Imagine that a certificate program in Plain Language has now been introduced. I confess I have mixed emotions about this. Encouraging more people to become proficient and to use Plain Language in communicating is a good thing. But gee whiz, do we really need a certificate program to do that? E.B. White and Miss Hall, a highly revered English teacher in the Des Moines public schools in the 1960s, would probably be laughing themselves silly if they were around. Isn’t it the job of English teachers everywhere to teach the value of plain language?
Now, I’m wondering:
- What forces work against plain language? Inadequate instruction in writing? Haste in writing?
- Who writes confounding and confusing prose? Pompous academics? Unscrupulous marketers? Overly cautious lawyers?
- What will it take to require Plain Language in contracts, laws, regulations and user agreements? Political pressure from enough consumers and citizens?
- What actions can I and others take to promote the use of Plain Language?
If you have thoughts about any of these questions, please let me know.
Here’s a fascinating look at the Use of Superlatives in Cancer Research stories published in the JAMA Oncology. Reporters, take care. Consumers, beware.
This New York Times op-ed piece, A Texas History Lesson, by Ellen Bresler Rockmore, a lecturer in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth, exposes how some Texas history books blunt the cruelty and ugliness of slavery. Well worth a read.
“Monopsony” wins hands down for today’s title. Used in “How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon,” “monopsony” is defined in the enlightening piece by Bob Kohn as when a buyer of goods has the power to unlawfully lower the prices of what it buys. “Monopsony” is the mirror image of “monopoly,” which is when a seller of goods has the power to unlawfully raise prices. Seems to me we have a lot of situations these days that sure feel like monopolies and monopsonies. Take the airline industry, which has three or four major carriers that keep finding new ways to wrest money from their customers. And Walmart, which seems to control its suppliers perhaps more than it should. Anyone up for creating a game called “Monopsony”?
How high can we go? “Zettabyte” is a recently invented term to describe an extremely large amount of digital data, according to James Gorman in an article, All Circuits are Busy. A zettabyte equals about a trillion gigabytes or 75 billion 16-gigabyte iPads. Wow. And I thought a million was unfathonable. Photo by Eyewire
Three cheers for the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed nutrition label. (Wall Street Journal: Food Nutritional Labels Set for New Look). Consumers want clear, realistic and easy-to-understand information. Unfortunately, the processed food industry is not as interested in letting us know how many calories we consume and the extra sugar they put into so much food unnecessarily. I don’t understand why sugar needs to be added to peanut butter, for example. Even if relatively few consumers read this information, its presence puts pressure on the food industry to pay more attention to nutrition and health. I hope consumers’ interest will win out on this. What do you think?
Am still catching up with Sunday’s paper. The story, “Loss Leaders on the Half Shell,” about the current oyster craze, captured my attention today even though I am not a fan of oysters, raw or otherwise. The writer, Karen Stabiner, quoted a Chicago restaurateur as saying about certain oysters: “They’re coming from great growers who are developing their own terroir, like wine growers.” Unfamiliar with the word, I raced to Webster’s New World Dictionary but it wasn’t there. A Google search immediately turned up a definition: “The conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics: grass-fed beef with an Idaho terroir.” Of course, I should have known, given that terre means earth. A search of the New York Times also turned up at least six previous uses of the word in the past two years. Where have I been? Oh, well, now I know. It’s a great word and will surely come in to more popular use given that all sorts of foods these days are marketed based on their terroir.
What consumer hasn’t listened to a medical professional and wondered: What the heck did that person just say? Too often, much of what a physician or other medical professional says sounds like “Blah, blah, blah, Heart Attack blah, blah, blah Cancer.” to the patient, notes Theresa Brown in her Bedside column, “Lost in Clinical Translation.” I’ve certainly had those experiences as a patient. As she notes, “I don’t mean to blame doctors and nurses; it can be very hard to slow down and tune in to a patient’s wavelength when you have other patients and countless pressing tasks to get to.” I take her point not simply to heighten awareness of this issue within the medical community but to consider that everyone does this. When did you last notice someone with whom you were talking had a blank expression? What I realize about myself is that too often I have kept talking. I have not taken the cue that all my listener was hearing was “Blah, blah, And then Blah, Blah.” Noise and nothing else. Clear communication requires that the speaker makes certain the listener is engaged in listening. Something to ponder in my next conversation. How about you?
I couldn’t help but be struck by Charles M. Blow’s use of “othering” in his column today. He put it in quotes most likely because it isn’t a word, at least not according to the dictionaries I checked. Here’s how he used it in referring to how Republicans treat President Obama: “This lawlessness talk is simply another iteration of the ‘othering’ of this president.” I don’t remember seeing this as a word before but I didn’t have trouble picking up the meaning, which could be one criterion for whether it works as a word. A Google search turned up a lot of references, however. According to Geek Feminism Wiki, “Othering is a process or a rhetorical device in which one group is seen as “us” and another group as “them.” How about it? Should it be a word?