Are mathematicians deliberately obscure? Or is it really so hard for them to write prose?

Check out this description of σ-algebras from Wik***dia.

**BAD:**

In *mathematics*, a *σ-algebra* (also *sigma-algebra*, *σ-field*, *sigma-field*) is a technical concept for a collection of *sets* satisfying certain properties.^{[1]} The main use of σ-algebras is in the definition of *measures*; specifically, a σ-algebra is the collection of sets over which a measure is defined.

No sh_t? It’s technical? And it satisfies properties. You don’t say.

The kernel of that paragraph is just one sentence.

**GOOD:**

In mathematics, a σ-algebra is a measurable collection of sets.

*I changed the W*****dia page at 8:40pm on 3 Mar ‘11.* Let’s see if I get in trouble. (I bet if I do it will be for “not being rigorous” or “original research”.)

Yes this is a specialist topic, but that doesn’t require gobbledegook. A σ-algebra is measurable like ℝ, but is not ℝ. Why can’t we just use normal words?

**UPDATE:** It hurts to be this right. My changes were reverted about an hour after I put them up. Am I wrong here?

I’m reminded of a story Doug Hofstadter told us about a friend of his who submitted an article in clear, everyday language to an academic journal. According to DH, the journal’s editors rejected the piece, saying it was too unprofessional. **They confused jargon with sophistication, bombast with wisdom.**

I don’t know the friend’s name or the journal’s name, and I half-wonder if I am just being a pr$ck about this Wikipedia article. But no, think about how people react to the word “maths”. This has got to be the reason—this and boring maths classes. Mathematicians literally *refuse* to write simply.

**UPDATE 2:** Another offender is the article on compact topological spaces. I’m actually removing some text from the garbled lede when I say:

In mathematics, specifically general topology, a compact topology is a topological space whose topology has the compactness property.

I think I’ve found a new candidate for worst sentences in the English language. Does anyone have George Orwell’s e-mail address?

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