Experiment: Attempting to coin some new words.
I have two new favorite adjectives:
Stuplex – made intentionally complex so that it becomes stupid – stupidly complex
Simpid – simplified to the point of being stupid or insipid
Stuplex writing has too many clauses, citations embedded within sentences, or a mash up of too many buzzwords. I’ve always been annoyed with TLAs (three letter acronyms), especially when no one can seem to remember what the letters stand for. We add a level of complexity to something and make it stuplex. I find it to be a power play when leadership will use acronyms and proprietary languages, especially in front of new staff. It sends a very clear message about who has knowledge, and therefore power, and who doesn’t. Kathy Ferguson (1984) makes fun of “org speak” and quotes a article whose conclusion was that “low-discrepancy respondents might profit from a more impactful design”. If that’s not stuplex, I don’t have any other nice word for it.
Simpid writing shows up a lot on pop science blogs and too often on education websites. Life is complicated and sometimes watering research down for a general audience completely loses the meaning. Any article with a headline like “Scientists have figured out the one thing you need for . . .” is probably simpid. My favorite simpid education research is everything about learning styles. It’s probably true that people have a preference for visual learning, auditory learning, or kinesthetic learning but using three over-simplified categories to describe everything, to make plans, or to categorize people is simpid.
The problem is that both stuplex and simpid writing are acceptable and in demand. I feel like my own writing often wanders to the side of stuplex, but difficult concepts are sometimes hard to capture in words. In the translation of big ideas into language, it always feels like something gets lost. So, do I add more words? Increase the complexity of the sentence? Or give up on some of the conceptual beauty? Maybe it is incredibly important for mass audiences to understand metacognition, but few people would read about it with the title “Read Here to find out about Metacognition”. It is much more appealing to click on a quiz to find out your learning style. The questions are probably teaching some metacognition!
So, what do we do? Reject stuplex and simpid words? Call it out? I’m not sure. I think the “org speak”, buzzwords, and three letter acronyms are out of control. It is probably always worth questioning stuplex ideas and asking people to explain what they mean when they use one word over and over when they don’t seem to fully grasp the meaning. The dangerous part is when truly important topics are reduced down to simpid discussion. “I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it” or “We all agree that . . .” usually signal the beginning of a dangerously simpid presentation. This style of presentation makes it impossible to question the word usage without either personally attacking the person speaking or being willing to look like a fool for not understanding something that “everyone knows”. So, it looks like everyone knows because no one speaks up! The truth is probably that the issue is boiled down so far that it becomes simpid.
Well, I hope everyone knows something stuplex or simpid. Let’s bring some new words into the language!
Ferguson, K. E. (1984). The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy: Temple University Press.