Harnessing without jargon?
July 2, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

A textbook that I once read contained a passage from some famous author (possibly Mark Twain?) that attempted to illustrate the usefulness of jargon by describing how to saddle a horse, or hitch a horse to a wagon (something like that) without using any specialized terminology. It was marvelously long-winded and impossible to follow. Textbook long since discarded, Google-Fu fails; any idea what this might have been?
posted by lordcorvid to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds familiar, but I can't put my finger on it. I did find How to Eat an Ice-Cream Cone, a 1968 New Yorker piece, in the same vein. The author, L. Rust Hills, published an entire book of similar essays.

If it was from Twain (suggestion: excerpt from Huckleberry Finn or Innocents Abroad or some such) it was probably more of a gag than a defense of jargon, as he was a strong advocate of plain English.
posted by dhartung at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2011

I'd recommend reading anything by the late Rust Hills, who was almost as amusing in person as he is in print. His work is not only intelligent and beautifully written but embodies the word "droll." The book cited above is one of his so-called fussy-man trilogy; another, on ethics, is called "How To Be Good." He also wrote an excellent book on how to write fiction. Sorry for the sort-of derail.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:39 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a section in Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad that includes a description of harnessing a horse:
It may interest the reader to know how they "put horses to" on the continent. The man stands up the horses on each side of the thing that projects from the front end of the wagon, and then throws the tangled mess of gear forward through a ring, and hauls it aft, and passes the other thing through the other ring and hauls it aft on the other side of the other horse, opposite to the first one, after crossing them and bringing the loose end back, and then buckles the other thing underneath the horse, and takes another thing and wraps it around the thing I spoke of before, and puts another thing over each horse's head, with broad flappers to it to keep the dust out of his eyes, and puts the iron thing in his mouth for him to grit his teeth on, uphill, and brings the ends of these things aft over his back, after buckling another one around under his neck to hold his head up, and hitching another thing on a thing that goes over his shoulders to keep his head up when he is climbing a hill, and then takes the slack of the thing which I mentioned a while ago, and fetches it aft and makes it fast to the thing that pulls the wagon, and hands the other things up to the driver to steer with. I never have buckled up a horse myself, but I do not think we do it that way.
My favorite part is that he doesn't even use "buckle" as a noun in it.
posted by camyram at 5:16 PM on July 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

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