In particular I'm thinking of computer programming jargon used in unrelated contexts ("My algorithm for choosing a restaurant to eat at...") just because all parties to the conversation happen to be computer programmers. I wonder, if there were a group discussing the same topics as on LessWrong, but composed predominantly of lawyers (or economists, doctors, etc.), would they also reflexively import their profession's jargon? How can we communicate in a way that doesn't unnecessarily confuse people of a different profession?

(To be sure, there's some stuff talked about here that is actually about computers, but there's also a lot that isn't.)

See also Style Guide: Not Sounding Like An Evil Robot. ("Humans" instead of "people" is the one I notice most.)

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Nate Showell

Jul 13, 2023


People here use "distill" to mean "convert a dense technical document into a more easily readable form" despite it looking like it should have the opposite meaning.


Jul 12, 2023


I've noticed people using formal logic/mathematical notation unnecessarily to make their arguments seem more "formal": ∀x∈X(∃y∈Y|Q(x,y)), f:S→T, etc. Eliezer Yudkowsky even does this at some points in the original sequences. These symbols were pretty intimidating to me before I learned what they mean, and I imagine they would be confusing/intimidating to anyone without a mathematical background.

Though I'm a bit conflicted on this one because if the formal logic notation of a statement is shown alongside the English description, it could actually help people learn logic notation who wouldn't have otherwise. But it shouldn't be used as a replacement for the English description, especially for simple statements that can easily be expressed in natural language. It often feels like people are trying to signal intellectualism at the expense of accessibility.

This is a pet peeve of mine. I remember 20 years ago, a wee boyston getting into the semimathy parts of programming and seeing all the dense notation and thinking "this must speak to the inherent complexity of the problem and must be the most natural representation!"


I've become progressively more annoyed by it. I was reading a paper a week ago that enjoyed its notation a little too much- it took a while for me to realize what a particular equation was supposed to represent, despite the fact that I had implemented exactly what it represented from scratch... (read more)

See also: Physics Envy.


Jul 12, 2023


As a lawyer, I think that would be less the case because our jargon does not reflect reality per se but the consequences of the actions we make and the constructs we created as a society. But maybe I actually fail to see my friends and I doing it because people I mostly see are working in law.