RE: To utilize or not to utilize? (Take II)

Subject: RE: To utilize or not to utilize? (Take II)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 15:19:01 -0400

Sarah Stegall responded to my previous post: <<I understand your point, but
what do you do if the industry as a whole, say, misspells a word?>>

I'm not focusing on spelling, I'm focusing on _word use_. An obvious typo
should be corrected, because people will still read the word correctly. But
if you actually change the word, then you're doing much more than fixing the
spelling, and then you have to know what words people expect to encounter.
More to the point, when an industry as a whole unanimously adopts a certain
spelling, that becomes the de facto standard. After all, when writing for
Americans, we write "color", not "colour", even though we colonials would
have to admit that "colour" was the correct* spelling. <g>

* Based solely on which one came first, of course.

<<I certainly don't want to (and couldn't) dictate usages to the entire

My suggestion certainly doesn't mean you can't be an advocate for better
usage; if there are two accepted ways to say the same thing, and only one
makes grammatical or stylistic sense to you, then use the "better"
alternative. After a time, people will begin to accept your usage as the
standard because your writing read better than anyone else's, and even poor
writers can recognize (and eventually follow) good writing. The broader
point is that jargon comes in two forms: the bad form, which substitutes
poor word choices for existing superior choices, and the good form, which
uses words that all readers understand.

<<don't technical writers have a certain responsibility not only to our
audience (who are NOT necessarily jargon-savvy engineers) but to the
language as a whole? >>

We don't, and as an editor, it pains me to say this. Alexander Pope, a very
wise man indeed, once said that we should neither be the first to try
something new, nor the last to abandon the old when it's clear that the
majority has moved on to something new. We must observe and protect
prevailing usage purely because doing so helps our readers understand what
we're saying, not because we have any responsibility to the language as a
whole; if writers and editors as a whole had ever borne such responsibility,
we'd probably all be speaking medieval French right now! <g>

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that
English is about as pure as a cribhouse [We're Happily Overcoming Repulsive
E-mailfiltering]. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has
pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle
their pockets for new vocabulary."-- James D. Nicoll


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