Re: Another Subjective View

Subject: Re: Another Subjective View
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2002 12:28:27 -0700

Whenever I see one of these overly punctilious threads about editing on the Techwr-l list, I'm reminded of a story told by Thomas Jefferson. Sitting in the committee that was drafting the American Declaration of Independence, he began to be noticeably irritated by all the changes that were being suggested by his work:

. "I was sitting," he observes, "by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations. 'I have made it a rule,' said he, 'whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident, watch I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, "John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells Hats for ready Money," with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to, thought the word "hatter " tautologous, because followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed, that the word "makes " might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words "for ready money " were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one, who purchased, expected to pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now stood, "John Thompson sells hats" "'Sells' hats?" says his next friend; "why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?" It was stricken out, and "hats " followed, the rather, as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to "John Thompson," with the figure of a hat subjoined."

When I was teaching first year composition at a university, I used this story to point out that, while editing is valuable, there's also a possibility of editing past the point of any meaningful advantage.

The same applies to threads of this kind. Instead of agonizing over where to place the hyphen (which is the debate in over half these posts), writers need to be aware that there is often not a single grammatically correct answer. Then, they need to consider whether the meaning will be affected seriously by their decision or not. In many of these posts, they should answer "No," and move on to more important matters.

Haiku error messages aside, technical documentation is rarely poetry, where every word counts.

Bruce Byfield bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com 604.421.7177

"So that the meek will inherit the earth
Because they haven't the strength to refuse it..."
-Leon Rosselson, "What It's All For"

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RE: Another Subjective View: From: Haas, Guy

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