Quotations about   obfuscation

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Clarity of language is the first casualty of authoritarianism.

Robin Morgan (b. 1941) American poet, author, activist, journalist
“Saving the World,” Ms. (Summer 2003)
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Added on 4-Nov-21 | Last updated 4-Nov-21
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The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. Statistical methods and statistical terms are necessary in reporting the mass data of social and economic trends, business conditions, “opinion” polls, the census. But without writers who use the words with honesty and understanding and readers who know what they mean, the result can only be semantic nonsense.

Darrell Huff
Darrell Huff (1913-2001) American writer
How to Lie with Statistics, Introduction (1954)
 
Added on 22-Jul-21 | Last updated 22-Jul-21
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Code is like humor. When you have to explain it, it’s bad.

Cory House (contemp.) American software architect, speaker, author
Twitter (12 Nov 2013)
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Added on 30-Sep-20 | Last updated 30-Sep-20
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BETTY OLDHAM: Look, Sir Humphrey, whatever we ask the Minister, he says is an administrative question for you, and whatever we ask you, you say is a policy question for the Minister. How do you suggest we find out what is going on?

SIR HUMPHREY: Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy.

BETTY OLDHAM: Well, that’s a load of meaningless drivel. Isn’t it?

SIR HUMPHREY: It’s not for me to comment on government policy. You must ask the Minister.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S2E7 “A Question of Loyalty” (9 Apr 1981) [with Anthony Jay]
 
Added on 10-Mar-20 | Last updated 10-Mar-20
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SIR HUMPHREY: Well, Minister, if you ask me for a straight answer, then I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another in terms of the average of departments, then in the final analysis it is probably true to say, that at the end of the day, in general terms, you would probably find that, not to put too fine a point on it, there probably wasn’t very much in it one way or the other. As far as one can see, at this stage.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S1E5 “The Writing on the Wall” (24 Mar 1980) [with Anthony Jay
 
Added on 3-Mar-20 | Last updated 3-Mar-20
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Those who know they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is timid and dislikes going into the water.

[Tief sein und tief scheinen. — Wer sich tief weiss, bemüht sich um Klarheit; wer der Menge tief scheinen möchte, bemüht sich um Dunkelheit. Denn die Menge hält Alles für tief, dessen Grund sie nicht sehen kann: sie ist so furchtsam und geht so ungern in’s Wasser.]

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], Book 3, §173 (1882) [tr. Kaufmann (1974)]


Also known as The Joyful Wisdom or The Joyous Science. (Source (German)). Alternate translations:

To Be Profound and to Appear Profound. -- He who knows that he is profound strives for clearness; he who would like to appear profound to the multitude strives for obscurity. The multitude thinks everything profound of which it cannot see the bottom; it is so timid and goes so unwillingly into the water.
[tr. Common (1911)]

Being Deep and Seeming Deep. -- Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd takes everything whose ground it cannot see to be deep; it is so timid and so reluctant to go into the water.
[tr. Nauckhoff (2001)]

Being Profound and Being Thought Profound -- Whoever knows that he is profound strives for clarity; whoever would like the crowd to think he is profound strives for obscurity. The reason for this is that the crowd thinks something is profound whenever it cannot see to the bottom of it; it is afraid of the water and hates to get its feet wet.
[tr. Hill (2018)]

Being Deep and Appearing Deep -- Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.
[Source]

Whoever knows himself to be deep strives for clarity; whoever wants to appear deep to the masses strives for obscurity. For the masses consider anything to be deep that they cannot see the bottom of.
[Source]

 
Added on 15-Apr-17 | Last updated 18-Nov-21
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Don’t express your ideas too clearly. Most people think little of what they understand, and venerate what they do not.

[No allanarse sobrado en el concepto. Los más no estiman lo que entienden, lo que no perciben lo veneran. Las cosas, para que se estiman, han de costar; será celebrado cuando no fuese entendido.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 253 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1982)]


Alt. trans.: "Do not Explain overmuch. Most men do not esteem what they understand, and venerate what they do not see. ... Many praise a thing without being able to tell why, if asked. The reason is that they venerate the unknown as a mystery, and praise it because they hear it praised." [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
 
Added on 31-Mar-17 | Last updated 4-Apr-22
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It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist Papers, #62 (Feb 1788)
 
Added on 27-Aug-15 | Last updated 27-Aug-15
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The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from it’s indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power & pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Adams (5 Jul 1814)
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Added on 19-Sep-13 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. […] I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. […] I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me. […] I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ring-winner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Hobbit, ch. 12 “Inside Information” [Bilbo] (1937)
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Bilbo's "riddling talk" epithets, given to Smaug in "the way to talk to dragons, if you don't want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don't want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise)."
 
Added on 22-Feb-11 | Last updated 25-Aug-22
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