Monday, October 20, 2014

Snirt, whoopensocker and jabble

Snirt, whoopensocker and jabble are three regionalisms. They and 16 more regionalisms are defined in a recent article, “19 Regional Words All Americans Should Adopt Immediately.” The amusing article promotes a dictionary of regionalisms (pictured).*

The Takeaway: If you love words, you’ll probably enjoy the article.
*I have no financial interest in the dictionary.

See general disclaimer.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quotations on thinking, speaking and writing (31)

On fools and folly

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
~Mark Twain

“One of the reasons it has taken so long for some people to finally see through Barack Obama is that people do not like to admit, even to themselves, that they have been played for fools by a slick-talking politician.”
~Thomas Sowell (pictured)

“You’re so handsome that I can’t speak properly!”
~Gwyneth Paltrow, to Barack Obama (Source)

“In university they don’t tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools.”
~Doris Lessing, in the novel Martha Quest

“We are foolish and sentimental and melodramatic at twenty-five, but if we weren’t perhaps we should be less wise at fifty.”
~W. Somerset Maugham, in the moving short story “Red”

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”
~Benjamin Franklin

“The fool who knows that he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man;
the fool who thinks that he is wise is called a fool indeed.”

The Takeaway: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” ~Robert Frost

See disclaimer.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Steven Pinker on bad writing by good people

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker (pictured), a compelling and entertaining writer, recently published an article, “The Source of Bad Writing,”* in which he says that “the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose” is “the Curse of Knowledge.” The Curse is “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” He includes illustrative examples and sound advice on how to lessen or work around that difficulty.

I salute Mr. Pinker for calling attention to the difficulty. During 47 years as a writer and editor, I have seen many knowledgeable people struggle to write clearly for readers who have less knowledge than they do. I struggle, too. Perhaps you do, too.

The Takeaway: I urge you to read Mr. Pinker’s article, “The Source of Bad Writing.” As he says, “Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person in all spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your readers.” Read the article, follow the specific advice in it, and you will improve your ability to connect with readers and audiences.
*May require subscription.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Readers judge you by your diction, in order to save time

Recently, as I was researching Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), I saw a third-party (i.e., not from Microsoft) tutorial titled
“SkyDrive at the Core of the Windows 8.1 Experience – What Does it Mean?” (Source)
The writer had used a cliché (at the core), a massively overused cliché (experience), and a vague pronoun (it). Three clarity violations in 13 words; this is childish diction. I clicked elsewhere.

The Takeaway: Remember, intelligent readers judge you by your diction. They do it to avoid wasting time. If they notice that your title or introduction contains bad diction, they (correctly or incorrectly) conclude that the rest of your piece will be long-winded, silly and confusing. Therefore they conclude that you are not a credible source of information and they stop reading right there. So give yourself a chance; build your credibility by using good diction, especially in your title and introduction.

See disclaimer.

Monday, October 6, 2014

You can say a lot in only 100 words

Elizabeth Warren

If you write concisely, you can say a lot in only 100 words. Here are three examples:

Henry Hazlitt on Karl Marx

“The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: Hate the man who is better off than you are. Never under any circumstances admit that his success may be due to his own efforts, to the productive contribution he has made to the whole community. Always attribute his success to the exploitation, the cheating, the more or less open robbery of others. Never under any circumstances admit that your own failure may be owing to your own weakness, or that the failure of anyone else may be due to his own defects - his laziness, incompetence, improvidence, or stupidity.” (104 words) (Source)

Karin McQuillan on Barack Obama

“He pretended he would set new records for bipartisanship, and he set new records for partisanship. He promised to heal race relations but intervened to inflame them.  He promised to help the economy, and he harmed it.  He promised to care about the poor, and he abandoned them.  He promised to make us safer from the jihadis than the cowboy Bush, and he has brought the entire Middle East to flames, while throwing open our border to terrorists.  He promised he would act like a pragmatic, conciliatory centrist, and he has been the opposite.” (94 words) (Source)

Elizabeth Warren on Barack Obama

“He believes in a country where everyone is held accountable. Where no one can steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street. President Obama believes in a country where we invest in education, in roads and bridges, in science, and in the future, so we can create new opportunities, so the next kid can make it big, and the kid after that, and the kid after that. That's what president Obama believes. And that's how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt. We root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.” (109 words) (Source)

The Takeaway: Always strive to write concisely. One technique for writing concisely is to deliberately write an overlong first draft and then keep reducing it. For example, to write a 2000-word article, I typically write a 3000-word first draft. In successive drafts, I cut 500 words, 300 words, 150 words, and 50 words, leaving a concise, compelling, 2000-word fifth draft. This technique is quicker and easier than it sounds. Try it.

See disclaimer.