authors & audience grammar & speech

Little ears

Setting: in a bank branch
Teller: How old is she?
Customer: She’s 4, and we have another at home 2½.
Teller: I have a 1½. We might have another when this one is potty trained.
Child: Mommy, why are we here?
Customer: I’m getting a check.
Child: Looks puzzled by the unfamiliar transaction.
Customer: Realizes the setting. Emily, when we go to the bank we get a C-H-E-Q-U-E. We get C-H-E-C-K-E-D when we go to the doctor.

A piece of paper and a lollipop appear to cure all.

authors & audience grammar & speech language & style

Language support serves meaning first

We used an immigration lawyer to start the paperwork six months before we arrived. Worried whether Canada would let us land the lawyer calmed us by saying something like “… you can speak the language.” It was a moment of introspection.

Seeing how many people face communication barriers, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada publishes an Interpreter Handbook. The code of conduct advises practitioners to take all reasonable care to accurately interpret or translate what is stated in the source language, having regard to meaning first and then to style.

Persons performing oral or written translation must express exactly what has been said. No paraphrasing, no embellishment, no omission, no explanation, no opinion.

If a speaker says he was “struck” an appropriate equivalent term would be “hit”– but not “assaulted”. If a speaker says “I will appeal…”, the interpreter repeats “I will appeal …”, not “my client will appeal..” and not “she will appeal …”. Getting the meaning right takes care, skill and diligence.

authors & audience grammar & speech

Absolute and relative points

On the first day of the New Year my brother would tease that I hadn’t bathed since last year. Well neither has the poor guy who lives under the bridge. Let’s see which reference determines who’s more fragrant.

If today is January 1, then ‘since last year’ could refer to yesterday. I haven’t bathed since Monday means that I do bath with regular frequency. For others a different set of reference points apply. Perhaps as a street dweller I’d understand ‘since last year’ to mean any arbitrary period. I haven’t bathed since whenever means you won’t need bloodhounds to track me down.

grammar & speech language & style

Look who’s talking

Want to compose your documents by voice instead of by keystrokes?

Mom probably never thought that her advice to ‘think before you speak’ applied to technical speaking, but today, that’s all you really need to do to use dictation software.

Current systems are so reliable that even a child’s voice can serve as a suitable input. Not that you’d want baby Kaylie dictating court proceedings, but it’s technologically possible. If you were going to choose Kaylie’s voice, the setup might look something like this:

"Please select a dictator"
Benevolent types only

Fortunately, two decades of steady improvements have untethered the technical speaker from desktops in quiet rooms. You could say that technical speaking is as easy as chattering on a cel phone – if you know exactly what you’re about to say.

authors & audience grammar & speech

Pomp and circumstance

<Insert your institute of higher learning here.>

A commencement speaker

Commencement speakers are honoured and humbled to be here this day. Gathered guests are thanked for their supporting role. The speaker fervently relates the mechanism by which she/he overcame personal obstacles (while you ponder your own not-so-different circumstance). The encouraging family member, insightful teacher, and/or divine being are acknowledged. Family and friends couldn’t be more proud. The day is filled with photos, embraces and unbridled optimism.

All graduations are pretty much the same – cheering sections, flowers, unpredictable weather, caps and gowns.

On this day we repeatedly tell grads to believe they can do anything they set their sights on. But belief is not enough. We must also remind them to have a plan to make it so.

grammar & speech terms & abbreviations

Happy 2,010!

unmarked calendar
a new decade

Happy new year, and now the great debate begins… How to say the next decade. Words from the last decade got sorted out. It wasn’t the more familiar sounding “nine-one-one” that stuck but rather “nine-eleven”. I don’t recall a debate about calling the  2000-2009 period the ‘oughts’.  Is that even how you say it?

Two things are for certain; the year 2000 happened with nary a Y2K glitch, and the XXI Olympic Winter Games are called the 2010 Winter Olympics. Psst, just say ‘twenty-ten’ and everyone will catch on.

grammar & speech language & style

Another day, another money

That was the translation offered by an Asian gentleman as I paid for a bus pass. I had to know if the same symbol represented both money and dollars.

Another day, another money
Another day, another money

They appeared to be different enough but conceptually the idiom worked. Learning the global language of money one idiom at a time. Next up:

  • sixty-four-thousand-dollar question
  • phony as a three-dollar bill
  • day late and a dollar short
  • bet dollars to donuts
authors & audience grammar & speech language & style

“Land In South Carolina”

The junk mail subject piqued my interest but not to own a swamp or make a pit stop. No, I wanted to know if “land” was on the approved verb list.

According to the authors of simplified technical English it’s not.

The Simplified Technical English standard is used by those who prepare maintenance documentation for the North American and European aerospace industry. A method of writing using controlled language aims to prevent misinterpretation. This is accomplished by limiting general word use to fewer than 1000 and adopting around 200 approved verbs.

stop, start, get, make – approved verbs
begin, end, land, manufacture – not approved

A dictionary plus set of writing rules and training are things that help writers cope.

grammar & speech language & style

Deal or ordeal?

My editor friend likes to do canning so we go to the farmers market for a shopping spree. First stop is for raspberries and maybe blueberries. The stocks are plentiful so where do we begin? Ah, the vendor advertising berries at way below price. Gotta love a bargain and this was a deal – three boxes of raspberries OR blueberries for a dollar.

We began to mix and match pints. I handed the vendor a loonie for my haul. She looked puzzled, then motioned for another coin. Huh? My friend and I were paying separately I motioned back. She made a weird smile then pointed to the handmade sign.

Fresh local berries
5 for 2
3 for 1

I reread it, as did my friend. Price check please. Even with a number crossed out and a dollar sign inserted it read/we read five for two dollars…

Why didn’t the berry seller know the convention: units then cost. Disappointed, we took our business to a competitor with conventional signage.

Berry season
Berry season
design & typography grammar & speech language & style production & publishing writing & editing

Summer interns

A few months back I commented on the parts of technical writing I enjoy–the nuance of language, a collegial atmosphere. This month I’m adding another aspect, summer interns.

technical publications competition group
international interns, chapter advisors, and competition manager

I’ve been fortunate to work with a group of international students on a not-for-profit project. They’ve taken on planning an event for the Fall. Short of registering their friends and family they are promoting the event in every possible way. They’ve created a plan, designed a logo, multiplied the database and learned a bit about technical writing too. The students became organized as any product team might except that their buzz was about learning English, not launching a product.

International students find internships to practice speaking and listening, reading and writing in English. Passing those skills on a proficiency exam is a key to their future.