Baling Out of a Book: Technical Edition

Note: Since everyone else on the Internet is doing politics, protests, and prognostications, I’m not.

I gave up on an article earlier this week. I’d made it through four pages of increasingly technical linguistic analysis of how Tocharian related to other Indo-European languages and looking at various aspects of vocabulary comparative sound shifts to determine when it split from which other branch, and how quickly Tocharian-speakers moved east into the Tarim Basin. I enjoy the history of language, but halfway through the sixth page, I bailed out.

The history of language fascinates me, and is something I can read for hours and hours. But not this article. Why? A couple of reasons, which apply to other things in life as well.

  1. I had/have limited time to get through a whole lot of material on the topic and spending the next two hours on fifteen pages of article was not a good use of that time.
  2. The article didn’t address what I needed to know, even though it was a fascinating study of an extinct language and how it related to other later languages, and what that says about when people moved to where and what cultural commonalities or differences developed. It wasn’t a good use of my time, no matter how intriguing the topic might have been.
  3. Too technical for me to make full use of. I’ll slog through technical papers IF there is something in them I can parse out and use, or if they are important for my understanding of a topic or field. I have not problem with that, and have done it in the past and will no doubt do it again. However, a detailed analysis of changes in the endings that signify verb tense and possession, and how vowel shifts track through time in two different extinct languages . . . I started to get a headache from deciphering the symbols used for sounds and shifts. I can handle basic proto-Indo-European typographic conventions, but PEI, plus Tocharian, Early Iranian, and Vedic texts? Brain cramp.
  4. Not really applicable in this case, but if an article turns into pure bushwah, I’m out. I’ve squandered too much time reading along and then slamming into a wall of verbal manure that doesn’t fit the data, that doesn’t fit the thesis, and that doesn’t match real-world events or procedures. I won’t get those days back, so I’m not going to put up with any more of that. Unless the article or book has become important in its own right as a bad example that I need to be familiar with. Such things do exist.

Back in the day, I’d slog through everything out of duty, or feel a terrible sense of guilt. No more guilt. Life is too short. If the thing doesn’t serve my purpose, if it is too technical for me to make sense of, if it doesn’t make sense period, no. I may make a note of the topic for passing mention and potential later reading should my research change direction, but there’s no guilt involved. Not anymore.

And I have walled non-fiction, once physically (paperback edition) and twice by dumping the book off my e-reader and deleting it from my digital downloads file. I’m getting old and cranky, and my patience with snark and sarcasm in what is supposed to be a serious history book is very, very low. Especially when the author starts using slang—painfully dated slang. Nope.

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5 thoughts on “Baling Out of a Book: Technical Edition

  1. I can sympathize. When I took my one and only linguistics course, I found the symbology used almost painful to wrap my head around. In more recent years, I was reading a series of computer science papers, and many of the algorithms and concepts were symbolically defined. The authors used a diverse mix of upper and lower Greek letters, upper and lower plain Latin letters, and upper italicized/script-like Latin letters, in addition to the math symbols, some of which were also Greek letters. Useful articles, but headache inducing trying to keep straight.

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