Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The new language of the Information Era.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

It used to just be smiley faces.  Next were abbreviations for the lazy and two-finger keyboarders.  This became a torrent as texting deteriorated to meet the two-thumbnail requirements of texting from tiny cell-phone keyboards.

It is not that we are complaining that it is destroying the English language.  There are many aspects of our English that are archaic and need to be changed.  The Americans have almost reached a point in this of separating into having a language completely of their own making.  And it is not that the English are all that hidebound.  The things Brits do the language can make you wonder.

This comes up because of an abbreviation on a text message the other day that said, ‘btw.’  The message was not from Botswana nor was it about ‘bad-tasting water.’  The translation to ‘by the way’ had to be explained.

This is similar to the more common abbreviation such as ‘lol.’  You see it all the time.  We were under the impression that it meant ‘lots of luck.’  From some people, it was also assumed to mean ‘lots of love.’  Now we find out that it means ‘laughing out loud.’ Who would have guessed?

Thankfully, a kind person sent me a handy primer of the most common abbreviations and further help with reference to a web site called  While this is most helpful, we do not expect to be ‘lmao’ or saying ‘wtf’ too often in print.  There just might be some readers over 21 in the crowd and we want them to be able to understand what is being said.  (And not be offended by unnecessary vulgarity.)

The reason that English language has over a million words today is because we need them.  We use them to help people understand what we are saying.  In our day-to-day language, we use maybe 4000 words that our friends and family understand.  Hundreds of thousands of English words are technical terms that people in different professions use to be clear and communicate effectively with their colleagues.

And that is what using language is all about.  We use it to communicate clearly and concisely what we want to say.  We capitalize words to say we are starting a new sentence or to say these words are a proper name for someone, a place or institution.  We punctuate properly to help ensure clarity.  We eschew bold face in text because we prefer not to shout.  We use long words only when necessary.  Short sentences are easy to read.

Our English language helps us communicate with millions of people around the world.  We should show it the respect it deserves.  And when we have said what we want, stop.

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Nobody is perfect: Errata happen.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Lately things have been a bit rushed.  That is no excuse but, when you rush, errors can accumulate.  Two recent stories had errors.  The first was a story that gave an interesting spike to the readership.  You are always interested in what makes one story more interesting that others.  The story was about the order for the F-35 fighter aircraft.  The second error was minor and was in the story about the current human rights case against the Babel police.

The F-35 story was tongue in cheek anyway.  When it was written, we had forgotten that two of the Canadian Forces Airbus A-310 jet aircraft had been configured as strategic air-to-air fuel stations for the F-18 fighters Canada now has deployed.  This came to light when we found that six of the F-18s were sent to Italy to go to war with Gadhafi.  The first question asked was how the heck did those planes fly across the Atlantic?   The answer was they took their flying fuel stations with them.

The story was not all that wrong.  To attack the southern United States with 65 F-35 jets would require something like 24 of those fuel carriers.  It was a silly suggestion.  How would our Prime Minister, Cabinet Members and the Governor General get around if all the VIP Airbus A-310s’ had to be deployed as gas stations?  And there is nothing stealthy about an A-310 loaded with jet fuel.

At least people seemed to have a good laugh about it.

Nobody was laughing at the story about the Babel police human rights case and the idea of the Whitby police investigating the Babel police.  Both are fictional.  It occurred to us when we first heard it that Whitby is part of Durham Region.  We should have taken the few minutes needed to check.  The town is policed by the Durham Regional Police; the Whitby Detachment representing some 17 per cent of the Durham personnel.

Mind you, we are still puzzled as to why Durham coppers have been selected to do the investigation of what is going on in Babel.

We slapped our own wrist for those boo-boos.

Babel’s all-wise civic leaders might just have a chat sometime with Simcoe County’s civic leaders.  There were serious concerns about mounting policing costs at Monday evening’s Babel council meeting. There just might be an interesting case made to examine whether it would be cost efficient to have a county-based police force instead of the mix of services the county has today.

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Fallis’ first fails.

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Reading The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis was more by accident than design.  Since this first book by Fallis won some award, it has been the rage with Canadian book clubs.  The wife is involved with a fun book club group that picked The Best Laid Plans for its March reading.  Since the Babel library had a waiting list for the book and Chapters did not have it in print form, we ordered a Kindle copy from Amazon for her.

The best thing about Kindle is that you get fast service.  What intrigued us was that the wife was alternately amused and annoyed with the book as she read it.  She had been told that the book was satire.  She did not seem sure.  When she had finished it, she handed us the Kindle and said, “You should read it.  Maybe you and I know too much about politics to appreciate the humour.  See what you think.”

The book gets a mixed review from this reader.  Satirically, it is more in the category of farce.  As an instruction book on running political campaigns, it scores at most a two out of a possible ten.  At the same time, Fallis does show a deep respect for parliament and the need for parliamentarians to understand the rules and procedures.

What he has written is a shallow Canadian version of Mr. Smith goes to Washington. The movie by that name was made in 1939 and was credited with launching Jimmy Stewart into Hollywood stardom.  It still shows up occasionally on late night television.  It is much more entertaining than Stewart’s 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life that haunts the television channels every Christmas.

As for Mr. Fallis’ book, you wonder for the first half, what is the point and, for the second half, why you are reading it.  Mind you the ending saves it as entertainment.  A wild ride up the Ottawa River in a home-made hovercraft in an Eastern Ontario snowstorm could have been good for more than one chapter.

Looking at a biography of Mr. Fallis, it is surprising that we have never met. Political Ottawa is a very small town when you break it down into the political parties.  And in that sense, Queen’s Park, during David Peterson’s tenure as Premier, was a village.  We must have passed in the halls.  How we missed him during his stint with the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton is a mystery.

But politics is like the tides.  Our political career must have been on the ebb, when Fallis was getting his turn in the political wheelhouses.  The only advice we can give him is that, in politics, truth is much stranger than fiction.

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Now available on Kindle…

Friday, March 18th, 2011

On this WordPress screen previously there has been an electronic copy of the book My American Mother. Those who have read it and commented have found it a fascinating read—albeit a difficult one.  The problem was that WordPress cannot count to 20 chapters without taking off its socks.  The order of the chapters was confused.  We had left it in chapters to make it easy to read and in trying to fix it we decided we might as well do a complete edit and make the book available for sale as an e-book.

It is now for sale in the Kindle store.  And if you check the upper right hand corner of this page, the free electronic copy is gone.  Every electronic copy you buy or convince others to buy earns me another US$3 in royalties.  We do not expect to become overly rich.

Why Kindle?  It is the daughter’s fault. Her inspiration for my birthday this year was a Kindle.  All along, we had expected her to come up with a gift certificate for my first free-fall parachute jump but she surprised me.  She not only presented the Kindle to me but had already initiated it to make sure everything works.  That explains why the directory comes up saying “Kate’s Kindle.”  She out did herself.

Coincidently the wife was looking for a copy of a book that had a waiting list at our Babel library and not available in print from the local Chapters store.  A stroll through the Internet Kindle Store turned up the book she wanted and I bought it for her.  She was somewhat surprised when I handed her the Kindle and said, “Here, you try it.”

She hated the book but loved the Kindle.  We both agreed that it was the perfect solution for bathroom reading: no awkward fumbling to turn pages and the adjustable font size is a delight for us seniors.  Neither of us can figure out what to do with the funny little keyboard on it—it actually allows you to type notes as you read—but I rather think we will not bother.

The key benefit I find is that you can turn the thing off and it remembers your page for you.  It faithfully returns to just the right spot when you want to resume your read.  We have had a life-long thing with dropping bookmarks from books and then not being able to find our place.

It helps that the wife and I are avid readers.  The wife is not sure yet whether this will keep me away from the reduced-price tables at Chapters or if we can afford the Kindle store.  Time will tell but you may be sure I will not relinquish my library card.

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#110 – Newsletters are neither easy nor rocket science.

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Having designed and written many newsletters over the years, they are not the daunting task that they might be to others.  Mind you, there is a need for a newsletter editor to have more skills than just the ability to get your Christmas cards out on time.  Maybe it will be helpful to take a look at what it takes to produce a newsletter.

It is important to understand the difference between a newsletter and a newspaper.  A newspaper is a collection of information of interest to a broad community.  It covers many topics.  In our society, it is usually supported by advertisers who also want to reach consumers among that community. The reader reads those aspects of the newspaper that are of interest and simply ignores the rest.

A newsletter has a much narrower focus.  It is designed for a community of interest.  It can be a community of workers in a company, a union, a medical specialty, an engineering discipline, a health agency, a church, a community organization, a political party, users of a local sports facility or a condominium.  Whatever the group, the newsletter deals specifically with information of interest to these individuals.  Before each issue is prepared, the editor asks the question: What do the readers want and need to know? It is only self-edited in terms of the time people can give to digesting the newsletter content.  That is why you start with the most important information and leave the minor stuff for the back pages.

Most good newsletter editors assemble the background information on what needs to be in an issue and write the articles in a steady flow.  Having different people write various parts of a newsletter actually takes longer as the editor has to meld their input with the rest.  A newsletter can be full tabloid size, a glossy magazine format or as simple as a few photocopied pages.  It all depends on the budget and the amount of material that needs to be distributed to the readers.

There is a long-standing adage among people who write and prepare company and organization newsletters for a living.  (Yes, these are best done by professionals.)  Their maxim is that, when in doubt, you run the president’s picture larger.

Regrettably, newsletters are too often ego trips for those who pay for them.  If the president’s message takes up the entire front page, the organization has a problem.  This is especially serious if the president’s writing never got past a fourth grade level of thinking and nobody edits him or her.

There is no excuse for a newsletter that is full of gross grammatical errors, self aggrandizement, inappropriate wording and inaccurate information.  People who think the spell check on the computer can save them have no idea of the embarrassment their bad spelling can cause.  And as for punctuation, this can sometimes be a lost cause!

In teaching executives to write effective letters over the years, there have always been some basics that apply equally to newsletters: You never say “I.”   You never apologize—unless you include your resignation.  And never get off subject.

A good newsletter makes people proud of the organization.  A bunch of typos, surrounded by blather, can annoy them.

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#50 – Writing good letters is a dying art.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Cannot remember the book but the author claimed that he had been told that if you write about sex and money, the book will be a winner. It makes sense but I cannot remember if you have to write about both sex and money or if you can handle them one at a time.

But in this case, only the topic is sexy. This column is about writing good letters and money. That is making money, saving money and having fun while doing it. If you can learn to write good letters, you are going to be richer, for sure. Whether you get more good sex or not is not in question at the moment but there is no reason why not.

There must have been hundreds of times over the years that the wife has come home and said: “We need one of your letters.”

There is a clear meaning to that statement. This is not a chatty letter to Aunt Sally she is talking about. This is a crafted letter to deal with a situation. Whether she has gotten a summons from the police or it is a concern of a neighbour, I am expected to solve it with one of my letters. It can be about getting a new engine for her car after the warrantee has expired, a refund for a can of beans from the grocery store or asking a neighbour to cut down a hedge blocking the view at the corner of the street.

But it is not an imposition. The wife knows I love writing letters of this type. She knows I keep score and, as of today, it is still better than 90 per cent for the good guys. Back when I was paid to teach people how to write good letters, I used to tell them why I could park free anywhere in Metropolitan Toronto.

Recently, the city released the book of reasons for squashing parking tickets. There was nothing secret about that book. If you have never taken the trouble to find out about the why’s and wherefore’s of charges for traffic or parking offences, you deserved to pay for them. What I am talking about is a ‘get out of jail free’ laissez passer for standard parking offences. This means expired meters, ‘no parking’ signs and the myriad of purported offenses you can commit with your vehicle on city streets. Now, I hasten to add, this did not include being a scofflaw about ‘no stopping’ areas, handicapped parking, and infractions such as blocking driveways. It does not include stupidity.

It all started because of a common error made by people who forget to think. You can see the problem every night on the CTV news at six (until somebody smarter than average tells them). That weather guy who can never hold a candle to the old Dave Devol, stands there in front of graphics that show 12 am and 12 pm. And you wonder what this confused person is talking about?

It amazes me in surveying people, how many think 12 am is noon and how many think 12 am is midnight and the very few people who tell you there is no such thing as 12 am or 12 pm. Recently a very nice and obviously educated young lady gave me a very firm lecture about why 12 am meant midnight and I should just get used to it. That shut me up until I found someone else in the same room who swore that 12 am meant noon and so I introduced him to the young lady. There was a match made in heaven.

But this is why for so many years, I parked free in Toronto. All it took was one of my letters to the parking authority. It turned out that my letter was given to a very fine gentleman who loved my letter. He loved my letter so much that he called me, gave me his phone number and told me about my free parking for as long as he was at the parking authority. He was young, in excellent health, enjoyed his job and wanted to make sure that a person who could write such a high quality letter always felt welcome in the City of Toronto.

Recently, when in parking in Toronto, I noticed a sticker had been applied over a parking sign. Where the sign had previously said ‘no parking until 12 pm,’ it now said ‘no parking until 12:01 am.’ My friend must have finally convinced the sign making people that accuracy matters. That was all I wrote about.

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#48 – English: A Dying language murdered by e-mails and texts.

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

In writing about communication and sex, it would be very remiss to ignore the impact on language of those damned Blackberries. One of the few useful skills that used to be taught to young people in typing class is that while humans are endowed with opposable thumbs, they were never meant to be used for typing. At most, the thumb was engaged only for the purpose of leaving a space. On a proper size Qwerty keyboard, you can use either thumb to move your cursor along to the next word.

But Blackberries have changed the proper order of things. Would you believe they actually have competitions to see which kid can type faster with their thumbs? They are causing serious cases of carpal thumb syndrome!

The reality is that they are not really using their thumbs but their thumb nails. People with a decent manicure can greatly improve their Blackberry skills. What it does not do is improve their use of the English language. Blackberries are doing the English language irreparable harm.

Can you imagine the idiot who sends a Blackberry message to a nubile young lady inviting her for a romantic evening of dining, dancing, sweet nothings, great sex and then has the effrontery of adding a smirking happy face? She should respond by saying, “Sorry, I have to go to the funeral for the last idiot who used a happy face in an e-mail.”

This rant is not about spelling. That battle was lost cause many years ago. Some nerd added spell check to word processing programs and the language has never recovered. Nobody today knows the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and little do they care.

And then along came twitter with a limit of 140 characters and instead of challenging the skill of our youth at using the language, it allowed them to abbreviate. The first time I came across somebody using ‘2’ to represent ‘to, too and two,’ I bloody near had a stroke. Even worse some idiots resolved spelling big words by taking out all the vowels in the word, as well as the consonants they forgot. Messaging has become a contest in deciphering gobbledygook.

What is most frightening about this Blackberry craze is that people are spending hundreds of dollars a month to feel important. Executives sit in meetings staring down at their laps. They are neither praying nor playing with themselves. They are running their worlds with their thumbs. They dare not be out of touch.

It is important to me (probably no one else) that I point out that I have always been an early user of new technologies. I am not a dinosaur. I just think the Blackberry craze has gone too damn far! It is doing no good for our language.

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#44 – And now for a commercial message.

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A newspaper cartoon that has always had personal staying power was one about two down and out guys sitting in an alley beside some garbage cans. One is saying to the other: “I was so busy saving the world, I forgot about me.

Would you believe the original idea of this blog was to showcase this writer’s talent. The idea was to sell writing services and, as the site became notorious, for Google to sell advertising for it. In both aspects, it fails. It seems that any person willing to write a blog is assumed to be available to write for free. And we only need to find another couple thousand readers a day to get Google interested in the ad potential.

This indicates a need for a new approach. A new angle is required. After much thought and a very funny discussion with the wife, a new type of blog is emerging. Future blogs will be about communication and sex. As the wife said, “Well, you do know a lot about communication.” It is hoped that her next husband will appreciate her sense of humour.

Here is a short sample of the idea:

Title: Public speaking and the multi-orgasmic audience

Delivering a speech to an audience is very much like making love to that very special lady. You know that she is capable of having many small orgasms during the coupling. Through applying yourself thoughtfully to this most enjoyable of tasks, you know you can build the experience, engulfing her in the thrill of the moment, and come to a new depth of understanding.

For what is a speech about? It is to take a seminal concept, build on it, embellish it, give it life, give it hope, share the promise, envelope it in rhetoric, drive it in, implant it for it to be nurtured, developed and gestated in the womb of the intellect.

You only wish that was always the case! Most speakers are there to get their own jollies. They hardly care about the recipient. It’s slam bam, “thank yuh mam.” Some speakers are so insipid, the audience is not even sure they were there. When was the last great speech you really felt? As you sat in that audience, did you believe that the speaker cared about your enjoyment? Or was the speaker there just to get his own point across?

Frankly, most speakers have one basic kind of spurt of an idea to deliver to their audience. They would be better to send it by e-mail.

When you have an audience capable of having many small orgasms on the way to the grand conclusion, you have to have a plan. You have to build the sensations. With tongue and touch, words that inspire, ideas that inflame, the ability to use power phrases, that bring your audience to new heights. You build the understanding. You become one in your empathetic relationship. You communicate.

Good sex needs mental stimulus as well as physical. Good speeches need to be felt as well as heard and seen. They have to control the moment, respond to urges, give the needed directions, satisfy demands and exceed expectations.

Maybe that special lady is too engaged during sex to applaud each rising crescendo of ecstasy but her appreciation at the successful conclusion knows few bounds. In a speech, each nuance can earn a chuckle or a guffaw and rising rounds of enthusiastic applause. As the speaker, you want the attention and to reach acceptance and climax in a standing ovation. That can be better than sex. Well, almost. It depends on who writes  it.

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We really do need comments on this one. I have to prove something to the wife. Let us know what you think at