What is the word used to represent the frustrating situation of wanting to find out about some topic, but not knowing the proper terminology related to said topic, and therefore being unable to search properly and find anything that actually relates to the topic?

It appears that the problem was experienced by Tom Scott in this video. Additionally, if my memory doesn't deceive me, I remember seeing the term in some youtube video a long time ago in the form of "a mountain of (something)", but I no longer remember what (something) was supposed to be.

Note: This may seem like a duplicate of this question, but it would be a more concrete term. The cause of this problem is not knowing rather than a mix between not knowing and forgetting, and the problem relates to not being able to learn about a topic rather than not being able to express oneself.

Edit: I now realize it might have been misleading to ask for a word, because I am not necessarily looking for a single-word answer.


4 Answers 4


You know just enough about the topic to be dangerous could be borrowed to fit this situation. Normally this phrase means that you have a smattering of familiarity with a topic, almost enough to B.S. your way through a conversation without appearing completely foolish.

Alternatively, you don't speak the lingo. Lingo is the specialized language used for a particular field, hobby, endeavor, etc.



understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite:

"poetry full of esoteric allusions"

or, as you mention in your OP, "... a mountain of esoteric terms."

or - a better term in my opinion:


known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric:

Which in your example would come out as "... a mountain of arcane terminology."

Both are from http://dictionary.com


Anomalous State of Knowledge seems to be what I was looking for. Appears to have been introduced by Nicholas J. Belkin:

Belkin realized that in many cases, users of search systems are unable to precisely formulate what they need. They miss some vital knowledge to formulate their queries. In such cases it is more suitable to attempt to describe a user's anomalous state of knowledge than to ask the user to specify her/his need as a request to the system.


I don't think there is a concise term for this in English - I would just say that you lack the domain-specific terminology. I often come across this when searching niche areas using "laymans" terms. It's like Googling "how to straighten a wiggly line" rather than "Douglas-Peucker algorithm".

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.