Re: Inappropriate Language

Subject: Re: Inappropriate Language
From: Sandra Charker <scharker -at- OZEMAIL -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996 03:24:23 +1000

>It seems to me that as
>technical communicators, we need to be aware of our audience.

Precisely. On this list, our audience is writers who live, work, and write
for audiences in most countries in the Western world. We include writers
whose audience is wholly within the U.S., and writers whose audience is
wholly outside it; writers whose audiences speak English as a first
language, and writers whose first audience is translators; writers who work
in several languages, writers who only use English to talk with other
writers, and writers who only know one variant of English; writers whose
audiences are more literate than they are, and writers whose audiences don't
even like reading the words in comics. When we write for this list, the only
factor common to every member of our audience is that we all use words to
try and convey technical information.

Vulgar language might or might be appropriate for the audience of any one of
us in our professional work. Words are our professional equipment. We can
choose not to use some of them; but we can't afford to be afraid of them and
we can't afford to be afraid of talking about them with our peers.

If a technical communicator is working with a SME who's used to punctuating
every second phrase with a word that offends them, it's the writer's
business to put their feelings aside and focus on the subject matter. We
don't want the SME to be distracted by our reactions to their language; it's
our job to help them relax and provide the information they have and we
need. We don't have to use or like their language, but we shouldn't let it
prevent us from listening to their messages.

> I think that castigating those who were oed by the post is
>intolerant and insulting. By doing so, you are saying that the things
>they were brought up to believe and the codes they choose to follow are
>without value. Or without as much value as the profanity to which they

I don't mean to say anything about the things anyone was brought up to
believe or the codes they choose to follow. I don't even mean to castigate
anyone for objecting to a particular word. But I do mean that no word should
be declared out-of-bounds for discussion on this list, and I do think it's
inappropriate for someone to extend their own objection so far as to request
everyone else to protect them.

I can easily imagine audiences for technical information where vulgar
language would be very effective. I don't have to imagine, because I've had
them, audiences who howled with laughter at something I'd written because I
didn't know it was vulgar. Both are cases I'd want to discuss with my

Sandra Charker
scharker -at- ozemail -dot- com -dot- au

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