Friday, 29 June 2007

Punctuation pundits (part 2)

My wife went to a lecture yesterday by Professor David Crystal. He remarked that he had been prompted to write his latest book, The Fight for English, partly in reply to the hype around Lynn Truss's book on punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Having spent much of his distinguished career explaining how English has grown and developed into the range of varieties it exhibits today, and being delighted at watching the way technology was clearly continuing to change the way we use English, what upset him about Truss's book was its subtitle, which used the words "zero tolerance". Crystal pointed out that the conventions about apostrophe use - don't use them for plurals, do use them for possessive case, except for the possessive case of personal pronouns - was one of the most recently introduced punctuation rules. Parts of Dr. Johnson's dictionary don't follow what we regard as standard practice.

I enjoyed reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves, as entertainment. I took it no more seriously than Richard Lederer's entertaining series of books on the English language. (Steven Pinker, for example, has criticised Lederer, and others like him, calling them "language-mavens". Pinker says that the way these sorts of writers ignore the fact that language is a biological phenomenon is like criticising dolphins for not swimming properly.)

I was surprised, and a little disturbed, when I heard that people were treating Eats, Shoots & Leaves as an authoritative manual of style. I can't blame Ms. Truss for taking advantage of the enthusiastic reception her book received, or for other people jumping on the bandwagon. But scholarly reference it ain't.

Punctuation pundits (part 1)

A friend has pointed out this site: The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks.

I "love" it!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Too much content, perhaps?

When I left the STC Conference on Saturday, one of my fellow-delegates said "I'll poke you later this week". She was not threatening me with minor violence, she was simply saying that she'd contact me on Facebook, the social networking site.

My excuse for joining Facebook was to keep in touch with my son as he was gallivanting around the world on his pre-university gap year. (As I am about 2.5 times the average age of a Facebook member I felt I needed an excuse.)

Apart from giving a new meaning to the verb "to poke", Facebook has become quite a phenomenon. According to today's Guardian, there is now a documented "class divide" between Facebook and its rival MySpace, where Facebook appears to have a more up-market clientele. In addition, there are now fears that all the user-generated content (so beloved of the "Web 2.0" cognoscenti) on Facebook, Myspace and the like is taking up too much bandwidth on the Internet, and so businesses are suffering!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

You've just missed an amazing conference

One of my voluntary activities is serving on the Council of the STC UK Chapter. This weekend we held a "Visual Communications" conference at the Moller Centre, at Churchill College, Cambridge. We had some tremendous presentations from some really great speakers. (The details are here.)
We could easily have accommodated twice as many delegates as we had, and we need to work out why more people didn't come along. Perhaps the focus of the conference was too narrow? After all, many technical writers are more interested in words than in pictures. Perhaps having a weekend event discouraged some people from attending? But when we hold a mid-week event people say that they can't get time off work. Perhaps we didn't give enough publicity, or we started publicising the event too late? I think this is certainly true.
Whatever the reason, everyone who attended thought the event was excellent, so we must mark this down as an educational success, and we must build on this for the future.