Knowledge corrupts prose. You write upon subjects you know. Thus you can write a sentence that seems clear to you. You understand because you understood the ideas as you wrote it. Yet to the uninformed reader for whom you meant it, it is a belligerent mob of subordinated clauses, cavilling caveats and curious connectors.
Take this sentence from an article I was just reading:
As the longtime editor of the Socialist Register, Leys would probably not endorse this view, but a strong case can be made that just as it had been a mistake for supporters of communism who nonetheless opposed the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba to keep saying that not one of these actual communist regimes had lived up to the doctrine's emancipatory potential, so it is time to admit that there is only "actually existing" development, and that it has not worked.
I can make neither head nor tail of that. I could try taking the sentence apart, but I'm not even sure how to. On my fifth reading of it, I decided that he had missed out a not. On my sixth I wasn't so sure. Now, I'm quite sure that the author knows what he means. He seems like a clever chap. But that is the problem. His expertise has got the better of his prose. Because he can understand the sentence he assumes that others will. Because he has a subtle and complex understanding, his prose is subtle and complex and cannot be understood at all.
The simple solution would have been to break the sentence up. Eighty-one words is just too long, unless you're Milton. A full stop after view would be a start. I'm not sure how to continue because I still don't get the gist of the remaining sixty-six words.
The understanding must be subtle, the prose simple: such is the paradox of informative writing.
The article did, though, give me a word that I'd never heard before: sahelian. The Sahel is the strip of Africa immediately to the south of the Sahara. It comes from the Arabic sahil, meaning edge as it is the edge of the desert. The word is therefore terribly useful metaphorically. If I'm feeling pessimistic I could be feeling sahelian, with deserts of misery sweeping away before me. A chap who had just lost his job could receive a sahelian P45. An ambitious and verbose journalist could call today's Comprehensive Spending Review a sahelian moment.
The plural of sahil is, for some reason best known to the Arabs, sawahil. That is why the inhabitants of the edges, or coasts, of East African are called the Swahili, or the coastal people. That does not mean that the Swahili (coastal) live in the Sahel (edge of the desert), only that their names come from the same source. After all, mad Welshmen aren't walnuts.
Whereas the Swahili are opposite Madagascar