jail sentence. This juror was visibly upset and finally explained that the earlier reluctance was due to his innocent-looking face, but now this juror saw him as being deceptive and the juror wanted maximum sentence given him. Ug.]
    Last edited by George; 2019-Nov-15 at 05:19 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pumpkinpie View Post
    I'm quite late to this thread, but I've enjoyed reading it. There have been some thoughtful answers and discussions. But I noticed parallaxicality has not chimed in again, so I don't know if the answers have sufficed. I'd ask them, who is the audience, and are the scientists speaking or writing? Whether or not the words they use are necessary depends on the context in which they are used.
    I don't respond unless I have something to say, and I am not qualified to contribute anything meaningful at present. Personally, I've never been a fan of aristocratic language. And I don't think English is either. Whenever an aristocratic alternative to a pre-existing English word appears, English tends to grant it a separate shade of meaning: "hearty" vs "cordial"; "dread" vs "terror"; "welcome" vs "reception"; "face" vs "visage." The problem that I have with at least the two words I mentioned is that I don't see any separate shades of meaning.
    "Occam" is the name of the alien race that will enslave us all eventually. And they've got razors for hands. I don't know if that's true but it seems like the simplest answer."

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    If y'all decide you need someone to present grammatical errors, I should have time to do a few more posts. And, btw, don't discount the importance humor can play in discourse. It's troubling that comedy is far more restrained today.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    Personally, I've never been a fan of aristocratic language. And I don't think English is either.
    What is "aristocratic language"? Apart from swearing more than most people I know, the aristocrats I've met seem to use pretty much the same vocabulary as the rest of us.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Interesting, and very plausible (given the existence of so many legal doublets and triplets that say essentially the same thing with different etymologies)
    I wonder if explanations such as cease and desist having distinct meanings are post-hoc justifications, rather then the original reason for the doublet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    What is "aristocratic language"? Apart from swearing more than most people I know, the aristocrats I've met seem to use pretty much the same vocabulary as the rest of us.

    Grant Hutchison
    "Aristocrat" literally means "better rulers", and there are a number of quirks of language that defer to our social betters (Japanese, as I understand it, is loaded with them); English used to have it too, like the "thou"/"you" distinction, but ditched them hundreds of years ago.
    "Occam" is the name of the alien race that will enslave us all eventually. And they've got razors for hands. I don't know if that's true but it seems like the simplest answer."

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    "Aristocrat" literally means "better rulers", and there are a number of quirks of language that defer to our social betters (Japanese, as I understand it, is loaded with them); English used to have it too, like the "thou"/"you" distinction, but ditched them hundreds of years ago.
    Yes indeed - I haven't heard it called "aristocratic language", though. Do you see that as having relevance to word choices like "stochastic" and "unity"?

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I suppose the prestige version of the language is probably the one that is defined to be "correct" by a particular (elite, for want of a better word) subset of the population. In reality, it seems there is a continuum of dialects with some more suited to formal ("prestigious") uses and some in less formal situations (between friends and family, storytelling, etc).
    And we all register-shift unconsciously in different social settings. My wife can tell immediately when I'm talking on the phone to my brother, for instance, because we have a particular "family vernacular" register.
    Conscious register shifting is a hugely powerful tool in medicine, to which many of my colleagues seemed oblivious, unfortunately. But if you encounter people who make social and character judgements on the basis of word choice and accent (sadly, they're not yet extinct), then hitting the right register can make the difference between trust and mistrust - which affects anxiety, which affects all those neurological pathways associated with the placebo effect, which affects outcome after surgery, for instance.

    I'm endlessly fascinated by the way people respond to word choices. I've just been looking for an anonymous multisource feedback report I received when I was a trainee, but I can't seem to find it, so I have to paraphrase from memory. Some time in the mid-1980s, one of my bosses suggested that I'd get on better if I suppressed my "occasionally pretentious vocabulary", while another cautioned me about my "coarse and sometimes rough-and-ready" style of speech. I was pretty much instantly able to guess who said what, and with a little bit of deliberate register shifting I sorted out that "problem". It was a good lesson, and good practice for later life, when I could use register-shifting as a force for good, rather than just to escape a bit of hassle.
    Some day I suppose we may get past George Bernard Shaw's observation that, "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him," (which I think has general application outside England). But not yet awhile.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    "Aristocrat" literally means "better rulers", and there are a number of quirks of language that defer to our social betters (Japanese, as I understand it, is loaded with them); English used to have it too, like the "thou"/"you" distinction, but ditched them hundreds of years ago.
    More usually called honorifics (keigo in Japanese).

    As far as I know, all languages have these distinctions (including English. Compare, for example, "Hey, mate" with "Excuse me, sir")

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    Quote Originally Posted by headrush View Post
    I agree. I remember having an argument with quite possibly a basement dwelling teen some years ago on Slashdot.

    He/she/it was complaining about another posters use of the word "capacious" suggesting it was pompous and could easily be replaced by the word "big".

    I tried to point out that while big would work, it didn't explain how it was big. Capacious on the other hand told the reader that the item had a large capacity, as might voluminous. If the item had been big and solid then massive would be in order.
    I'd say it comes down to honestly analyzing why we are choosing those particular words. If we can be certain the choice is made because we desire the specific connotations of that particular word, then we are increasing clarity, and that is especially important in professional contexts. But if we have to admit we are choosing those words to put on a kind of show, possibly even sleight of hand designed to obscure the fact that we ourselves aren't quite sure what we are trying to say, then it's time to revert to more plain language and suffer the consequences of being understood.

    It brings to mind a badly awkward moment I once endured. Many years ago I was at the apartment of a woman I had recently met and had some romantic interest in (spoiler alert: nothing juicy in this tale). I knew she was a psychology graduate student, and on a table I saw a copy of a professional paper I assumed she had been given as some assigned reading. I glanced briefly at the abstract and a few of the words we are talking about jumped out at me, such as "utilized" and "modality", and my face twisted up in disapproval, like we were about to share a brief conversation on what a pain it was to have to read articles that used such unnecessarily pretentious versions of simple words. But then I noticed her expression, checked the author's name, and sure enough it was her! Needless to say, that one never got off the ground. So I discovered something worse than pretentious language-- a pretentious reaction to pretentious language! (A similar moral as Grant's story.)
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Nov-16 at 02:35 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Conscious register shifting is a hugely powerful tool in medicine, to which many of my colleagues seemed oblivious, unfortunately. But if you encounter people who make social and character judgements on the basis of word choice and accent (sadly, they're not yet extinct), then hitting the right register can make the difference between trust and mistrust - which affects anxiety, which affects all those neurological pathways associated with the placebo effect, which affects outcome after surgery, for instance.
    As you say, it is indeed a minefield, because even conscious register-shifting can get us in trouble. If we are talking to an old person who is hard of hearing, it is natural to speak extra loudly and clearly, and maybe even a little slower. But when we encounter someone doing that to a blind person, we can easily predict the resulting irritation! That would be a blatant example of poorly chosen register-shifting, but the same thing happens in subtler ways-- there would seem to be value in changing to a more 'rough and ready' register when speaking to the janitor in the hospital rather than to a doctor there, but what if the janitor detects that conscious choice-- would they not feel somewhat insulted? Many people have a sensitive detector of condescension, and trying too hard not to be condescending is already a form of condescension! I remember once playing against someone a sport that I had been doing for many years and become expert at, whereas they were playing for the second or third time in their life. After I won I told them that it had been a good competition given what a big advantage in experience I had, but instead of responding to my intent as encouragement that they might have a high aptitude for that sport, they accused me of being condescending. There's little space between the mines, I think we ultimately have to be forgiving and assume best intentions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    That would be a blatant example of poorly chosen register-shifting, but the same thing happens in subtler ways-- there would seem to be value in changing to a more 'rough and ready' register when speaking to the janitor in the hospital rather than to a doctor there, but what if the janitor detects that conscious choice-- would they not feel somewhat insulted?
    More than somewhat!
    The problem many of my colleagues had was that they didn't seem to have a register between "lofty technical discussion" and "condescending sing-song". The fact that the local accent was difficult for non-natives to follow didn't help. A lot of people, if made anxious by that sort of situation, respond by either drifting towards a "posh" RP version of their own accent, speaking slowly, or trying to imitate the accent of their collocutor. None of these, needless to say, is a good response.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on how much information is communicated to patients in ways other than what would be revealed in a transcript of the conversation. 10%? 50%? 90%? Whatever is the answer, I'll bet it's a lot higher than we might expect, as we tend to ignore it altogether. All our education (in any professional field) is focused on the facts, the logic, what can be conveyed in words like on this forum. Yet we all know that flame wars can break out on the internet simply for the lack of the usual extra information that a personal conversation would convey. On the other hand, those very advantages of a personal conversation can have unintended consequences when subconscious communication channels start to dominate the transfer of information, and we are not always well versed in managing those subconscious channels. Such nonverbals could be used intentionally to lessen the communication load (how often have we seen depicted a doctor coming out of surgery with a grave expression on their face and telling the family "I'm sorry, we did all we could" and the family breaks out crying and that's the end of it) but I assume no real doctor would ever regard that as a satisfactory degree of communication! The common idea of a "bedside manner" isn't really enough to cover what we're talking about now, it extends to every way that communication and interaction occur when the stakes are high. And to get the full advantage of the placebo elements, I presume it is important for the patient to "like their doctor." Unless the doctor is like the TV show "House", and they can try to make their patient hate them so that they can rub it in their face when they cure them of some rare undiagnosable ailment!

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    The main non-verbal we want to communicate is trustworthiness, because that feeds into the whole placebo mechanism. Back in the day, I used to give a lecture to medical colleagues entitled (very much tongue-in-cheek), "If you can fake trustworthiness, you can fake anything". It was about the various tics and tells that doctors develop when they're feeling anxious or out of their depths, how readily patients pick up on that, and the importance (for doctor and patient) of uttering the phrase, "I don't know the answer to that," if you don't know the answer. Basically, you can't gain someone's confidence until you stop trying to impress them.
    Otherwise, we very much try not to rely on non-verbals or euphemisms. Doctors are nowadays about the only people I know who are prepared to utter the word "dead", rather than the ghastly circumlocutions popular on TV shows ("slipped away", "passed on", etc). There's a whole other lecture on Breaking Bad News, but one of the basic messages when telling relatives that a loved one has died is that at some point you need to use the word "died", and then the word "dead". (I could tell you a horror story about a doctor who told some parents that their son had "gone", and they thought he'd been discharged from hospital.)

    ETA:
    So, just to feed back into the OP, there's an example of "scientists" (OK, medical doctors) using words that they really need to use, while others indulge in circumlocutions like "RIP" and "passed".

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Nov-18 at 08:44 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    The main non-verbal we want to communicate is trustworthiness, because that feeds into the whole placebo mechanism. Back in the day, I used to give a lecture to medical colleagues entitled (very much tongue-in-cheek), "If you can fake trustworthiness, you can fake anything". It was about the various tics and tells that doctors develop when they're feeling anxious or out of their depths, how readily patients pick up on that, and the importance (for doctor and patient) of uttering the phrase, "I don't know the answer to that," if you don't know the answer. Basically, you can't gain someone's confidence until you stop trying to impress them.
    It's amazing how much of what you are saying here also holds for educators. Trustworthiness is important in a different way in that sphere, as we are not dealing with potential life and death issues, but if you imagine a highly stressed student for whom getting a good grade feels almost like a life-or-death issue, then if they feel they can trust their instructor to grade them fairly, and to give them a reasonably clear path to receiving the grade they want, their anxiety level will improve and they will be able to learn better. It's a more obvious version of the placebo effect, where a student who believes they can succeed is more likely to do what they need to do in order to succeed.

    On the other hand, in education, there is also the danger of going so far down the path of reducing student anxiety and giving them a clear path to success until one is only creating the illusion of education. If educators choose to teach only what the student can succeed at, in terms that make it easy for them to succeed, the student may lose all genuine understanding of the material. That can look like "I tell you X, then I ask you about X, and you tell me back what I said, and you get an A and believe you learned something, and never actually realize that you have learned no more than would a parrot." I guess the equivalent of that for a doctor would be to establish a good rapport by sugar-coating the situation, at the expense of a realistic assessment. The difference is that for the patient, the trust will eventually be betrayed when harsh reality sets in, whereas the educator can always choose to avoid asking questions that probe what the students actually do understand. I tend to err the other way, to try so hard to be sure to expose what the student still does not understand that students end up thinking they learned nothing when in fact they learned a lot, instead of thinking they learned a lot when in fact they learned nothing (which I think happens all too often).
    Otherwise, we very much try not to rely on non-verbals or euphemisms. Doctors are nowadays about the only people I know who are prepared to utter the word "dead", rather than the ghastly circumlocutions popular on TV shows ("slipped away", "passed on", etc). There's a whole other lecture on Breaking Bad News, but one of the basic messages when telling relatives that a loved one has died is that at some point you need to use the word "died", and then the word "dead". (I could tell you a horror story about a doctor who told some parents that their son had "gone", and they thought he'd been discharged from hospital.)
    Yikes, it doesn't get worse than that! And yes, I always thought that TV shows where the doctor or police officer try to break the bad news slowly or in an ambiguous way so that the person hearing it can understand the full depths of the tragedy by degrees were making a big mistake. People always react with denial, so if you give them any life preserver to hang onto they will cling like blazes and will come away with false hope even when you didn't think you gave them any. It seems harsh to use words that will impact like a club, and better to use vague words that seem less painful to hear, but the only reason it would be less painful is if they weren't understanding what you are saying!
    Last edited by Ken G; 2019-Nov-18 at 09:48 PM.

  30. #60
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    In the case of a sudden death there needs to be a bit of preamble, just a little about how ill the person was and the sequence of events leading up to death, so that we don't go straight from a mental image of the healthy living person to the word "dead", which is such an abrupt disjunction that it feels like a mistake has been made, that it must be someone else that has died. But a long preamble simple traps the relatives in a horrible state of dread, knowing where this all must be going but not able to get out the end of it until the word is spoken.

    I'm conscious, though, that we've moved well away from the OP's concerns.

    Grant Hutchison

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