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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30 August 2012

Now here is the news ... a myriad of innovations from the world of journalese

Firemen battled to control a blaze, lashed by high winds and torrential rain. Investigators will later hone in on the cause of the flare-up. Their thinking has undergone a seismic shift about the likely cause of the massive explosions that rocked the surrounding area.

And company and union representatives negotiated long into the night, hammering out an agreement on pay and conditions in a bid to stall closure of the plant. The midnight deal may still be thrown out by workers who are in an ugly mood following threats of slashes to their overtime. The closure of the factory would be disastrous for the close-knit, isolated community, and it has the capability to decimate the town.

And a Minister is in a serious but stable condition, and is expected to make a full recovery after the smash in a black spot on State Highway One when his car went out of control after he fell asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile the divorce of two high-profile sports stars that began as an amicable split has turned sour and is now an acrimonious tug-of-war over their amassed fortune and their luxury, architecturally designed clifftop mansion.

You’ll enjoy this simple dinner that’s quick and easy to prepare from pantry ingredients that are hearty and economical, and full of the fabulous taste of Italy.

Finally, a video of a three-legged dog that’s made friends with pet sheep and its lamb and shared a scoff of fish and chips has become a YouTube sensation, with over 3 million views world-wide. Farmer Doug Field says he’s blown away by the response. ‘They’ve been mates for years, they’re just part of the family.’

And a Commission of Inquiry will launch an investigation into the cause of this uninterrupted series of (linguistic) tragedies.

Understanding, respect, and the role of good writing
We hear these words every day. They relate to real events in the lives of real people.

If we talk about those people in clichés and misuse the meanings of words we use to describe them,  do we relate to those people, and respect the difficulty of their situations?

Find some other way
If you are journalist (as I was) and you read this blog, give it some thought. You’re working under pressure so it’s easy to turn to habit. But with a little inspiration from other sources, you can find alternative words.

Two places to look are:

Words journalists use that people never say
(You’ll find suggestions for alternatives to the clichés at the end of the page)

The BBC Style Guide

02 August 2012

Comma corruption starts early

There’s an outrage in my son's reading book.

'I am going to get some nuts, today,' said Mother Bear. (Beverley Randell. Baby Bear Climbs a Tree: Story Books Level 9, p4.)

That comma after 'nuts' is completely unnecessary. It's not a serial comma. It's not a comma between clauses. It's just plain wrong.

They're already filling my son’s head with dangerous nonsense, poor mite, and he's only in Year 1. We were doing our reading at home last night, and when he got to 'nuts' he gravely told me, 'I've got to take a breath now.'

Passed between generations
This travesty is being passed from one generation to another. I remember as if it were yesterday. I was in Primer 1, and kind Mrs Purdey was teaching us about punctuation. 'Put a comma wherever you want to take a breath,' she said.

Some of us breathe more often than others, and Beverley Randell must have been for a jog before she wrote about Mother Bear. Commas are there to separate clauses, to separate introductory phrases, and to separate items in a list. And that's it.

A nail in the coffin
Put commas elsewhere, and there you have it - the rot sets in: another nail in the coffin of correct punctuation in the 21st century. The correctly used comma will go the way of the apostrophe.

And he’s only age five! It's a tragedy.

(PS: Aside from the comma, this is one of the nicest books my son has brought home. Grammar isn’t everything! We just don’t want it to get in the way of a good story.)