Word choice (was: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ))

Subject: Word choice (was: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ))
From: "Jane Carnall" <jane -dot- carnall -at- digitalbridges -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2001 13:17:25 +0100

Jennifer Carey wrote: << keep in mind *who* the inventors of much of today's
"standard" terminology were (and then tell *me* who they were). "Standard"
doesn't always mean "clear", "understandable" or "specific". -- Sometimes
"standard" is *so* standard that its meaning is transparent (take "mouse"
for example), sometimes it even makes sense, other times, I swear it was
pulled out of somebody's--um--head, to sound official, important and/or

Well said, Jennifer! And on that note (since I don't care whether a screen
displays, appears, or uses the transporter) how do other technical writers
decide what's unacceptably-jargony and what's the new standard usage?

I have this problem every time I move into a new field. All around me the
SMEs are using their own jargon. Some of it will become (or possibly already
is) the new standard language for talking about their subject matter.
Sometimes translating what the SMEs are saying into standard English is the
way to go. Sometimes that would introduce an element of violent confusion (I
had a PHB once who would NOT believe that radio buttons really were called
radio buttons: she insisted that whenever I referred to radio buttons in the
Help file, I should translate it as "multiple options from which you must
select only one" (or something like that, I can't remember)). Sometimes the
SMEs are using an internal company-specific jargon based on the standard
language, and you have to figure it out. And once or twice in every project
there shows up a new concept that has to have a name because there isn't one
yet. (Or worse, there is, and it's 'orrible.)

What I do: I google on the phrase to find out if it's in current use, and if
so, where. I ask the SMEs. I look it up in technical documentation. I ask
this list. Sometimes I ask the copyeditor's list. But there's always a
valuable week or two during which I am in a state of complete bewilderment
and misunderstanding: and I've found that taking many, many notes during
those ten days of confusion is one of the best ways of figuring out later
what words need to go into the glossary at the back and what don't.

Jane Carnall
Technical Writer, Digital Bridges, Scotland
Unless stated otherwise, these opinions are mine, and mine alone.


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RE: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Carey Jennifer (Cry)

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