Obscurity Can Seem Profound

Purpose of writing

There are some good reasons for writing wordy, incomprehensible prose. Suppose you need to write about some topic, but what you have to say is mostly simple and obvious. You’re afraid you will look like a fool.   But it is possible to take the simple and obvious and make it really complicated and obscure. Here’s the thing: If no one can quite figure out what you’re talking about, some will think it’s their fault, not yours. The more time they spend trying to understand it, the more they will want to believe that it is indeed profound, and in the end, they will pretend to understand it. Writing obscurely takes practice. Here are some guidelines:


  1. Never use simple words: I don’t understand why cows chew their cud. Better: My comprehension of the reasons for rumination on the part of domesticated bovines is of a negative nature.
  2. Always prefer passive voice to active voice. I flunked the test. (Active voice) Better: The test was flunked. (Passive voice) Even better: The results achieved in the test were not acceptable on the basis of the standards that were applicable at the time it was taken.
  3. Always use nominalizations. Nominalization turns a verb into a noun that is then used with another verb to express the same idea. For example, “investigate the crime” becomes “make an investigation of the crime (better: the criminal act).”
  4. Always keep the subject (doer of the action) as far away from the verb (the action) as possible. We (subject) as far as possible under the circumstances prevailing at the point in time set down in the instructions provided to us by the committee will launch (verb) an investigation into the reasons for the failure.
  5. Always prefer two or more words to one: Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me. Better: Due to the fact that I was not able to come to a full stop for death/He ( Death) was kind enough to come to a full stop for me. You can add the meaningless word “situation” to almost anything: an emergency situation, a fatal accident situation, a celebration situation.
  6. Whenever possible use expletives (there are, there is, it is). Somebody ate twelve donuts. Better: There were twelve donuts that were consumed by somebody. I need to go on a diet. Better: There is a need for me to reduce my intake of high-calorie sustenance.
  7. Frequently use jargon that no one will understand. If necessary, make it up. Some scientific evidence suggests that taking saunas might be healthful. Better: Taking saunas on a regular basis will promote the dehiscence of the chi by unblocking the positive field inhibitors that accrue in the subcutaneous areas of the soma.

Try applying these seven strategies to the following simple sentences and compare your revisions with mine. Strive for maximum obscurity.

  1. In a market economy, both gays and straights follow fashion.
  2. Government should provide services people want.
  3. We encourage staff to work together without discouraging individual initiative.
  4. The office needs new telephones.
  5. Shopping can feel empowering, but paying the bills, not so much.

Possible revisions:

  1. The reification of post-capitalist hegemony may be parsed as the discourse of the gendered body.
  2. The emergence of normative value furnishes government with a provisional lens for the analysis of the systemization of the public sphere.
  3. Distributed initiatives must be optimized and out-of-box schemas maximized.
  4. There is a need to transform dynamic channels of communication.
  5. The culture of consumption is, and yet is not, the authentication of power/knowledge.

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