PRIMUS DOCTOR: Most learned bachelor whom I esteem and honor, I would like to ask you the cause and reason why opium makes one sleep.
BACHELIERUS: ….The reason is that in opium resides a dormitive virtue, of which it is the nature to stupefy the senses.
—from Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire (1673)
A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things.
The veil of ignorance can be weaved of many threads, but the one spun with the jangly jargon of a privileged profession produces a diaphanous fabric of alluring luster and bewitching beauty. Such jargon not only impresses outsiders but comforts them with what Brian Eno called the last illusion: the belief that someone out there knows what is going on. Too often, it is a two-way illusion. Like Molière’s medical student, we psychologists fail to grasp that our (invariably Latinate) technical terms typically do not actually explain anything. There is nothing wrong with technical terms, per se; indeed, it would be hard for professionals to function without them. However, with them, it is easy to fall into logical traps and never notice. For example, saying that a child does not read well because she has dyslexia is not an explanation. It is almost a tautology, unless the time is taken to specify which precursors to reading are absent, and thus, make dyslexia an informative label.
An additional and not insubstantial benefit of using ordinary language is that you are more likely to be understood. This is not to say that your communication should be dumbed down to the point that the point is lost. Rather, as allegedly advised by Albert Einstein, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
This post is an excerpt from:
Schneider, W. J. (2013). Principles of assessment of aptitude and achievement. In D. Saklofske, C. Reynolds, & V. Schwean (Eds.), Oxford handbook of psychological assessment of children and adolescents (pp. 286–330). New York: Oxford.