RE: Humor in technical writing

Subject: RE: Humor in technical writing
From: "Sella Rush" <sellar -at- mail -dot- apptechsys -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 16:41:29 -0700

I'm not much of a safety kind of gal, so Barry's and other's comment almost
have me convinced to start using humor. I also spend as little time as
possible agonizing over whether my inadvertent remark is going to offend

As we've all known for years (since that landmark Murphy Brown episode),
every frigging comment we make has the potential to offend someone. In fact
that last comment is capable of offending people on several levels. I
refuse to be paralyzed by fear.

But see, I also spend very little time analyzing other peoples comments over
whether they offend me. People have to take some responsibility for their
own offended feelings. If you want to offend me, you have to be pretty
obvious about it and there has to be a certain deliberateness behind your
meanness, and intent to hurt. So there's your blueprint. Offend away.

Re humor, I often appreciate it in others, but I rarely use it myself. As
Andrew said--it has to be good, and I don't have quite enough confidence in
myself to use it. Maybe it's also because I write fiction on the side and
have only a limited amount of humor to spread around. In fiction, I often
write about technical subjects and use humor as the spoonful of sugar to
help it go down smooth. For example, in one passage I was talking about
technical terminology and useful metaphors, and described an electrician,
down on his knees--and just exactly what was he thinking about when it
occurred to him to call the innie part of the plug a female and the outie
part a male as he slid one into the other? And what a wonderful example of
a universal metaphor--is there anyone in the world who, when faced with a
male and female plug, doesn't know which is which and exactly what to do
with them?

So those of you with a funny bone you need to exercise, take joy in the fact
that there are people out there who are disposed to appreciate your efforts
and who won't immediately phone their lawyer. But do us all a favor and
road test the jokes. There's nothing sadder than a bad joke. Believe me, I

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