Re: Interactive diagrams?

Subject: Re: Interactive diagrams?
From: "Doc" <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 12:28:50 -0800

Hi John--

Your communication skills are formidable. I sense that you are pointing out
that my turn-of-phrase "interactive color diagrams" is ambiguous, or lacks
context to lend meaning to the words.

To paraphrase a patriot, I may not have intended to say what you read, but
I'll defend to the death your right to tinker the meaning of written

Grammar hawks to your marks: Interactive color diagram is like big red

The phrase "interactive color diagrams" drove some readers to synthesize a
meaning. Some wondered if the reference was to an interactive-color
diagram, maybe like a chart you would see in a drama class or art school,
illustrating how to illuminate colored objects with colored light. That is
a fascinating interpretation and I wish that is what I needed tools for, but
it isn't.

If anyone demands an explanation and doesn't find this sort of thing
amusing, I'll just say that I synthesized the phrase "interactive color
diagrams" on the fly. I arranged the words for conciseness and punctuated
them (or not), trusting my well-oiled instincts because I don't have enough
objective awareness of what I write to do the sybaritic lotus-eater trip (in
the non-pejorative sense) on every three words that I feel can be strung
together. I am guilty of that, and as you'll see if you read on, maybe a
little OCD about words.

I was seduced by the demonstrable intrinsic rule that says "Put the <color>
modifier closest to the noun." Most of us have only to say "Red big
firetruck" to assure ourselves that the rule exists. Unfortunately for the
language, the accepted order of modifiers in "big red firetruck" is well
known but doesn't matter. It is a big truck and a red truck, and no one
would read it as big <modifies> red <modifies> firetruck.

But an "interactive color diagram" is more at jargon. Superficially it
seems to be a case where the "big red firetruck" rule applies, but the idea
behind the word "color" is an abstraction, not a specific color attribute
like "red." The rule is not automatically extended, though the phrase harks
strongly to it. I guess there are less obvious qualifications to the rule.
Maybe it isn't a rule but just a colloquial form. I heard a
neuro-linguistic programming guru describe the sensation of awkwardness that
I get when I say "red big firetruck" as *learning*. Yow, there it is. But
I digress.

The phrase in question isn't colloquial; it is argot. I used it freely
here because I assumed without analyzing that Techwhirlers would appreciate
the semantic fastball of deep jargon masquerading as an everyday expression.
They (we) would wink at the sight of an unfamiliar technical expression
trying to hustle past without scrutiny. I must be going to seed in this
long spell of unemployment. After trying to anticipate the real
requirements and write cover letters for every job announcement on the web,
I must now be dropping prepositions and condensing language, a sure sign of
the awareness of futility in some communications.

John's sublime query underscores the perception that, without the needed
context, interactive color diagram is a phrase whose meaning is submerged
like a fish on a line, flopping around opportunistically in search of
meaning like a fish out of water, a quarry to capture and subdue like a fish

Still and all, I know why I synthesized and condensed that inscrutable
phrase. It was because I am blessed/cursed by a penchant for imagining the
sound of the words I write. To me, the phrase "interactive color diagram"
begs to be spoken aloud. In'-ter-ac'-tive co'-lor di'-a'-grams sounds like
such a hard-working expression. Its like a two-man saw, back and forth
through the lumber of language. Perhaps it is the first specimen of a new
branch of technical communications: technical prose poetry.

I think the missing piece is the fact that interactive diagramming is
already with us. Create them in Visio any time after ~1999, AFAIK.

References to interactive diagrams could be less opaque: diagrams developed
using hyperlinked shapes.

Best regards,

Ned Bedinger
Ed Wordsmith Technical Communications
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com
tel: 360-434-7197


RE: Interactive diagrams?: From: John Posada

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