Re: I am Tech Writer

Subject: Re: I am Tech Writer
From: Pete Kloppenburg <pkloppen -at- CERTICOM -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 14:59:39 -0500

Wayne Douglass quotes me thusly:
> >Why go from the nice, familiar,
> >anglo-saxon concrete word "writer" to the obnoxious, latinate,
> >abstract term "communicator"?

And responds:
> Amusing as diatribe, but the logic of how anglo-saxon = concrete = nice
> versus latinate = abstract = obnoxious escapes me. Are Latinate words less
> concrete per se?

I think you've misread my sentence. I think that the word "writer" is in
fact nice, and concrete, and anglo-saxon. But the logic of equating these
three adjectives escapes you simply because it is not there. I did not
mean to equate them, only to list them. I think to equate the words
simply because they appear together in a sentence approaches
the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. (Now THERE'S a latinate
phrase for you!)

On the other hand, yes, latinate words tend to be more abstract than
anglo-saxon words. This is an entirely unprovable statement, of course,
but many people do believe it, and there is circumstantial evidence to
support the notion.

For instance, anglo-saxon words are the oldest words in English,
and as such have taken on rich, deep, broad meanings. Hemingway
preferred them for that reason. I think for the native English speaker,
they tend to be friendlier, less stuffy than their latinate equivalents.

Latinate words, on the other hand, came into the language in very
particular ways. Either they came in through French by way of the
Norman invasion of England, or they were imported directly from Latin
by academics and the clergy. Either way, latinate words tended to
pick up upper-class, bookish meanings. Most particularly bookish,
because every time you need to invent a word for some concept
nobody thought up before, you go to the Latin, splice together
some morphemes, and shazam! You've got yourself a brand
new word with a very narrow meaning which typically refers to
something you couldn't point to in the real world if your life
depended on it. Hence, more abstract.

So I would say latinate words are not more abstract per se,
but they do tend to be.

> I don't know, Pete, "documentation developer" sounds a little latinate to
> me. No wonder you need to be forced a gunpoint to accept it. Under those
> conditions, would you also accept "technical communicator?" Or would you
> rather die on your feet than live on your knees?

Of course the computer industry is filthy with this sort of thing
(though now most words tend to spring up unbidden from the
inevitable acronym). "Internet" is an interesting hybrid word.
"Documentation" is a word which has gone through many
such transformations. I would accept it because as it is used
today people understand it to mean manuals, online help, quick
reference guides, all the things I actually write. "Communicator",
on the other hand, could mean anything from a strand of RNA
or a whiff of pheromone to a fibreoptic cable. Yes, I am a
communicator, but I guess I fill an exceedingly small portion of
the space that word occupies.

Pete Kloppenburg
Technical Writer
Certicom Corp
Mississauga, Ontario

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