31.1.17

WORDS SHOULD MEAN THINGS.

With the coming of the new year, the banished words lists.  Lake Superior State College (their hockey team, the Soo Lakers, once won a national championship) famously has the general interest list.  Next City's Josh Cohen wants to clean up the language in regional planning (all bureaucratic organizations, particularly those in government, are notorious for abusage of language) starting with eight to ban.  Planetizen's Michael Lewyn dissents in part.
Cohen rejects the use of the term "stroad" to describe streets with fast traffic, because "for most everyone else in the world, roads and streets are synonymous and a portmanteau of them means nothing." In other words, most people don't know what a stroad is. I agree that most Americans don't know what a stroad is—but every non-obscure term was once obscure. The genius of the word "stroad" is that it conveys a one-word mental picture of something that would otherwise require a sentence to describe—a street where cars travel so rapidly as to endanger pedestrians, but which is not a limited-access highway (which means that street lights ensure constant stop-and-go traffic, thus making both pedestrians and drivers unhappy.) I wish every American knew what a stroad was, and I am happy to help lead readers in this direction!

The term "stroad" illustrates why the creation of a new word can sometimes be a good thing: it allows us to take a complex idea and describe it in one vivid word. The best "jargon words" clarify; the worst are so vague that they increase, rather than reduce, reader confusion.
The principle goes back at least to Alfred Marshall, something along the lines of it being less costly to add a new word to the language, rather than repeatedly rattling off a phrase or paragraph.  And "stroad" has an economy of expression that "Permanently Aggravating Traffic Jam and Hazard to Bikers and Walkers" does not.

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