Anthropomorphic Phrases

Subject: Anthropomorphic Phrases
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- AXIONET -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 1997 20:13:46 -0400

Iain Harrison <iharrison -at- SCT -dot- CO -dot- UK> writes:

>I'm not convinced that anthropomorphism is wrong in itself. >Clearly, there are many contexts where it is inappropriate, >but once again, it breaking the established rules is what can >make for outstanding documentation.

This isn't a rule--it's a shibboleth. People who tell you to avoid all
anthropomorphism are the same kind of people who tell you that you
should never end a sentence with a preposition.

For one thing, the language is full of metaphors. Many are so common
that we don't even recognize them. No one, for example, even notices
when the American news says that "The White House said today" or "the
Pentagon claims."

For another, if you change from a rule-based system of thought to one
based on utility, it's easy to know when anthropomorphism is
appropriate. All you have to do is ask:

1.) does it get the point across?
2.) could the same thing be said in fewer words?
3.) does it patronize or condescend to the audience?

If you can answer the first question with a "yes" and the last two with
"no"s, then your use of anthropomorphism is justified.

Bruce Byfield
Freelance Technical Writer
(bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com) (604) 421-7189
Job Bank Team, STC Canada West Coast Chapter

"Have you ever lost something special,
Have you felt all alone and bereft?
I bought a travel iron--
And it left."
--Les Barker

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