Invisible Winks

Ben Casnocha:

“Inside baseball” refers to using jargon, specialized knowledge, acronyms, first names instead of full names. … They subtly increase the bond between the people in the know. … [It] reinforces a defined ingroup based on our common experiences, knowledge, vernacular. …

Where it gets tricky is when … you make inside references and outsiders read/hear them … and … feel excluded. … One idea: use “Invisible Winks” … insiders get the wink while outsiders do not notice the wink; additive to insiders, neutral to outsiders. … David Foster Wallace did this a lot … with hidden references and allusions, but not in a way where outsiders (i.e., people who don’t pick up on the allusion) feel like they’re “missing” something. …

Does this all sound insanely oveanalzyed? Maybe, but I think it’s important. When I think about socially brilliant people, they possess a remarkable sensitivity to insider/outsider dynamics when speaking and writing to groups. It’s part of what makes them socially brilliant. (more; HT Tyler)

Reading Ben you might get the impression that invisible winks are a special advanced technique, used only by the most sophisticated. But while only the most “socially brilliant” may use it consciously, my claim is that all humans are born with sophisticated abilities for related behaviors. Selective communication is a core capacity that enables humans to coordinate to hypocritically evade social norms, and I’ve argued that such hypocrisy is, after language, humanity’s most distinctive mental capacity.

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