Monday, August 25, 2014

The New Newspeak


A recent article, “The New Newspeak,” discusses how some politicians “twist English for political gain.” It gives seven examples of twisted terms:
“at risk”
“barriers”
“community”
“under-represented”
“under-served”

“homeless”

“downtrodden”
The author says, “There is far more here than wooly thinking. Each term arrives with ample, almost invisible baggage that infiltrates the brain and ultimately shapes behavior.”

The author appears to have an anti-Left bias. Take that bias into account when reading him, but also try to judge his points on their own merits.

The Takeaway: We writers should always be especially alert readers. For example, we should be aware of the “baggage” that some terms carry, and avoid delivering that baggage unintentionally. As Oscar Wilde said in a different context, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude.”

See disclaimer.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Instant Credibility Boost 001 – Do not uptalk


From the 1983 movie Valley Girls

This is the first in a series of instant credibility boosts: techniques for rapidly increasing your professional credibility by demonstrating that you are an intelligent, knowledgeable and prudent grown-up.

Boost 001:  Do not uptalk


Uptalking (demo here) is the habitual use of “a rising note of apology or inquiry” at the ends of declarative sentences. In other words, making all your sentences sound like questions. For example:

Declarative sentence
“Hi, I’m Jason, from the PR department.”
Declarative sentence, with uptalking at the end
“Hi, I’m Jason, from the PR department?”
The hearer wonders: “Isn’t this guy sure of where he works?”
Declarative sentence, with uptalk at the end and in the middle
“Hi, I’m Jason? From the PR department?”
The hearer wonders: “Isn’t this clown even sure of his own name?”
What’s so bad about uptalking?

The affectation was started, in the early 1980s, by valley girls (pampered bimbos living in the San Fernando Valley of California). Since then, many other girls and women (apparently wishing to sound like pampered bimbos) started uptalking, too. Recently, even a few men have started. But intelligent grown-ups disdain the affectation and refuse to imitate it.

One lawyer explains it to his witnesses this way: “If you uptalk on the [witness] stand, you will sound like a valley girl, which means you will sound like an idiot, which means you will not be a credible witness. Do not uptalk.”

The Takeaway: Uptalking will make you sound fatuous. To find out whether you are uptalking, record a few of your phone calls and meetings (where legal) and listen to yourself. If you are uptalking, stop. If you are not uptalking, congratulations; don’t start. Best wishes.

See disclaimer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Emotional reasoning in the National Journal



Recently the National Journal ran an article titled “Ron Paul Is Putin’s New Best Friend,” by staff correspondent Lucia Graves. The article is an example of emotional reasoning, immaturity, subjectivity and misquotation.

On his YouTube channel, Canadian author and philosopher Stefan Molyneux posted an entertaining, instructive video critique (21:18) of the article. In the critique, he proceeds line by line and discusses several examples of the author’s faulty thinking and writing, including:
“blaming America”
“folk wisdom”
“quick to attack”
“pointing fingers”
“conspiracy theories”
“mysteriously”
Although he occasionally indulges in redundancy and histrionics, Mr. Molyneux is a very effective teacher. Especially if you are a beginning writer, I recommend you watch this video critique.

The Takeaway:  As writers, we must develop the habit of reading critically, because many articles today, like “Ron Paul Is Putin’s New Best Friend,” appear to be innocuous gibberish or prattle but are actually deliberate attempts to insinuate or manipulate. Try not to unconsciously absorb and unconsciously imitate that kind of writing.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The maniacal use of “issues” (6)


A view of Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York

In several posts (for example here), I’ve called attention to the widespread misuse of the word issuesMany people seem determined to misuse the word all day long.

For example, there are four appearances in a brief article, “Diversity Plaza [in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York] Gets Dedicated Police Officers to Address Complaints.” Here they are (emphasis mine):

The reporter uses issues in a paraphrase:
Two police officers have begun patrolling Diversity Plaza in response to complaints about vagrants, loud music and other safety issues, according to the precinct's commander....
The reporter quotes someone using issue:
“It's a serious quality of life issue right now.”
The reporter uses issues in a paraphrase:
“It’s a place to sit and enjoy, eat food,” he said, although he did agree with some of the issues brought up at the meeting.
The reporter uses issue in a paraphrase:
The police can help, but the cleanliness issue requires everyone to step up, he said.
Analysis

When people misuse the vague word issues, they are usually being deceptive or just lazy. For example:

Deceptive: The reporter (paraphrasing the police commander) uses “safety issues” as a generic phrase for a class of behavior that includes being vagrant and playing loud music. However, being vagrant and playing loud music are forms of interference with the public’s convenience and enjoyment, not threats to the public’s safety. Of course, it is possible that the “other safety issues” included real threats to safety; but if so, why weren’t those threats mentioned? It may be that the reporter heard about nuisances and wished to exaggerate them to threats, in order to spice up her story . Or the police commander exaggerated them, in order to justify dedicating two officers to fighting nuisances instead of fighting crime.

Just Lazy: A person using the vague phrase “quality of life issue” is just too darn lazy to articulate what he really means (for a long list of similar examples, look here).

The Takeaway: The word issues, like drive and actually, has graduated from fad word to mania word. Before you reach for the handy, vague word issues, ask yourself, “What is a clear way to make my point?” Don’t make your readers guess what you mean; if you do it frequently, your readers may become suspicious of your intentions.

See disclaimer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't undermine yourself



Writers, especially beginning writers, sometimes undermine themselves. Let me give you a quick example:

I began reading an article titled “Why Israel Fights: Life on the Gaza Border.” Here is the first paragraph:
Years ago in my misspent youth, as a film student at UCLA ,I saw a World War II documentary called “ Why We Fight.” So this is my go at it. But I’m not a good enough writer to do this one the way it ought to be done. I apologize for that up front. You won’t be able to feel what I felt yesterday in the warm embrace of a an amazing family who live in one of the small agricultural communities on the border they share the Hamas’s Terrorist enclave in Gaza, and who have been under almost constant fire for thirteen years.
Analysis

In 105 words, the author discouraged me from reading the rest of his article. In effect, he told me that there is a memorable World War II documentary called “Why We Fight,” that there is an interesting story to be told about life on the Gaza border, and that his article is not as interesting as either “Why We Fight” or life on the Gaza border. In the same 105 words, he made typographical, spacing, capitalization and composition errors.

The Takeaway: Don’t undermine yourself. Use your introduction to encourage your reader to keep reading: (1) Play your article up, don’t run it down; (2) don’t make any coy apologies; (3) write carefully; (3) edit. Give yourself a chance.

See disclaimer.