Thursday, July 14

Measuring the fog of prose

I love this. Did you know there is actually an index which measures how impenetrable is your prose? Its called as the Gunning Fog Index devised by Robert Gunning. The formula tallies the words in each sentence, and the syllables in each word and then estimates how difficult it is to read that text.

Here are examples from wikipedia: Brilliant:

Passage from the nursery rhyme Rock-a-bye Baby

The following paragraph has a Gunning Fog Index of 3.1.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come baby, cradle and all.


  • There are 31 words in four sentences.
  • There are no complex words.
  • 0.4 ((31 / 4) + 100 (0/31))
  • 0.4 x ( 7.75 + 0)
  • Fog index = 3.1
Passage from the Wikipedia article on "logorrhoea"

The following paragraph has a Gunning Fog Index of 16.6.

The word logorrhoea is often used pejoratively to describe prose that is highly abstract and contains little concrete language. Since abstract writing is hard to visualize, it often seems as though it makes no sense and all the words are excessive. Writers in academic fields that concern themselves mostly with the abstract, such as philosophy and especially postmodernism, often fail to include extensive concrete examples of their ideas, and so a superficial examination of their work might lead one to believe that it is all nonsense.


  • There are 86 words in three sentences.
  • The 11 italic words are considered complex.
  • 0.4 ((86 / 3) + 100 (11/86))
  • 0.4 x ( 28.67 + 12.79)
  • Fog index = 16.6
Passage from the Wikipedia article on "The English Language"

The following paragraph has a Gunning Fog Index of 24.4.

As a result of the military, economic, scientific, political, and cultural influence of the United Kingdom from the 18th century, and of the United States since the mid 20th century, it has become the lingua franca in many parts of the world, and the most prominent language in international business and science. It is used extensively as a second language and as an official language in the European Union and many Commonwealth countries, as well as many international organisations.


  • There are 79 words in two sentences.
  • The 17 italic words are considered complex.
  • 0.4 ((79/2) + 100(17/79))
  • 0.4 x ( 39.5 + 12.79)
  • Fog index = 24.4
[edit]The same passage simplified

The following paragraph has a Gunning Fog Index of 7.07.

English has become the standard language around the world. This was the result of many factors. In the 1700s, the British affected English with the army, economy, science, politics and culture. In the mid-1900s, the United States caused change. It is the most used language in world business and science. It is a famous second language and an official language in most of Europe and in Commonwealth countries. It is also the case in groups around the world.


  • There are 79 words in seven sentences.
  • The 5 italic words are considered complex.
  • 0.4 ((79/7) + 100(5/79))
  • 0.4 x ( 11.28 + 2.5)
  • Fog index = 7.07


I have to admit that the first time I hit this problem of incomprehension was when i was reading epistemology during doctoral level coursework in Manchester. And you dont really have to use big words to get me seriously confused but some are really painful. I give you an example from my name sake, Roy Bhaskar.  I quote:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal of the unholy trinity of Parmendean/Platonic/Aristotlean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and it's close ally, the epistemic fallacy with it's ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kiekegaardian and Nietszhean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard. (Plato, etc. p.215)

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