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An Argument Against Jargon

Lately I’ve been savoring Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Kahneman is one of the originators of behavioral economics and a Nobel prize winner. The book is tremendously thought provoking, insanely well written, jargon-minimizing, and just comes together beautifully. It’s a book where you struggle with the ideas and their implications, rather than struggle through the prose to get to the ideas.

One of the little things that made me squee with delight was where he said:

Why call them System 1 and System 2 rather than the more descriptive “automatic system” and “effortful system”? The reason is simple: “Automatic system” takes longer to say than “System 1” and therefore takes more space in your working memory. This matters, because anything that occupies your working memory reduces your ability to think.

I am totally dropping that on the next person who uses “novel” where they mean “new”. (And yes, you can make the argument that novel means “not really new but not publishied in some peer-reviewed place, and you can take that argument, fold it until it’s all nice and sharp, and then store it as appropriate.)

7 comments on "An Argument Against Jargon"

  • Other Chris says:

    Maybe I’ll have to read the book to get the answer, but it seems to me that hearing the non-descriptive and similar sounding “System 1” and “System 2” designations would cause a mental lookup requiring more time and space.

    “Gee, System 1 … was that the automatic system, or the manual one?”

    • Adam says:

      They eventually feed into system 1, making lookup automatic. 🙂

    • Ellie K says:

      Daniel Kahneman (and Tversky too) is the only behavioral economist that I could ever understand. His work stays relevant decade after decade. I really want to read his new book!

      Other Chris has a good point. Yes, it is easier to set things out in the style of a proof, or an algorithm: System 1 is blah, System 2 is blahblah. When reading prose, that gets monotonous though. A synonym here and there breaks up the tedium. (I do agree about “novel”… it is seeing much more use than necessary lately!) And also, as you said, short sentences and basic words are best.

  • deKitesurf says:


  • Ellie K says:

    Adam: In the spirit of the internet, I am obliged to mention that you spelled Daniel Kahneman’s last name in two different ways in the same sentence. That sentence was the very first one, so it rather jumped out at me. Also, the second sentence should cite “Nobel”, not “nobel” prize.

    These are minor matters. They did not interfere with my enjoyment while reading your post, okay? 🙂

    • Adam says:

      Corrected! “Thanks!” 🙂

    • Adam says:

      Although if you really want to be picky, it’s The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, not the Nobel Prize.

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