The widespread expectation that scholarly works in these fields will look at first glance like nonsense is the source of humor that pokes fun at these fields by comparing actual nonsense with real academic writing. (Several computer programs have been made that can generate texts resembling the styles of these fields but which are actually nonsensical.) In an attempt to prove this lack of rigour, physics professor Alan Sokal wrote a nonsensical essay, and had it published in a respected journal (Social Text) as a practical joke. The journal kept defending it as a genuine article even after its author rebuked it publicly in a subsequent article in another academic journal. (See Sokal Affair).
Logorrhoea can also be used as a form of euphemism, to disguise unpleasant facts and ideas.
The term is also sometimes, less precisely, applied to unnecessarily (and often redundantly) wordy speech in general; this is more usually referred to as prolixity. Some people defend the use of additional words which sometimes look unnecessary as idiomatic, a matter of artistic preference or helpful in explaining complex ideas or messages, which might otherwise be unclear.
“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
He rewrote it like this:
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
Note Orwell’s deliberate usage of unnecessary words which only serve to further complicate the statement. For instance, the words “objective” and “invariably” could be cut, with virtually no loss of meaning. What both the Bible and Orwell were trying to say could be paraphrased (albeit obtusely) in three simple words: “Success is stochastic.”
In his anecdote collection Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the physicist and storyteller Richard Feynman describes a time when he participated in a multi-disciplinary conference discussing the nebulous topic “the ethics of equality.” Feynman was at first apprehensive, having read none of the books which the conference organizers had recommended. A sociologist brought a paper which he had written beforehand to the committee where Feynman served, asking everyone to read it. Feynman found it completely incomprehensible, and feared that he was out of his depth — until he decided to pick one sentence at random and parse it until he understood. The sentence he chose (to the best of his recollection) was:
Feynman “translated” the sentence and discovered it meant “People read”. The rest of the paper soon made sense in the same fashion.
Further examples are easy to create:
A well-known proverb can be expressed as:
Another, taken from the sequel, Yes, Prime Minister:
In the United Kingdom, there is a pressure group called the Plain English Campaign who offer editing and training to authors in order to help achieve “Plain English”: “language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading”.
Examples of logorrhoea might include talking or mumbling monotonously, either to others, or, more likely, oneself. This may include the repetition of particular words of phrases, often incoherently. The causes for logorrhoea remain poorly understood, but appear to be localized to frontal lobe structures known to be associated with language. As is the case, for example, in emotional lability in a wide variety of neurological conditions, other symptoms take priority in clinical management and research efforts.
Logorrhoea should not be confused with pressure of speech, which is characterised by the “flighty” alternation from topic to topic by tenuous links such as rhyming or punning Logorrhoea is a symptom of an underlying illness, and should be treated by a medical professional. Several possible causes of logorrhoea respond well to medication.
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