Damn Good Communication: Awesome Analogies from Sideways Dictionary

Ali Murray Fun Stuff

Crafting effective communication is like peeling an orange. You’ve got to tear away the tough outer layers of jargon and technical speak to get to the simple, digestible message at the core.

When used correctly, an analogy can make easy work of explaining a complicated topic. To see how the pros do it, check out Sideways Dictionary, a new project from the Washington Post that makes even the scariest of technological terms easy to grasp.

Their website lists about 80 terms from the world of tech, and offers analogies—some written by professional writers, others submitted by users—in an effort to help readers understand the concepts. You can even get a browser extension that links you to a Sideways Dictionary analogy for any terms you highlight. It’s easy to find, simple to use, and a godsend for those of us who keep forgetting to read up on “metadata.”

Although the intuitive design is awesome, it’s the focus on analogy that makes Sideways Dictionary truly great. Analogy removes jargon and allows a layperson to understand basic concepts. For example, when I read that a DDoS attack is when “many compromised systems inundate a network with data to force distributed denial of service,” I feel tempted to hide in my laundry basket. But if you said, “[A DDoS attack is] like a high school prank, where you post the details of your friend’s house party all over town, so instead of 20 people, 900 show up,” I’d say let’s tap that cyberkeg, my dude.

What Sideways Dictionary does for tech terms, Jellyvision does for health care jargon. Folks don’t need to know the full text of Internal Revenue Code 223 to understand their HSA tax savings—they should just know that it’s like putting part of your paycheck in a safe where Uncle Sam can’t get to it. PPO premiums aren’t a “subscription-based form of managed care”; they’re a membership fee that gives you access to a club of doctors and hospitals.

The Sideways Dictionary is some Damn Good Communication, and you too can try out analogies next time you’re tempted to use jargon—it’ll be like spreading butter on a radiator in July—easy and surprisingly rewarding.


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