Re: Pet Peeves

Subject: Re: Pet Peeves
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Kevin McLauchlan <kmclauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 15:38:26 -0700

Kevin McLauchlan wrote:
> Once again, no less an authority than the Oxford Dictionary
> says that "rule of thumb" means: a rule for general guidance,
> based on experience of practice rather than theory.

Experience of practice is an odd discriminator. At first blush, one
(pronoun replacement alert!) reads the definition as a requirement for
direct experience in anything that one wants to elaborate with a rule of

> That's the ONLY definition they provide in a book that is
> positively replete with words having multiple definitions
> (on the same page they've got the beginning of the entry for
> "run" which goes into 35 meanings for the verb and 21 for
> the noun).

Of course, run is one of the most polysemous verbs AND nouns in English.

> The implication is clear. Everybody knows "rule of thumb" to
> have one meaning. Only. That's its hono[u]red place in the language.
> If some fool of a judge once made up a story (or repeated one
> that he'd heard from obviously questionable sources), and
> some small pack of idiots has tried to perpetuate that bogus
> story, it is not in our interest to dignify their malicious
> or misguided efforts.

Just curious if the objection is to framing 'rule of thumb' in
questionable historical context, or to the strident assertion that
techwriters abandon use.

In general, some words seem to become proscribed in one or another style
guide for half-baked reasons. One howler is 'via', which MMOS advises
against because translation of this many-thousands year old word,
essentially unchanged in meaning for all of that time, is apparently
difficult for localizers. Or maybe via offends as a foreign word. Have
mercy :-)

> Yes, it sometimes happens that words get taken over by idiots
> and the new meaning (that began as a mistake or somebody's lame
> idea of a joke) becomes the accepted usage. But it takes a LOT
> of idiots. Let's not be them, and let's not collude with them
> in further eroding our language.

Verbal crop circles? Ho ho (non-modern sense).

> The very next time I see an opportunity to use "rule of thumb"
> in any of my docs, I intend to use it.

Now don't be brash, young man. Make sure that the definitional
requirement is satisfied.

> On that other matter, having grown up in a small town in
> eastern Canada, <mumbledy> years ago, I _have_ seen dog and
> pony shows, in person.
> I don't expect to encounter any opportunities to use that phrase
> in technical documentation, however. Elsewhere, I consider it
> fair game.

As long as the same rule applies to writers from Tijuana, no problem.

> If you choose to respond to me, please do so without the use
> of pronouns. Due to recent overexposure, I am beginning to find
> them offensive.

OK, but in return please leave off with the prepositions. Prepositions
are such imprecise little formalities, and prepositions require so much
effort to get the right one, while contributing nothing of consequence
to meaning. The preposition 'of', for example, should have orders of
magnitude more meanings in the OED than 'run.'


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RE: Pet Peeves: From: Kevin McLauchlan

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