This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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24 July 2012

Margaret Mahy's death and the Twitter shockwave

Margaret Mahy’s death has come as a shock to New Zealand, and to the world.  The haunting stories she wrote still resonate in the minds of adults, and delight children now as much as in the seventies. Her presence in the libraries of many Canterbury childhoods was as certain as books on the shelves. It’s sad that she is gone. She lives forever through her stories, and will continue to inspire awe whenever she is read.
Since the news of her death broke last night I have been struck with awe for another reason. I found out about her death from book blogger Graham Beattie on Twitter at 8.48pm — seven minutes before the NZ Herald reported the news, and at least twenty minutes before Stuff caught on. Later in the evening I read that the Whitcoulls Facebook page had reported her death earlier in the day than Twitter.  This was a fascinating illustration of how social media has become a trusted news source, and I realised that it’s now difficult to pinpoint the ‘source’ of many news items.
But this is not what had me on the edge of my seat last night. About forty minutes after I read Graham’s tweet, I typed Margaret Mahy's name into the Twitter subject search box. Her death was the fourth most talked about topic in the world. I refreshed the page once a minute and saw ’52 new tweets’ ‘145 new tweets’ … ‘309 new tweets’… I felt I was witnessing a phenomenon rather than words on a screen. I tried to read the individual tweets, but how futile! This was a collective outpouring of sorrow and celebration; short messages that connected with others in a never-ending web of conversation and kinship. I couldn’t turn away.
When I first read of Mahy’s death, I was alone with my sorrow. An hour later, and still in my living room, I was a part of a community of thousands.

14 July 2012

Banning business jargon

Last week's TV3 report about business jargon was a timely reminder about clear, precise communication and how it can help your competitive advantage. Phil O'Reilly of Business New Zealand gives a compelling case for using the 'My mum' test.
Watch the TV3 report

And the UK Minister of State has told staff at the Department for International Development that jargon such as 'moving forward' and 'leveraging' is out.
Read The Telegraph article

03 July 2012

Being tribal about spelling

Today's Johnson post responds to a reader's enquiry about the spelling of unfeasible/infeasible - and about the passion we bring to debates about such topics. Read the post for Johnson's answer to the spelling question. It includes a graph that shows trends in the use of the two words since 1800.

On the second point, Johnson says:
...why do we get so worked up about these tiny things?  People are tribal, and they often enjoy getting especially tribal about the tiniest things. Britons and Americans can both make passionate defences of driving on their respective sides of the road, or how many syllables "alumin(i)um" has, partly because, though the choice is arbitrary, it is defining: do you belong to the red team or the blue team? It seems to be in our nature to get worked up about these things.