Equation-Speak

Google “part of the equation” during some lull.  You will find the Internet to teem with this trope.   I move that we add this trope to Orwell’s list of hackneyed devices.

“Part of the equation” annoys me first because authors seldom — an academically polite form of the far more accurate “never” — specify any equation or anything that resembles an equation when they use this cliché.    “Part of the equation” exemplifies the giving of “appearance of solidity to pure wind,” as Orwell described bad writing in “Politics and the English Language.”  Writers use the phrase as a placeholder when no equation has been proposed or likely would be proposed.  If the writers could imagine an equation, they could not specify the variables in any meaningful way.

In addition, almost everyone who uses “part of the equation” exhibits exactly no awareness of or facility with mathematics.  Pundits who almost certainly employ CPAs to balance their checking accounts write or talk about equations as if they would not recoil from an equation in horror. 

Let us not speak of parts of non-existent equations.  Let us strive to write what we mean in ways not selected to impress rather than express.

If we mean that others or we should consider morality or responsibility or efficiency or symbolism, let us say that lest some literalist wag ask whether the equation is quadratic or perhaps of some higher degree.

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