Signature Line Puzzler CONTEST RESULTS!

Subject: Signature Line Puzzler CONTEST RESULTS!
From: "Tim Trese" <ttrese -at- mindspring -dot- com>
To: <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 10:35:36 -0500

Thanks to all who participated! Congratulations to the contest WINNERS:

1) Dick Margulis, first contestant with six good answers. Dick found two
quite legitimate corrections that I did not; they're listed toward the end
of the post. Wow!

2) David Brown gave seven good answers! Look for his excellent comment below
as well.

3) Kevin Smith correctly identified all six, and showed some very original
linguistic detective work, quoted below.

4)Teresa Wittel found seven errors, including perhaps the most egregious of
all!

5) Lean Ni Chuilleanain says the sentence made her teeth hurt. Sorry, Lean.
I took a Tylenol after writing it, too.

These writers have the (admittedly somewhat dubious) distinction of agreeing
with me, more or less, on the mistakes in the Signature Line Puzzler. In
some cases, I was surpassed by individuals with a superior mastery of our
mother tongue. Nice work!

Ribbons of participation to several writers who corrected the sentence, but
didn't explicitly identify the errors. The sentence is so heinous that it
certainly deserves a complete rewrite, but the intent of the Puzzler was to
produce a list the mistakes. One rewrite was so original that I quoted it
below anyway.

Here's my solution, for what it's worth. See the good comments by others as
well.

The original sentence,

"Irregardless, as technical writers, we should all be orientated toward more
perfect and economical utilization of the English language."

should read something more like,

"Regardless, as technical writers, we should be oriented toward more nearly
perfect and economical use of English."

That's still a far cry from Pulitzer material. I've just transliterated,
not done a complete rewrite, to show the absence of what I was considering
mistakes. Hopefully, none of us would ever even conceive a sentence this
bad unless we were trying. The rationale for the changes:

1)IRREGARDLESS is bad, but not utterly incorrect. Irregardless [sic] of what
your dictionary says, the word does appear in my Miriam-Webster New
Collegiate Dictionary, 1976 ed. It does note, however, that the word is
nonstandard usage, and synonymous with "regardless," so "regardless" is
definitely the better choice for professional communications. The dictionary
suggests a merger of "irrespective" and "regardless" as one possible
etymology for this bizarre word. That's a stretch, IMHO, but let's push the
"faith in reference books" button and move forward.

2) The word ALL is extraneous. Is it an adjective modifying the pronoun "we"
and meaning "as a collection of people," or is it an adverb modifying the
verb "should be orientated" and synonymous with "collectively?" Who knows,
and who cares? If you can't tell what function it serves in the sentence,
that flags it as suspect. Indeed, it turns out that the meaning of the
sentence is totally unchanged without it. "All" is strong language, an
absolute term like "every" or "never." Writers are probably tempted to use
it to increase the emphatic tone of a sentence. What they produce is
logorrhea.

3)ORIENTATED is just plain wrong. "Orientate" is a real word, but it means
"to face or turn to the east." I think the origin of this very common
misusage is the word "orientation," a presentation you might attend when
hired for employment. But unless the orientor's podium is east of you at
such an event, you get "oriented," and not "orientated."

4) Also totally incorrect is MORE PERFECT. Things can't get any more
perfect than perfect, which is by definition absolute. "More nearly perfect"
is the correct phrase, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution
notwithstanding. With due respect for the visionary American statesmen of
1787, any tenth grade English teacher worth his salt will point out that it
is impossible to "form a more perfect union."

5) UTILIZATION, though correct, is ridiculous. The synonymous noun "use"
suffices just fine, just as "utilize" seems silly when the verb "use" is
perfectly adequate. I think its rampant utilization [sic] today stems from
the very human urge to impress others by pretending erudition. The term
"utilization" is probably totally a legitimate word; I'd make an educated
guess that it has special technical meanings for economists or others. Don't
ask me what the technical definitions are, my dictionary doesn't go there.
If somebody does know a special definition of the word, please enlighten me.
If you don't need the technical term, my advice is to avoid it. My friends
and I have a running joke of laughing at "utilizers" behind their backs.

6) THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE is not wrong, but redundant. It should be fairly
obvious from the context of the sentence that we're not talking about the
kind of English you use when playing billiards.

Very Honorable Mention and my humble congratulations and thanks go to those
of you who offered a correction to the puzzler that I missed, or suggested
what I willingly concede was a better perspective on the mistakes:

--------
Most copyeditors would delete the comma following _writers_, because of the
brevity of the phrase. It is not incorrect as it stands, though.

The passive voice should be replaced and the whole sentence recast as
follows:

"As technical writers we should strive for better, more economical English
Usage."

-Dick Margulis
[Anyone who missed the passive voice, myself included, may now slap
themselves. Nice catch, Dick.]
--------
"Regardless" means "without regard for." With no object (that is, without
regard for what?), it is meaningless.

-David M. Brown
--------
HOWEVER
["Utilization"] DOES appear in most dictionaries purporting standard use of
(believe it or not) UK English. Apparently it has become acceptable in the
Land of the Mother Tongue
NONTHELESS
your later spelling of "utilise" with a "z" (zed, that is) seems to
indicate a convention of US English rather than UK as your Language of
Choice
HENCE
any use of the term would, of necessity, be incorrect.

-Kevin Smith
[I must apologise [sic] for my insensitivity to our international readers. I
failed to specify US English in the original Puzzler.]
--------
This sentence is not perfect OR economical.

-Teresa Wittel

[Hypocrisy certainly qualifies as bad writing, doesn't it?]
---------
[One writer deserves at least passing note for an easy-to-remember
distillation down to a two-word, verbless sound bite. Do you do a lot of
marketing writing aimed at the masses, Pete?]

Brevity good.

-Pete Harbisen
---------

Final count after the contributions of others is not six, but 10, problems
with the sentence! Hope you found the Puzzler pleasantly diverting, if not a
little illuminating.

Disclaimer: After showboating like this, I fully expect that friends reading
my future posts will not hesitate to write and bust my chops if I let a
participle dangle. I welcome any such good-natured gifts of grief.

New puzzler: Post this one to the list rather than me. Compose a sentence of
twenty words or less that has at least ten errors in it. The errors should
be toughies, the kind that professional writers often miss and the lay
reader would pass over, or that the lay writer makes habitually to your
amusement/chagrin. Challenge your tech whirler friends to spot em.

Cheers,
Tim Trese

"Nobody need agree with all of it. Part of the technique of good writing is
to have prejudices for or against certain words and expressions. Ambrose
Bierce, the great story-teller, once wote a little handbook called "Write It
Right." Half of what he says is unacceptable to me, but unless he had felt
strongly and been led to reason and argue about what is right, he could not
have written as well as he did. All artists argue about their ways of
performing--the painters about color and composition, the musicians about
sounds and form."
Excerpt from the preface to "Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers" by
Jacques Barzun





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