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.

language & style terms & abbreviations

English as a second language

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is legislation respecting immigration to Canada and granting refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

The term “foreign national” refers to any person other than a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Oddly, the word “immigrant” doesn’t appear in the Act.

I was happy to read that the 2001 Act used simpler language and fewer cross-references. However, I had to chew on a 112-word clause before it made any sense.

Sole provincial responsibility — appeals
If a federal-provincial agreement gives a province sole responsibility to establish and apply financial criteria with respect to undertakings that sponsors living in that province may make in respect of a foreign national who applies to become a permanent resident, then, unless the agreement provides otherwise, the existence of a right of appeal under the law of that province respecting rejections by provincial officials of applications for sponsorship, for reasons of failing to meet financial criteria or failing to comply with a prior undertaking, prevents the sponsor, except on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, from appealing under this Act against a refusal, based on those reasons, of a visa or permanent resident status.

My take on sole provincial responsibility appeals is this:

The province can impose financial responsibility on the sponsor of a foreign national, and if refused for financial reasons the sponsor can appeal to the province or apply under the Act for a humanitarian and compassionate exception.

My hat goes off to ESL classmates who had to deal with breaking down and making sense of this provision.

authors & audience language & style

Saved by the rules, bothered by the exceptions

File this under know your audience. A classmate asked for help to understand an excerpt from the rules of professional conduct.

An Immigration Consultant shall not represent parties with potentially conflicting interests in an immigration matter, save after adequate disclosure to and with the consent of the parties, and shall not act or continue to act in a matter when there is or is likely to be a conflict of interest.

The word save can be used as a verb, noun, preposition, and conjunction. Save used as literary term is out of context when found in policies and procedures writing. Don’t do it. Constructed as such, it’s not immediately evident that an exception follows the rule.

In the context of writing policy you want to deconstruct it something like this.

Rule:  An Immigration Consultant shall not represent parties with…
Exception:  Only after adequate disclosure to…

February update: The U.S. “brain-dead immigration system” is more reason to come to Canada. Read the article.

authors & audience language & style

Cross-border negotiations — table it

“I bring something to the table!”
This term ‘table’ has been bugging me since moving to Canada. Apparently, here, ‘to table‘ something means to formally propose or offer a topic for discussion. For example, the condo association tabled the discussion on landscaping. After the agenda items were covered they initiated a discussion so residents could gripe about dead shrubbery.
In the US you’d say ‘let’s table it’ to mean postponing any discussion or consideration of a motion or thing.
Knowing this difference is helpful before tabling anything with Americans and Canadians present.

language & style terms & abbreviations

The wisdom of skipping an exam you’re going to fail

the boss will see you now

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

Recently, Vancouver awoke to news that centered on obscure legal terms. The media spent the next news cycle explaining prorogue and in camera.

Oh to be a fly on the wall during the conversation between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister whose request was granted to suspend, or prorogue, Parliament rather than face a vote of no confidence. Over 300 comments accompany the prorogue article in The Globe and Mail.

One wonders why politicians meet privately. Our city councilors did just that to approve $100-million for completing the 2010 Olympic Athletes Village. Word leaked and days later taxpayers voted in a different council.

grammar & speech language & style


Threading has more than one meaning and I was curious why the neighbourhood manicurists advertise ‘threading’.

My new hairstylist informed me that threading refers to an eyebrow treatment. I envisioned a steady hand painlessly sewing threads to the skin. A sparse brow nicely filled. Oh no, she corrected. Threading trims the brow by removing a row of hairs at a time. According to her client with the best-looking brows the technique involves a flying thread, strong teeth and head/hand coordination. Now I wanted threading and everything I wanted to know was answered quite thoroughly on YouTube.

eybrow threading
eybrow threading

language & style

Explicit useless info

Speaking of explicit lyrics, the Stones nail it in Satisfaction when they sing about “…some useless information, Supposed to fire my imagination”.


That got me thinking about explicit and implicit information. Explicit useless info is the .00 cents in the $389,900.00 house listing. It’s the ‘left’ and ‘right’ identifiers for two-subject captions.

Met the tour guides Ms. Barbwood (left) and Ms. Rosenjean.
Met the tour guides Ms. Barb (left) and Ms. Jean.

Explicit helpful info is the last exit before toll, last exit before construction, last gas for next 100 miles/km.

language & style

Style guidance on numbering

Today’s news reported that Sen. Kennedy’s surgery was successful. His surgeon told the press, “The surgery lasted roughly three and a half hours and is just the first step in Senator Kennedy’s treatment plan. One article reported that the surgery took about 31/2 hours. Notice there’s no space between whole number and fraction.

Another report said he was awake during the 3 1/2-hour procedure.

I suppose another report states the duration as 3.5 hours.

Whether using a fraction or decimal, each way shows how company style guides can and do differ. Clearly, the duration in the reports is the same; one style just writes it clearer.