The “Curse of Knowledge” in Writing

The root cause of so much bad writing is “the Curse of Knowledge,” says author and psychologist Steven Pinker: our difficulty imagining what it is like for someone else who does not know what we know.

Aman Mehta
1 min readDec 15, 2019

The Curse of Knowledge is doubly a curse in marketing, where writers often have to translate subject-matter-expert-speak into something resembling English.

Add Backup Singers — a few words of explanation to big words, technical phrases, and acronyms.

Why: You need to use a word, a piece of jargon, or a technical term some readers might not know. That’s fine: Use it — but add a few words around it as support, just like backup vocals support a lead singer.

Back-up singers make a vocalist’s performance stronger, more nuanced, more powerful, helping it make a greater impression. So too those few extra supporting words, by giving a technical word or jargon much-needed context — clarifying the meaning, aiding reader understanding, making the intended impact.

Example 1: Write “Arabidopsis, a flowering mustard plant,” rather than the bare “Arabidopsis.” [Steven Pinker] [h/t Kerry Gorgone]

Example 2: “Ricki was released in the final phase of guide-dog training for having ‘hackles,’ or a shark-fin-like fur on the ridge of her back that sticks up and can be seen as a sign of aggression.” [Mel Magazine]



Aman Mehta

Armchair Philosopher | Location Independent | Amateur Photographer