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"The truth is, most US academic prose is appalling: pompous, abstruse, claustral, inflated, euphuistic, pleonastic, solecistic, sesquipedalian, Heliogabaline, occluded, obscure, jargon-ridden, empty: resplendently dead."

[David Foster Wallace, Authority and American Usage]

This applies to modern business prose in spades.




Are European academics more efficient with their words? I have no quibble with the comment, but I do think the groundless criticism of American thinkers is kind of lame. I realize its the quote not the poster.


Much academic writing, US or non-US, is barely comprehensible and is certainly never enjoyable to read. I didn't realize this in college, but there is a reason English is a requirement for many science majors. Not to be "well rounded", but so that people trying to learn from your work don't want to kill themselves after reading your paper.

Most CS papers I've read have been good (English is just another programming language; follow a few rules and you're in the top 20%), but most hard science (medicine, chemistry, physics) have been terrible to the point of incomprehensibility. It's sad -- like the article says, hire a writer.


I have a feeling Wallace is comparing the entirety of the American academic corpus—around 250 years of research—with the entirety of Europe's ~1500 years, and drawing a conclusion based on random sampling without weighting for time. He might call modern European academia "Americanized" (or, more gently, "Westernized.")


Certainly I've found that college level text books by and for the the US market tend to be a good three times as long (and twice as expensive) as books by and for the European market, yet still basically cover the same material. I'm not really sure if that says more about the authors or the publishers though


If academic writing is obese, business writing is anorexic.

Both unhealthy, but in different ways. My metaphor breaks down here for a second, but what I think they share in common is laziness of language.

In my experience, the scholar is too lazy to avoid convoluted sentences with thousand-pound meanings that take more work to read than they did to assemble. The business-writer is too lazy to anchor words that are lighter than air to sentences with substance to keep them grounded.




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