Monday, January 12, 2015

Random thoughts (8)

The downside of freedom of expression

The columnist Theodore Dalrymple,* a retired psychiatrist, on freedom of expression: “When my patients used to complain to me of their f…..g headache, I used to ask them to explain to me the difference between a headache and a f…..g headache. They couldn’t; and in fact, complete freedom of expression has led to an impoverishment of expression, because one doesn’t need to think of alternatives to the first expletive that comes into one’s mind – or is it one’s f…..g mind?” (Source)

Nouns as adjectives

Using nouns as adjectives is useful, but sometimes it’s confusing. For example, “freedom fighters” (presumably) fight for freedom. But “crime fighters” (presumably) fight against crime.

Terms that writers should not use flippantly, but do

“Good intentions.” When a writer assumes a person had good intentions, the writer never specifies (1) what he assumes the intentions were; or (2) why he assumed those intentions; or (3) under which moral philosophy the intentions would be considered good; or (4) why they would be considered good. If a writer is not willing to state (or even hint at) all of this, he is flimflamming the reader.**

“The equation.” (Examples here.) Writers who like to refer to “the equation” (and they are legion) never specify what the equation is. To me, this practice usually sounds like insinuation or evasion; that is to say, the writer is trying to get away with something.

“Sustainability” and “Diversity.” Writers usually refer to these states as if they were self-evidently desirable. However, their desirability is bitterly disputed. Moreover, neither word even has a tidy, universally agreed-upon definition; for example, the Wikipedia definition of sustainability, which valiantly attempts (but fails) to include all the disagreements, is a whopping 755 words long. On cultural diversity alone (one of several kinds of diversity), Wiki spends nearly 4,000 words. On the related concept of multiculturalism, Wiki spends more than 7,000.

Life parodies itself

I just learned – but can hardly believe – that the current White House Press Secretary is a fellow named Josh Earnest. The name sounds like someone made it up after hearing the old gag by George Burns: “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” By the way, I see that Mr. Earnest succeeded a Mr. Carney. If a writer used these names in the manuscript of a satirical novel, his editor would probably rule them too heavy-handed and corny.

Is this too much to ask?

For about 15 years, I’ve been looking for a software application that can directly convert an internet article into a Microsoft Word document. Just the body copy: no photos, drawings, graphs, captions, pull quotes, ads or sidebars. Just so I can easily read the article. Can anyone help me? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

*Among his many distinctions as a writer, Mr. Dalrymple remembers that the past participle of the verb to lead is led not lead. (Look it up here.)

**And I’m sure you’ve noticed that writers invoke “good intentions” only when the person’s action or lack of actions caused a disaster or failed to prevent a disaster. And only when the writer has the same political leanings as the person. In other words, it is prejudice.

The Takeaway: Be here now.

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