Writing Style: Logic vs Phraseme

By Xah Lee. Date:

Here's a issue about writing style. Today, while working my blog, i wrote: “Among the hacks above, i can't say which one is superior.”. Here's alternatives i thought of:

All these are easy to understand and they get the idea across, but the writing style fails to be a logic-based styled i've sometimes been striving for, because they are all ambiguous, and in fact these expression's literal interpretations are not what they meant. They are, technically speaking, semi-idioms (See: [ Phraseme ] [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phraseme ]).

The “I can't decide” is wrong because actually i can decide and have decided. The “can't decide” is simply ambiguous, because it could mean “incapable of decision” or “unwilling to decide”. Similar problems with all the other alternatives.

Here's the best description of what i had in mind:

In my judgement of these hack's quality, they are about equally bad.

Though, note that when you use a logic-styled writing such as this, it may make the sentence simpler in structure and more precise in meaning, but it has side effects. Namely, the sentence, paradoxically, is now harder to understand, because now it's longer, using more concepts, and the style is artificial, abnormal, so to speak!

I think this is a example that touches a deep issue about language and logic. For example, when mathematics is written in symbolic logic, although the meaning becomes precise to a perfection, the parsing is simplest possible, yet usually it's much more difficult to understand.

Here's why. Language is a communication tool. That means, people have to learn it. All of us learned it, and practice it everyday when reading or writing. So, when you use a language to communicate, reader's familiarity of the writing style needs to be considered too.

In the math example, most readers have not read much symbolic logic, but have read natural language all their lives. Therefore, even though math expressed in symbolic logic make it much simpler and precise, but mathematicians have a hard time understanding it. Similarly, a writing style that is logically simple but may in fact be harder to understand, because most people are not familiar with such writing style. A sentence such as “I can't say which one is superior.” is far more effective in getting the idea across than “In my judgement of these hack's quality, they are about equally bad.”.