Wooden Language

A concept more widely recognized in the French culture (langue de bois) than in the English culture, and certainly familiar to the cultures that experienced totalitarianism other than through the cartoon characters of the AnimalFarm.

This usage is different than the more common one in English, where "wooden" means stiff and inflexible, and hence wooden language/dialog in a movie would simply mean something like forced and unnatural.

Langue de bois has also been translated as "language of the woods", presumably because it is a form of language that hides things.

A quote to help understand the concept (from http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/s2.cfm?id=148782004):

See below for a larger quote explaining why Langue de bois is seen in e.g. socialistic decrees.

Although related to NewSpeak, and probably encompassing NewSpeak (it can certainly be argued that NewSpeak is a form of WoodenLanguage), WoodenLanguage is more general. Thus it is more frequent and many people find themselves entrapped by it without even realizing. The difference between NewSpeak rather subtle: if NewSpeak is a language engineered on purpose to shape people's thoughts and actions, a WoodenLanguage can evolve almost naturally in groups of people who do not care much for CriticalSpirit and concepts like PlainEnglish.

Forms of wooden language:

Why "wooden"? Because it sounds hollow, artificial, colorless. Just like Woody Woodpecker pecking wood.

Can it be defined more precisely? Well, you'll know one when you see one. Or when it sounds "wooden". The borderlines of wooden language are fuzzy, but in general the discourse has an artificial feeling to it, there are repetitious syntagms and keywords liberally used in lieu of PlainLanguage?. You wouldn't talk to your relatives that way and if somebody talks to you like that you'd have to wonder why. The text/speech transpire secondary concerns of the originator more than tries to communicate as simply and directly as possible in the context.

Such secondary goals can be: egal [?] implication for legalese, the desire to please everybody for political correctness, brainwashing the reader by exposure to the repetitious keywords for marketese, propaganda, and the list can go on. Sometimes people using wooden language follow this secondary goals almost unconsciously as a matter of automatism and possibly as an memetic effect of the social context.

See: WoodenLanguageExamples

Why is Langue de bois used? Here's a quote that shows an overarching pattern of use (from http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/faculty/randerso/Medieval.htm):

I think I know, what you mean with "pages in NeutralPointOfView", but could you please make that more explicit. I do not think, that NeutralPointOfView is the key, but that which is highlighted (or hidden really) by it.

I was not referring to this wiki in particular, npov is fairly rare, npov wooden language was more common at WikiPedia last time I looked, but certainly there can be cultural influences between the two communities. I'l try to gather relevant examples. Again, the domain of wooden language is much larger than npov so it is a useful concept that people should be aware of to avoid falling into it.

A few examples of NPOV variety.

I looked at the last one and my impression is not strictly a negative one. I think it uses a NeutralPointOfView and has some difficulty at that - obviously due to the strong positions on both sides. But using the least common ground as a way out of this dilemma is not bad, maybe not always the best choice, but at least accepted by the interested parties. Same with political statements, where one could object, that these are seldom targeted to solve anything, but just to placate.

Note: Maybe I'm biased by my interpretation of "WoodenLanguage" as "hölzerne Sprache" (auch "gestelzt", in GermanLanguage), which may be the wrong track.

-- GunnarZarncke

I'm sure there must be some German syntagm for this concept, because you had the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, and the wooden variety was the official language of all communist states. You must have seen the movie "Good Bye, Lenin" - and if memory serves me right it has quite a few specimens of wooden language. That's one of the more blatant manifestations of this pattern. Others, like the NPOV variety, are more subtle. What is the common pattern across all these is the fact that there is no focus on actually communicating something in a simple and direct manner.

So for the last example, let's take the first paragraph of that section:

Benchmarks between ODBMSs and relational DBMSs have shown that ODBMS can be clearly superior for certain kinds of tasks. The main reason for this is that many operations are performed using navigational rather than declarative interfaces, and navigational access to data is usually implemented very efficiently by following pointers.
So what does this communicate to me, as somebody knowledgeable on the subject? Almost nothing but the utmost care to avoid any appearance of bias (NPOV), which overrides the desire to communicate information to a reader who wants to actually learn something from an encyclopedia. So I can hardly imagine what the intended audience of this wikipedia article can learn from it.

Other than being technically wrong - which is not the point I'm trying to make, the article is uncommunicative: what does it mean to be "clearly superior for certain kinds of tasks"? What are "benchmarks between ODBMS and RDBMS"? These critical information are left hanging in the air, presumably because the author wants to be fuzzy enough as to escape any accusation of bias. But while this is convenient for the wiki contributor, it is a disservice to the WikiReader, and leads to NPOV WoodenLanguage. -- CostinCozianu

I agree, that the paragraph is technically uncommunicative in the extreme. It serves no technical but only a social purpose, namely to show, that there are differing (or rather contradictory) viewpoints. I think the point of NPOV may often be just that. -- .gz

And therein lies the problem, that on the face of it the text appears to try to communicate something, but what it communicates is not the face value of it, but the "side effects" (aka subtext).As a WikiReader I am totally dissatisfied when reading content like this, and it seems to me that this is a failure of existing wiki culture (I've seen it on WikiPedia, C2, MeatBall, including in some of my contributions). At the end of the spectrum there are examples like the writings of EwDijkstra where one can see that the most profound ideas can be communicated in PlainEnglish - and an exquisite plain English at that.

The less actual substance there is to communicate, the more fuzziness and wooden language you see in a text. -- CostinCozianu

What I gather from the summary statement is that benchmarks, a method of comparison, indicate that the "superior" performance of ODBMS vs RDBMS is due to the efficiency of pointers. To be more illustrative, one might also include references the specific benchmarks and the numeric evidence and context ("certain kinds of tasks") included in them.

Summaries and Abstractions, Representations of Actualities and Instance

To clear up the apparent confusion some have with the context and results. One can clearly see that pointing is demonstrative rather than declarative. In a sense, all summaries and abstractions are "wooden". This is because they are representations of actualities and instances. The wood in the language can be shaped by honest dialogue concerning it.

Discussion from RightToChangeMyMind moved here:

Costin, we know that refactoring is difficult. If the refactoring went wrong, why don't you offer a correct refactoring? DontLookAtTheFinger of who did what when probably why. If you look at a chess game, is it really important who played it? Look at the substance and sort it out. -- HelmutLeitner

Ahem. That would be a generally good idea, except when it does not work. No, I didn't intend to be harsh on Gunnar, and I hope Gunnar knows my style by now. He probably saw the creation of WoodenLanguage page as an indirect jab at him and his refactoring of this page, whereas I saw it as an opportunity (I had this on my to do list for some time) to discuss about one of the undesirables infiltrating the world of wikis. As for this page, my "correct" refactoring of it would be a straight deletion. So it does not work because it's politically incorrect, but I'm waiting for DavidLiu to change his mind and realize that this is one of the many bad ideas he's stuck with. -- CostinCozianu

Yes, I did know quite well, who the intended audience of the NPOV page was :-) Maybe with my German background (though I didn't watch Goodbye Lenin) I have a slight foible for NPOV (not to say wooden). -- .gz

Like I said, I had the idea of writing that a long time ago, and I have a few more ideas in the buffer (just as an example, InPraiseOfMicrosoftWindows? might come next, an update to ObjectRelationalImpedanceMismatch is also in the pipeline). This occasion just triggered an out of order speculative execution. :) -- Costin

One distinguishing feature of WoodenLanguage as described at the top of this page seems to be that its purpose is to sound vaguely pleasing in some way rather than to convey distinctions. It is intended to make you think that the speaker is authoritative and responsible; that the situation is under control; that all is well; that your consent is not merely expected but unquestioned. Or, in short, it is intended to make you not think.

It is also very difficult to rebut or respond to. If you attempt to rebut the WoodenLanguage using its own vocabulary, you come across as saying something just as empty and bureaucratic as the original speaker: but you're saying it in a tone of voice that carries objection and disagreement. This makes you sound like a crank. "Well, I don't think you're maximizing core competencies and synergizing best practices!"

But if you attempt to rebut the WoodenLanguage in plain language, the wooden speaker can emit another stream of fluent wood to make you come across as unsophisticated and out of the loop.

Sounds like overuse of buzzwords can apply. Remember, though, that one man's slang can be another's jargon and yet another's wooden language.



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