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  • Writer's pictureRahul Kolle

A universal language

I was trying my hand in the kitchen about a month ago and my dish of choice that day was an Indian classic - a Paneer Makhani. For those that don't know me well - please note that I'm hopeless at anything to do with the kitchen. My saving grace that day was a recipe I found on the internet.

Midway into my dish, I looked up at my phone and it read “cook until mixture reaches a hearty consistency.” Huh? Just tell me how many minutes to stir, I thought! I hate being in situations like this where I need to read instructions multiple times to interpret their exact meaning. All of us have experienced getting flummoxed by abstract language – either in academic papers, technical articles, or even office memos, where we cried out for help!

Our enemy in this story is Abstraction. Abstraction makes it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others, who may interpret the abstraction in very different ways. The opposite of abstraction is concreteness. Most of the time, concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things. Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts.

A V8 engine is concrete. An iPhone is concrete. A "benne masala dosa" for all my fellow dosa fans, is concrete. "High Performance", "Next-gen", "transformative experience", are all abstract. Before you get me wrong, it's important to note that abstraction works perfectly fine in environments where people share a common context. It is in fact a luxury to be abstract; one that only experts can afford.

But if you’re in a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language. It's a language that is universal and that everyone will catch on to.

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