2 responses to “Simple Prose”

  1. Dick Cummins

    Hey Eric:

    Your post reminds me of a discussion we had about the Great American Novel awhile back. We were discussing an article written by a Yale educated self-heralded conservative “art, literature, religion and social critic” Roger Kimball.

    It was about his subjective contempt for the plummeting standards involving what is, or mostly isn’t, great American fiction. There was one line that got my contemptuous and sneering scorn fizzed up. Think Geri mentioned it too. So I decided to run it through some popular readability tests to see if it needed some dumbing down (or better, capital punishment).

    Kimball pontificated —— in just 40 words: “…I do not, you may be pleased to read, propose to parade before you a list of those exercises in evanescence, self-parody, and general ickiness that constitute so much that congregates under the label of American fiction these days.”

    I found a site called readability-score.com that analyzes windy verbiage.

    Besides Flesch-Kincaid they give results on the SMOG index (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook) and Gunning-Fog Score, all providing an assessment of reading difficulty grade levels.

    Kimball’s sentence gets a Masters level of 18.9 with Flesch-Kincaid, a grade 23 (way post-grad I guess) score on Gunning-Fog Index and a SMOG index score of 16.3.

    What do you think Eric? Should we should develop an Olsen/Cummins Grandiloquence Amplitude Scale? Wait…even better —— The O/C Pretension (or Nattering Kimball Nabob) Index?

    Seriously, the real challenge would be to formulate a Conceptual Understandability Index, not based on word length and syllabic frequency, but on how difficult the concept being discussed is to grasp.

    Not holding my breath on this one, Eric. Don’t think you should either.

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