Archive for the ‘Language Use’ Category


“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

— George Orwell, Why I Write

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(Thanks to T.C. Weber for this one, who’s doing the same damn thing.)

 


“[Chekhov] has put his finger on a problem that often affects writers and just as frequently stands in the way of clarity: the belief that every noun needs an adjective, that every sentence must be elaborate, that every turn of phrase must be lyrical, poetic, and above all original, and that it represents some sort of shameful failure of the imagination to use language in a way that can be readily understood by all.”

–Francine Prose, “It’s Harder Than It Looks to Write Clearly” on Lithub

 


I just read a self-indulgent, useless piece by an editor at another small press regarding a recently deceased prominent sci-fi author (Ursula Le Guin). The editor had nothing interesting to say — whatever; it’s what I expected — but what really irritated me was her use of the term “passed away” in place of “dead” or “deceased.”

If you’re trying to convey useful information, euphemisms — even the most commonly understood — are a lousy, inefficient way to do it. Let’s take this euphemism: “passed away” is a  term with two words, a dipthong, and three syllables. The slightly more polite but still accurate “deceased” is a single word with two syllables. “Dead” consists of a single word and a single syllable.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, nearly of 20 my friends have died (all younger than me). They’re dead; they didn’t “pass”; they didn’t “pass away”; they didn’t “go to a better place.” They’re dead. And I miss them.

There’s no way to sugar coat it, and trying to do so is obnoxious, condescending — taking the reader as a delicate flower who can’t handle the truth.

As Lemme put it, my friends are “stone dead, forever.”

Using euphemisms wastes time and makes honest discourse more cumbersome.

Stop it. Please stop it.


One of the main mocking points of the right is the language of the left, especially PC terms such as the mandatory “people of.”

Here’s a hint as to why using such language is a really dumb thing to do: It’s artificial. In real life — at least around here — No one talks like that.

My neighborhood is about 80% nonwhite, and over the last quarter century while talking with my Mexican, black, and poor white neighbors, I have never heard the words “people of color.”  Never. The black people refer to themselves as black people or African-Americans. The Mexicans refer to themselves as Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, very occasionally chicanos. Not “people of color” — that’s a term for guilty white folks and identity-politics types of any color, who care more about using the correct PC terms than about reaching the people around them (more accurately, reaching the people in poor and working class neighborhoods).

After that disastrous usage and similar off-putting PC terms, things get even worse — totally divorced from reality, totally divorced from daily life.

Let’s take a prime example: “Smash US Imperialism.” What the hell does that mean? “Smash”? Does it have any concrete meaning? No. It’s just metaphorical.

What about “U.S. Imperialism”? That might have some meaning (varying) in hardcore leftist circles, though one suspects it’s close to a ritual incantation. Most of my neighbors would have at best a foggy idea of what that term means.

The point is that “Smash U.S. Imperialism” is just empty political sloganeering. It has nothing to do with daily life.

After such empty rhetoric, incredibly enough, things get even worse.

Condescending identity-politics types will happily lecture people about how they’re woman-haters for refusing to vote for authoritarian warmonger and corporate lapdog Hillary Clinton, and how having a woman in charge will be a huge step forward. (Yep, having Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi at the top of the heap in the UK and India changed everything, didn’t it?)

Even more obnoxiously, holier-than-thou identity politics types will lecture people about how they’re racists just because they’re white. Some of the more dishonest, disrespectful PC types even have the nerve to ask other white people “Are you a racist” in order to manipulate them into being lectured about how all white people are racists.

This type of patronizing PC b.s. does far more harm than good. It unnecessarily alienates people and plays into the stereotype that everyone on the left side of the political spectrum is a condescending jerk.

So, what to do?

If you want to talk with people and actually move them, talk to them about their daily lives. Talk with them about how lacking healthcare means they might die, how their kids might die; talk to them about the shitty schools in the neighborhood; talk to them about the insane cost of higher education; talk to them about how the 1% pay lower taxes than they do, and how they’ll never get ahead as long as that continues.

Talk about daily life, what we’re all going through, and we might even get to hardcore Trump worshippers. When we point out how government and corporate policies play out in daily life, how they affect all of our families, we might get through to people.

Let’s point out why, in concrete terms, our shared pain exists, and we might get somewhere.

Using abstract, PC language and slogans almost guarantees that we won’t.

Talking about daily life is the best, and arguably the only, way to reach people.

 

 

 


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

I recently read a short story by a well-known science fiction author, and found myself grinding my teeth as I plowed through it. Why? It was well plotted and the characters were well drawn, but it contained several common writing errors — errors that the editor should have caught, and that the writer should never have made. (She’s a major figure in the sci-fi genre, and the story collection was published by a major publishing house.)

The first error was misspelling of the past tense of the verb “lead”: it’s “led,” not “lead.”

The second was my current pet peeve, incorrect use of the infinitive: “and” is not part of the infinitive; “to” is. For example, “I’m going to try and get a job.” Wrong. “I’m going to try to get a job.” Right.

The third was misuse of both semicolons and colons.

Semicolons have only two uses: 1) to separate two closely related phrases that could stand as independent sentences; 2) to separate items in lists, especially within text. They can be used as separators in bulleted or numbered lists, but that’s optional.

Colons have a few more uses: 1) at the end of salutations in letters or e-mails; 2) to introduce lengthy quoted material; 3) at the end of a complete sentence when the following phrase, clause, or word illustrates or explains the preceding part of the sentence; 4) to introduce a list.

Everyone, at least occasionally, makes writing mistakes. But when abundant such errors indicate the following: 1) the author is simply a poor writer and doesn’t even suspect s/he’s making common errors; 2) the author takes little or no pride in his or her craft, is too lazy to learn proper usage, and doesn’t think it matters; or 3) the author is aware of his or her writing errors, knows they’re problems, and wishes to slough them off on lesser mortals (i.e., editors).

These are all excellent reasons for not wanting to work with an author.


Here’s the latest installment in our ever-popular Internet Crap series, which mixes links to sick and absurd but amusing crap with links to useful crap. Enjoy!

  • Skeptic Magazine has a great piece on a new successful hoax of a postmodernist academic journal. The piece begins:

    The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

    “. . .We used this preposterous sentence to open a ‘paper’ consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.”

  • Walking disease vector Milo Yiannopoulos’s publicists claimed, to Publishers Weekly, that his new self-published book Dangerous sold 100,000 copies during its first week. It turns out, according to industry reporting firm Nielsen BookScan, that it was only about 18,000. (To avoid misunderstanding, please understand that when we refer to Yiannopoulos as a “walking disease vector,” we’re referring to emotional, not physical, illness.)

  • Raw Story reports that “Conservative Christian reality TV star Toby Willis gets 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to child rape.” What channel was carrying the Willis program? You guessed it! TLC.  Raw Story further reports that “Willis’ rape case is the third sex scandal that plagued TLC. In 2014, the network first canceled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ after Mama June rekindled a romance with a convicted sex offender. In 2015, it axed ’19 Kids and Counting’ following Josh Duggar’s molestation scandal.”
  • Well, this is a first. The Saudi government is usually in the news for persecuting atheists, committing judicial mass murder, forbidding women to drive (among other worse affronts), and committing war crimes in Yemen, but it’s come up with a new, amusing, and amazing offense it can use to hammer its citizens: excessive butt kissing.
  • If you’ve been listening to right-wing misrepresentation of Black Lives Matter,  please give a close listen to Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a found of Black Lives Matter, who presents a very insightful analysis of current political conditions in the United States, and how we can improve them.
  • Finally, the headline here (almost) says it all: “Juggalo March on Washington: Insane Clown Posse fans to demand end to ‘gang’ designation.”

For now, that’s all folks.


(We recently began running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re currently featuring blasts from the past from 2013, and will be for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Bad Writing Trends

Bad writing trends come and go in written English. (We’re not talking about, like, you know, spoken English.) Over the last few decades, one of the most prominent has been the use of apostrophes to form plurals, as in, “Idiot’s form the plural by inserting an apostrophe before an ‘s.'” Fortunately, this manner of forming plurals is now regarded almost universally as semi-literate, and it seems to be fading away.

Another really bad trend is use of wordy, pretentious “of” constructions in place of adjectives (mostly those ending in “ed”), as in “horse of disease” rather than “diseased horse.” Fortunately, this type of construction also seems to be fading away. If the contrary was true, we’d likely find ourselves reading sentences such as, “The girl of size in the dress of stripes bought a balloon of color.” Fortunately, such constructions are becoming increasingly rare, and the adjectival “of” form survives today primarily in the mandatory PC usage, “people of color.”

As noted in a previous post, “and” is increasingly used in place of “to” in the infinitive, as in the barbaric, “I’m going to try and write literate-sounding sentences.” This usage seems to be on the upswing, but it’s so ugly that one suspects (well, fervently hopes) it will disappear in short order. Just remember, “and” is not part of the infinitive.

(As a side note, I was dismayed a couple of nights ago, while rereading Heart of Darkness, to see that even Joseph Conrad used “and” as part of the infinitive — in 1899! [The horror! The horror!] There’s only one instance of this in the book, but still . . . . . So, while I detest this mangled form of the infinitive and wish it would go away, I’m not holding my breath.)

Another really bad and ascending trend is the overuse of hyphens, what one might term “hyphen glut” (or should that be “hyphen-glut”?). Hyphens are creeping into places where they simply should not be, where they’re simply unnecessary. The primary example is “well-known.” In this usage, “well” is an adverb, a word that modifies an immediately following adjective. Hence, the hyphen is unnecessary; it’s ugly clutter. It’s even common nowadays to see hyphens inserted between adverbs ending in “ly” and following adjectives, as in “friendly-sounding.” This is even worse than inserting hyphens after other adverbs. The “ly” ending is figuratively leaping into the air, waving pom poms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!”

Just remember, do not use hyphens between adverbs and adjectives; rather, use them in adjectival phrases that precede the noun being modified, as in, “Bubba downed five shots of tequila in his end-of-the-day ritual.” And omit the hyphens if the phrase comes after the noun, as in, “Bubba’s ritual consisted of downing five shots of tequila at the end of the day,” (which after an hour of writing about verbal atrocities sounds like a pretty good idea — cheers).