RE: Pet Peeves

Subject: RE: Pet Peeves
From: "Jonathan West" <jwest -at- mvps -dot- org>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 16:19:13 -0000

> Not only
> should we not use colloquialisms, we should be very careful about our
> metaphors as well. During my tenure with PriceWaterhouse in the '90s, I
> reviewed a white paper that was being delivered to our colleagues in
> India. It was replete with sports metaphors such as "getting on base,"
> "hitting a home run," and "curveball." I pointed out to the writer that
> the Indians would have no concept of the meaning of these phrases as
> cricket and soccer were their sports of choice, rather than baseball.

I attended international standards committee meetings defining the new
mobile phone systems some years ago. I learned to be careful about such
things, given that my words (both written and spoken) were addressed to
delegates from all over the world, many of whom didn't have English as their
first language. I developed a standard set of rules for what I said and
wrote, including the following:

- Use short sentences.
- Use present tense wherever possible.
- Avoid long words except for defined technical terms.
- Avoid colloquialisms.
- Avoid literary references.
- Avoid sporting metaphors.
- Avoid topical references to news items in British newspapers.
- Avoid humor. (Chatting in the coffee break is a different matter to formal
- Where terms have already been defined in the standards, use the exact
wording of the defined term.
- Speak clearly and slowly, so that people whose first language isn't
English can follow.

Although the meetings were always conducted in English, I was surprised how
few of the other delegates from English-speaking countries thought to do the
same. They often couldn't get their points agreed simply because too many of
their international colleagues couldn't actually understand what they were

Jonathan West


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RE: Pet Peeves: From: Dubin, David

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