Synonyms Writers May (or Might) Use

English is a language of synonyms. We inherited words from the Germanic tribes, the Vikings, the French, and the Romans and assimilated words from other cultures as far apart as India and Italy. So it should come as no surprise that subtle variations and nuances between near synonyms cause trouble for even native speakers of […]

In Defense of the Plural They

Language is a product of humans; therefore, it is organic, varied, and flexible. Language also helps people cooperate to accomplish big tasks, communicate emotional truths, and resolve otherwise violent disputes. Too much flexibility undermines its power. Too great rigidity breaks us. One “rule” that language purists insist upon is that pronouns should agree in number […]

Book Review: Joseph Kimble – Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please

Readers interested in plain language may encounter a book published in 2012 by Joseph Kimble called Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law. I recently picked up a copy and thought it might be useful to share my reading experience. The author, Joe Kimble, is a […]

A Case for Collaborative Literature

October is Nobel Prize month, and in 2014 the Foundation gave us a glimpse into its methodology for its 2nd century of existence: the rewarding of collaborative work.* From October 6 to October 13, Nobel Prizes were awarded in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace, and Economics. Of those, only Literature and Economics were awarded to […]

Gobbledygook and Other Sorts of Nonsense

Anything worth saying is worth saying plainly. And doing so is often less trouble. Still, nonsense language persists. In fact, so many communications are nonsensical that the English language has evolved dozens of words to describe the varieties of nonsense you may be unfortunate enough to experience. For all of us who wish to speak […]

The Mighty Semicolon

Few marks of punctuation cause so much angst as the semicolon. Compared to the semicolon, the comma is a mosquito, hovering over the sentence, buzzing, striking occasionally to suck the sanguinary syntax of its vitality and infect it with limpidity. The semicolon, on the other hand, is the object of authorial navel-gazing. It forces us […]

Bread upon the Waters

Overheard – biologists at lunch swapping notes RE office environment: B1: We’ve recently moved to half-cubes. Some of us have started wearing airport-style headphones to drown out the noise. The guy next to me conducts all of his business via speakerphone. I can put white noise on underneath of the ‘phones and still hear him. […]

Plain Language: A Division of Labor

Definitions of Plain Language on PlainLanguage.gov include those by legal writer Bryan Garner, scholar Robert Eagleson, software creator Nick Wright, technical communicator Beth Mazur, and essayist George Orwell. Such diversity illustrates the difficulty we have implementing plain language today. How should plain language practitioners define plain language and establish guidelines for its implementation with such […]

The Scientific Paper and Modes of Discourse

One strategy composition teachers have used since the earliest days of the art is to ask students to decide upon a mode of discourse. Classical rhetoricians had three: deliberative, forensic, and epideictic. In modern parlance, if you’re writing about why or how something should be done, it’s deliberative. If you’re attempting to determine whether or […]