Political Science Pet Peeve: Misusing Economics Jargon

One of the biggest pet peeves that I have—as someone who takes political science writing seriously—is the misuse of economics jargon. We’re not economists, so we should stop trying to talk like them. And when we do need to talk like economists, we should do it properly, recognizing the specific meanings that terms have. Here are some top offenders.

  • Marginal
  • Rational
  • Equilibrium
  • Efficient
  • Returns to
If you find yourself using these terms in your writing, stop and say “can I define what this word means precisely?” If not, take it out. If yes, then the next question is “is this necessary?” It’s often the case that these words (especially “marginal”) can be simply deleted without having any effect on the semantic content of the larger phrase. Remember Orwell’s dictum: sloppy thinking begets sloppy writing, which in turns begets sloppy thinking.

I have a separate pet peeve about the misappropriation of physics metaphors in political science writing. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle does not explain why history is hard to do. Chaos theory does not mean that there is no such thing as causation. But that’s a post for another day.

Comment 1

  1. Brett Keller March 1, 2012

    The physics metaphors are overdone in economics as well. And public health and medicine ironically love battle and war imagery…

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