Shortcuts and the smell of rain

The etymology and usage of specific vocabulary as shortcuts for complex ideas, the concept of cognitive biases, reduced language in computing, and a range of coined concise concepts such as Cunningham’s Law and the XY Problem.

Lucas A. Meyer


July 26, 2022

Throughout human history, there were billions of parents of teenagers. Being a parent of teenagers myself, I was surprised to discover that the word “angst” was first recorded somewhat recently, in the early 1800s, through the works of Kierkegaard. It is a perfect word to describe the teenager feeling. Just five letters instead of 10 words. It’s brilliant.

A much less known example is the word petrichor, created in 1964 to describe the pleasant smell of rain that hits dry ground.

I love collecting these shortcuts.

They don’t exist only in language. They also exist in computer science and math. Most algorithms are shortcuts. Software functions are shortcuts. It’s a lot easier to append the command “sort” to a Python list than to implement QuickSort.

Cognitive biases? Shortcuts. Instead of using more than a dozen words to describe “the tendency to search for and remember information that confirms one’s own preconceptions”, you can use two words: “confirmation bias”.

I really like are concepts that summarize more complex ideas in just a couple of words. Here are some other examples I wrote about:

  • Being able to get an answer faster by stating something wrong instead of asking a good question? Cunningham’s Law.
  • The way inexperienced people ask help with some step of their incorrect solution instead of asking for help solving their problem? XY Problem.
  • Advice to experienced people that want to repeat previous solutions before understanding the problem at hand? Chesterton’s Fence
  • That feeling that you are the only one that didn’t understand everything, when in fact nobody did? Pluralistic Ignorance

This is the blog page where I keep my collection of concepts. I plan to keep adding to it.