Keeping it (too?) simple

Monday lunchtime I was lucky enough to see Randall Munroe, creator of the hilariously nerdy XKCD cartoons, talking at the Royal Institution.

Randall’s cartoons, such as the one below, have unexpectedly, but deservedly, become very popular.

In his most recent book, Thing Explainer, Randall attempts to explain complex scientific and engineering stuff using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language.

Think of it as being like an encyclopedia of complex stuff…for five-year-olds.

But Thing Explainer is what I do for a living, only distilled down to absolute rock-bottom: explaining things so that people understand them.

I know many long, complicated words and what they mean; I understand grammatical stuff that no one else cares about…

..And I hardly ever use this knowledge.

Seriously. Most of my working time is spent trying to combine ordinary, easily understood words in different ways. Most of time I don’t want to impress people with my words, I simply want to catch their attention and make them read something I’ve written.

I’m not a novelist or a poet, I’m not trying to impress, I’m trying to explain.

Oh, and that stuff with grammar? I ignore most of that, too. I know (mostly) how grammar works, which is important, but more important is knowing how people work when they read something.

If breaking the rules makes it easier and more fun to read, I’ll do it.


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