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About every six months or so, I write myself into a corner. And I don’t mean that I get caught up in plot or dialog, or while formulating a concise argument; yes, I sometimes have those problems, but that’s not what I am referring to. What I’m talking about is an unreasonable trap in the English language, the lack of a singular, androgynous pronoun for an individual.

“What?” you ask? I don’t blame you. Let me demonstrate.

“The problem with formulating simple-yet-sound education policy is that we’re trying to write a single, universal plan to address every student’s needs, but any given individual student is not the average, or median, or norm. ???? (insert third person, singular pronoun) is just that, an individual, containing thoughts, emotions, experience, and a frame of reference entirely specific to ???? (insert third person grammatical object).”

In the above example, there is no accurate, androgynous, and grammatically correct pronoun to replace the question marks, and that drives me insane!

Think I’ve got options? Let’s look at them: Read the rest of this entry »

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It seems either I have the wrong skill set, or I was born in the wrong time.

I’m a writer. I like writing. I think I’m pretty good at it. It’s what I create; it’s what I am proud of; it’s what I have to give to the world.

Unfortunately, it seems that visual representations are becoming more and more central to the art of communication, if not its very foundation. If a picture was once worth a thousand words, its value has no doubt appreciated of late.

To be totally honest, I’m a visual appreciator myself. I love motion pictures and spend a small but dedicated amount of my time enjoying them. Great photographs catch my eye easily. I admire visual art and am often awed by the talent and ability that such creations require. Talent and ability, mind you, which I neither possess nor desire. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried.

Even in technical writing I recognize the value and importance of visual aids. I use them as much as possible (for me), especially when words just can’t accurately describe a particular procedure. But it is a challenge and without the help of gifted manipulators of SolidWorks, I’d be lost.

No, for me, what talents I possess lie either in public performance (acting, comedy, or improv) or in the manipulation of grammatical criteria to convey thoughts, concepts, and emotions (also known as writing). Whether I’m very good at it I’ll leave to your preference. Nonetheless, it’s what I do. Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations, President Obama, you finally found your Presidential voice! Such a shame that it came so late.

It was a great speech-probably your best SOTU-employing powerful, statesmanlike language and stroking progressive ideals to the brink of political orgasm. Yes, it was a terrific speech; and it should be because the way things are looking, it’s likely to be your last.

This year, it’s easy to throw out a bunch of great ideas and bold initiatives, backed with powerful rhetoric; you’re talking to a congress that has already vowed to do nothing. But beyond the applause and standing O’s, past the bright Source4 spotlights and television cameras, there are legions of lamenting liberals, a plethora of pissed-off progressives, and an assload of angry Americans who are having trouble pairing the leadership in your language with the awkwardness of your administration.

For three years you’ve portrayed yourself as stumbling buffoons, unsure of your agenda. Your message has been fragmented and murky. Your communications have been guarded and timid. Your domestic policy wandering and perfunctory. We have come to expect very little from you in terms of actual leadership, and it shows in how easily Republicans have been able to effectively frame every – single – issue, successfully derailing your game plan before you’ve even left the huddle. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s a stunning admission: I have no qualifications to be a writer.

That thought alone is enough to paralyze me; is reason enough to make me want to throw in the towel. I mean, why would anyone want to read what I have written? I’ve never taken a creative writing class, or a class on writing commentary, nor blogging. In fact, aside from a one-day course to brush up on business writing and grammar, it’s been almost 20 years since I took a class that was centered on writing. That was “Freshman Writing” in college; hardly advanced training.

I’m not saying that I necessarily require more training. After all, how much training does a writer need? How much did Vonnegut have before he sold his first short story? What about Eco, or Steinbeck, or Twain? More importantly, how much training would it take for me to feel better about what I write? I have a feeling that if I re-entered academia to obtain more letters behind my name I may get caught up in that world again and possibly never leave. I could lose years (I’ve lost enough already) making myself feel better about how qualified I am to write and still be no closer to finishing a major work.

I’ve read a lot of advice to writers from other writers, tips on how to stay fresh, keep in the game, not give up and so on. It’s all very inspiring, of course. But inspiration isn’t the shortfall. I have lots of inspiration, but in its shadow Read the rest of this entry »

As the Republican 2012 lineup jockeys for position, a familiar and all-too-misleading premise continues to be tossed around – that the United States Government should be run like a corporation.

I categorically reject this notion. It is dangerous and offensive to our citizenry and the American way of life. Let me explain why.

First of all, corporations are solidly and solely executive-based organizations. The policies of a corporation are not created by a legislature. They are handed down as edicts from the executive branch: Presidents, VPs, executive officers. Little to no input is taken from the majority of Read the rest of this entry »

Note: This post is about incorrect speech. Please see the disclaimer near the top of  my first speech post here.

It was not until recently that I became aware of yet another unfortunate habit in speech that is apparently more common than I realized. It involves usage of the verb “to need” in conjunction with the past-tense form of another verb.

Rather than explain, I’ll simply illustrate with the following examples:

“The car needs fixed.”
“The laudry needs washed.”
“The shed needs built.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I was shocked to find that many people do not hear the flaws in these sentences. Even more shocked that throughout the US, and especially in Northern England and Scotland, usage of this torturous transgression is rampant.

To emphasize the violation, let me demonstrate by replacing “need” with a verb of similar usage, “to want”:

“The child wants fed.”
“The dog wants walked.”
“My mother wants loved.”

Now do you hear it? Fortunately, I have not yet encountered this revolting use of “want” yet. May that always be true.

Just in case you still don’t see the error, let me break it down for you. Read the rest of this entry »

I recently started writing more for myself.

Made some sacrifices in order to be able to do so. I’ve had so many ideas for so long and I’ve dedicated little to no time to them for the past decade.

I started my first novel about 17 years ago. About 12 years ago, and 250 pages in, I put it down and started another. Then I decided I should probably try to get a short story published first, so I worked really hard on a dozen or so and started marketing them. That took a lot of my time and yielded no success. Not much of a market for short stories anymore. How I longed for Vonnegut’s glory days writing short fiction for a magazine market that couldn’t get enough of them!

I reread some of those stories recently; I still like them. But trying to sell short fiction took more time than writing did, and so I became a little disheartened with rejections and the whole business in general.

Then another Bush snuck into the white house, and Sept.11th hit, and things just sort of flew off the rails ever since. I started spending a lot of my time researching public policy and communicating with lawmakers. I found work writing technical documentation, and then I found that after a day in front of the computer at work, and with life’s responsibilities before and after, I couldn’t find time to get back to those more creative endeavors. Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s a new fad in written english that makes no sense, the triple question mark (???).  And not just the triple, but the quadruple, quintuple, and so on.

Long have I noticed this curiosity permeating email and even instant messaging, but I have recently seen it used in more formal presentations such as marketing literature and advertising, personal letters, and even a company report.

At first I thought this ridiculousness was meant to convey emphasis or the importance of a question.  And to many users I am sure it is intended as such.  But more recently I have seen people using it at the end of every question they type. With no apparent intent of emphasis.  Why?  Why??? WHY???????

Exempla Gratis: “Is this the route we have decided on??? Has anybody conferred with management before reaching this decision???  Have we considered the effect on our inventory?????” (taken from an email I received at work recently).  Note the increased use of marks for the last question.  That one must have really been chapping his ass, huh?  All those curious marks stacked up meaninglessly like a constipated inquisitor!

If you are a user of this convention, here’s some news…one question mark is enough. A question does not become more questioning with the use of extra question marks.  The fact that it takes more time to add multiple marks instead of just one, makes this phenomena all the more perplexing.  Not only is it ridiculous, and meaningless, but it wastes time. Especially considering the required use of the shift key.

So then, regardless of the question, please, use only one question mark. If you want to show emphasis or importance, you may – informally, of course – use the question mark followed by an exclamation point (?!).  There!  Now you’ve done it.  You’ve asked a question and you’ve emphasized its importance.

When typing that next question, just remember the words of Willy Wonka, “One is enough for everybody.”

This is the first of what I am sure will be many posts on the mangling of our spoken language. I abhor lazy speech and seek to correct it as often as possible. If you find yourself making any of the errors I point out, don’t be embarrassed, just fix it. This may help prevent you from presenting yourself to others as an uneducated imbecile.

NOTE: I am fully aware that these types of posts will undoubtedly come across as intolerant, condescending, and perhaps even anal-retentive.  So be it.  We have definitive rules behind most of our language.  They are outlined in numerous rule books, style guides, and grammar dictionaries.  There are so few definitives in life, let us embrace the ones we have.

Of late I have noticed a disturbing tendency in the speech of popular culture.  The tendency is the pronunciation of words that begin with “str-” as though they included an “h” – thereby making the pronounced sound “shtr-“.  For example: straight, streak, stripe, stripper, stress, stroke, and strategy. Read that list again, OUT LOUD. Did you hear any “Sh” sounds at all? If you did, you’re pronouncing the words incorrectly.

Just to be clear, there isn’t any debate to be had here.  This isn’t a matter of opinion, or an issue of placing the proper emphasis on the right syllable. Nope, this one is truly a right and wrong issue. Read the rest of this entry »

I fancy myself a writer.

Which is not to say that I am not one.  I currently am paid to, among other things, write.  What’s more, I sometimes write when I am not being paid, which may be more deserving of the moniker than the former.  Being a writer is a curse of sorts and it is unfortunate that the world seems to appreciate the products of writers without appreciating the knowledge, skill, and guts that writing requires.

Too often I find that entities (people, organizations, businesses) which find themselves in need of something written, will hastily dole out the work to the nearest beating heart with a keyboard and a grade school education.  It boggles the mind to behold the number of advertisements, news articles, blog posts, web pages, and other forms of writing that are released to the eyes of unsuspecting readers without so much as a spell check being performed, much less a proofread (Here is where I apologize for any and all errors you may find on this blog. I proofread as best I can, multiple times in fact. If I miss something, call it fate).

Imagine this: a young company is taking great care to produce their first web page.  Countless meetings are held between executives to ensure the right team is assembled. They hire a web designer to generate the layout, graphic designers to make a company logo, and a top-notch attorney to cover their legal issues and protect their IP.  They contract a terrific host for their site and have internal IT help with the details to ensure smooth operation.  A web marketing specialist is added to the staff to help get the most out of their new endeavor.  All of these experts were needed for their individual role in making the look, feel, and function of the site just right.  Now they just need content.  And who provides it? Read the rest of this entry »

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