Re: Corruption of Language

Subject: Re: Corruption of Language
From: Dan Dieterich <ddieteri -at- UWSPMAIL -dot- UWSP -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 13 May 1994 07:24:44 -0600

Len Olszewski says this:

> I really don't care how John Sununu evades the truth. I'm concerned about
> improving the way I communicate the truth in specific mechanical ways.

but Dan Dieterich says this:

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "communicate the truth." (Didn't Pilate
also have a problem deciding what "truth" was?) Do you mean that you're not
out to hide the truth in the technical writing you do? But, when you write
about your newest product, knowing that it's the second or third best in its
field, I imagine you don't mention that fact in what you write, nor do you
list the names and toll free phone numbers of competitors who have better
products. And yet, that's "truth," isn't it?

I'm not trying to be an S.O.B.--at least, no more so than usual. I just think
we >ALL< use language to shape our readers' attitudes: in favorable ways
toward us, our ideas, our products/services, our organizations; in unfavorable
ways toward our competitors, their ideas, their products/services, their
organizations. John Sununu was doing that too. If I wanted to evaluate the
morality of what he did, I'd have to look beyond the fact that he attempted to
hide who did what. I'd have to examine whom he hid it from, what right they
had to know it, why he hid it, and in what context.

The myth of objectivity in technical is just that, a myth. As writers, we
don't simply take the lampshade off the light of truth so that it can shine
out evenly in all directions. It ain't that simple. Like John Sununu, we focus
the light in just one direction and hope our readers won't notice us hiding
behind the curtain, pulling all the levers.

We should learn how people use language to shape others' emotions, attitudes
and ideas, not just because we want to protect ourselves from those who would
deceive us, but also because we ourselves need to know how to use language to
focus the light of truth where we choose to put it.

If everyone in the U.S. better understood how people use language to obfuscate
matters, our democracy would function more effectively. We'd also all have a
better understanding of how to communicate clearly.

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