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From my country's Biology board book:

  1. The scientific naming of an organism is accomplished in accordance with some rules and regulations set internationally.

which essentially means

  1. Some standard rules and regulations are followed for naming an organism scientifically.

Sentence #1 is written in perfectly valid English, but some words were used (slightly) inappropriately. It's ridiculously long, and the words are unnecessary and awkward (with an extremely stilted sentence structure to go with). The English is downright broken and rusty. It's not hard to understand that the writers aren't native English speakers.

Sentence #2 is much cleaner, simpler, and idiomatic. It's an example of good English. (Though it's too written by a non-native)

This led me to think whether...

  • the use of unnecessarily long words (which don't quite go with the context) make even correct English seem broken.

  • it's a bad practice.

...or it's just pedantic of me.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Robusto, Nathan Tuggy, Varun Nair, P. E. Dant, Rompey Jul 14 '17 at 21:28

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I actually prefer the first wording to the second wording. This isn't a matter of long words, it's a matter of sentence structure. The first could be trimmed a little bit, but I wouldn't deem it "ridiculously long". – J.R. Jul 13 '17 at 21:54
  • @J.R. Don't you think accomplish and internationally are a bit inappropriate in this case? The former means achieving something, and that doesn't fit here. The latter --- laws can be international. But in science, the elite scientific community decides what's standard. – Soha Farhin Pine Jul 13 '17 at 21:56
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    The fact that the rules are set internationally may be relevant. Therefore, I don't think you can just remove that word outright. I'd probably be in favor of changing in accordance with some rules and regulations set internationally to in accordance with international rules and regulations; however, that only trims two letters from internationally. As I said, it's not the length of the words that's problematic, it's how the words are arranged. – J.R. Jul 13 '17 at 21:59
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    Sure, some laws are international, but some laws aren't. If an author feels it's important to emphasize that certain regulations are international, there's no reason to leave that out. – J.R. Jul 13 '17 at 22:05
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    P.S. "rusty" specifically means "in poor shape due to having been out of use for a while"; unless you know the author's particular history, there's no way to extrapolate from "broken" to "rusty". And "awkward and long" don't really qualify for "broken" either. – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 1:29
5

Depending on the context, using a "long" word correctly is fine. Using a long word gratuitously, on the other hand, often sounds pretentious.

Your first sentence is not that long, nor does it use particularly "long" words. It could be a little cleaner, though:

The scientific name of an organism is determined in accordance with international rules and regulations.

Your second sentence is grammatically correct, but the use of the adverb "scientifically" is awkward. Better to use the adjective scientific or the compound noun scientific name. If you must use the adverb, keep it close to the verb it modifies:

Some standard (or international, either is fine) rules and regulations are followed when scientifically naming an organism.

English style guides recommend using the active voice instead of the passive voice where possible, but I'm not sure what your subject would be here. "Biologists" perhaps.

  • I number sentences, so people don't have to write "first/second/third sentence" all the time. – Soha Farhin Pine Jul 13 '17 at 22:19
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    @SohaFarhinPine actually in non-scientific exposition, it can feel more comfortable to write out the shorter cardinal or ordinal numbers, i.e. "Sentence One", "three apples", "the fourth from the left", rather than "Sentence 1", "3 apples", "the 4th from the left", etc. But this is a choice of personal writing style. – Andrew Jul 13 '17 at 22:43
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    To expand on why "scientifically" is awkward, the term "scientific name" specifically refers to a name following binomial nomenclature, and modifying "scientific" removes that intended meaning. – j4eo Jul 13 '17 at 23:35
  • @j4eo Yes, an essential point. Naming something scientifically doesn't necessarily mean deciding its scientific name! That is to say, the latter is a compound noun, not an adjective + noun. – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 1:09
  • As a native speaker, the second sentence both in your examples and the OPs are less clear in their meaning than the first. It's unclear whether the author's intended message was 'there are standard rules that govern naming of species' or 'there are standard rules that govern the naming of species, only some of which are followed'. – Ynneadwraith Jul 2 '18 at 14:01
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Andrew's answer deals with your sentence well and ought to be accepted (in my opinion), but I'll just use the occasion to address the more general question you asked.

There is a long history in English style of recommending concision. For many authors, no further authority is needed than that of Strunk & White's Elements of Style, because most modern style guides have either built on or made allusion to that work anyway. In their section "Omit needless words" (scroll down on this page), they give a few examples of corrections to make:

the question as to whether → whether (the question whether)
there is no doubt but that → no doubt (doubtless)
used for fuel purposes → used for fuel
he is a man who → he
in a hasty manner → hastily
this is a subject which → this subject
His story is a strange one. → His story is strange.

I can't find a particular reference for individual word length, but their philosophy makes it plain that they would also recommend using shorter ones when possible:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Presumably a word should likewise have no unnecessary letters.

But a key part of this advice is often given too little weight despite being intuitively correct:

This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

That is, this principle requires that every word contribute to the meaning.

This is a good principle. However, some nuance can be added. (Actually, Strunk & White, while a good manual of style for most, sometimes rankles those who can reliably judge style themselves, and it's not useful as a grammar reference.)

Besides stressing once more the "no unnecessary words" part of the advice, the main caveat I would add is this. It's quite possible to reduce sentences to gnomic, pithy kernels of their meaning. Since I have experience editing for a newspaper and reviewing beginner code, my instinct is to do just that: reword, delete, simplify. But this doesn't always achieve the purpose of a text, which is clear communication.

An example from programming might be useful. Take Java. According to the grammar of the language, all that is necessary to distinguish meaning is that names be unique. Thus, a class could have properties and methods named a, b, c, and d and comply with this grammar. The compiler certainly would not complain. It would have no trouble understanding you perfectly. If you ran out of letters you could start to use aa, bb...

But it would not be readable by humans! So you might allow yourself to sacrifice some concision in return for clarity and settle on ts, temp, updateTS, readTemp. This is still fairly concise, and the extra letters help you guess what you're doing.

But still... it's only understandable to someone who already has an idea of what you're trying to do. What do you often find in the real world? Try timestamp, temperatureInCelsius, updateTimestamp, readTemperatureInCelsiusFromThermometer, and so on. The conventions, in light of the need for comprehensibility by someone who may never have seen the code before, often favour verbosity over concision.

The same idea applies to English. There is a certain ideal, crystallized style in which no words are wasted. It feels wonderful to chip away at a sentence till you have such a style, using the most precise words, and there's a certain satisfaction in understanding such a sentence. But if you ever have to choose between that concision and being absolutely sure that your meaning gets across, choose the latter.

To illustrate this point, here's a concise sentence:

Popular films infantilize if they fail to distinguish consciousnesses.

Here's a verbose version:

Hollywood movies make us more childlike as viewers when they assume that our experiences of the world are totally shared, not distinct — that is, when they implicitly deny the theory of mind developed early in our childhoods.

Which sentence did you get more out of? The second is just paraphrase of and extrapolation from the first, and is several times as long. But in a textbook, the first one will either be read three times by an attentive student or skimmed over by an inattentive student, however elegant it is as English.

This is more extreme than the example you cited, of course, but it should give an idea of the value of unpacking your thought. By all means, aim for short sentences and chip away at unnecessary words; the world has far too many of them. But meaning isn't the only baby to avoid throwing out with the bathwater — its twin is the ability to be widely understood.

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    Good points, Luke. One caveat: Strunk & White applies to writing for exposition and not entertainment, and journalists (especially nowadays) have always had to do a little of both, which leads to creative compromises like "Sticks Nix Hick Pix" – Andrew Jul 14 '17 at 2:29
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    @Andrew Oh, wow, that's a fantastic headline. Another one was cited by David Bellos in Is That a Fish in Your Ear? as one that would be hard to translate in the same space: "GOP VEEP PICK ROILS DEMS." I also had to shorten headlines once upon a time and constantly had to reject such compromises when they were a little too opaque... or not clever enough to justify the opacity. ;) – Luke Sawczak Jul 14 '17 at 2:33

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