Re: Pet Peeves

Subject: Re: Pet Peeves
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 13:47:59 -0700

David Neeley wrote:
> I agree that no one should be deliberately insulting or offensive as a
> general rule of behavior in society. However, *I* am insulted by
> instances of political correctness run amok with little logic or
> reason employed to set the proposed standard.

I respect your opinion wrt political correctness run amok, but caution
against confusing that with politics (amok, not amok). I'll try to tie
this tech writing, but the subject is politics, which usually plays a
small role in our work, with maybe a larger role in the worksplace.
Apologies in advance if this amounts to a lecture, I mean only to lay
out an alternative systematic view, for consideration

Politically speaking:

When a group adopts a token as a symbol of their cause, that is fair use
of that symbol (assuming it is not trademarked, copyrighted). Political
signs and symbols (in the semiotic sense) are often composed of co-opted
familiar images that adoption imbues with new symbolic power.

You can symbolically refuse recognition to the group and their cause by
not allowing their symbol into your collection of signs. But that seems
to me to be a disproportionately heavy thing to do when the group adopts
a minor colloquial phrase as a token of their activism against domestic
violence. For pity's sake, if you've ever dropped the change from a
dollar in a jar at the checkout register, you could donate your phrase
"rule of thumb" without any greater pain of amputation.

I doubt that everyone who wrote their objection to Dori's request
intended to reject the cause! But I do think that tech writers are
likely to shun the political version of anything (even a just cause)
when it affects our professional lives, except where it confers some
obvious advantage. The perennial certification thread is a pretty good
example of this rule of law. We get jerked around, unmercifully at
times, by business politics and tool/methodology holy wars, and while I
do think there has lately been a lot of midguided posturing about
standing up to political correctness, it is no surprise to me to see
tech writers seeking cover rather than exposing more skin when politics
rears its head.

> Still, it may be helpful to be mindful of the more likely potentials
> for misunderstanding or offense in many circumstances related to
> technical communications.

As a cultural note, especially. Someone recently pointed out that some
hand gestures, which me might innocently depict in documentation, have
more and different significance in other parts of the planet. Let's face
it, if our work is being localized, we're virtual hostages to the
audience for our work. I guess the same is true anywehre a tech writer

> If a document is to be localized, a review
> of it in light of these sorts of cultural understandings would
> certainly seem to be in order.

This makes me wonder how the mild interpretation of the term "rule of
thumb" is expressed in other languages? Per language, would it be
translated literally, or is the basic idea pretty well ingrained and

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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Re: Pet Peeves: From: David Neeley

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