February 1, 2013 report
'Up-Goer Five' text editor restricts writers to 1000 most commonly used words
(Phys.org)—Geneticist Theo Sanderson has written a simple text editor that allows a writer to use only words from a list of the 1000 ("ten hundred" since "thousand" isn't on the list) most commonly used words in the English language, to describe things. He calls it the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, in honor of a comic created by xkcd, to describe a Saturn V rocket, using only the most common 1000 words in the English language. Sanderson has made the editor available online for free, which intrigued bloggers, Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson to the extent that they've set up a Tumblr blogger page called "Ten Hundred Words of Science," where they display the results of a challenge they've issued to scientists to describe what they do for a living using Sanderson's text editor. The results are thought provoking, interesting and quite often humorous.
Writers the world over spend their days converting scientific jargon into prose that most anyone can understand. They do so because the results of scientific efforts are interesting to a wide range of people – they want to know what's going on. Unfortunately, many people who might be interested in learning of such work, might not be able to make sense of what is presented in a scientific journal (or gain access to it without paying for it), due to the word choices used by their authors. To make the science more easily understood, such writers must use less jargon and more easily relatable analogies. Some might wonder why scientists and academics don't simply write their papers in ways that everyone can understand in the first place – the answer is that to do so would lengthen the paper to the extent that it would become unwieldy and it would take far longer to write, taking more time that would be better spent doing research.
The Up-Goer Five editor challenges such thinking, however, by causing those who use it to think about what they wish to convey in ways they likely never thought of before. It forces expression to come from a word driven approach, to one that is idea driven, which, when put down in words, often sounds like the way ideas are expressed to children. That's not coincidental – children have a very limited perspective and background, so new information has to be given in a context that they are capable of understanding, and that generally means using a reasonably small vocabulary.
The Up-Goer Five text editor isn't likely to change the ways of the world, of course, but it might just offer some people an opportunity to consider how they express themselves in a more profound way, and to perhaps cause them to gain some insight into how they communicate with others in general.
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