by Honeydew Zubari
Recently I came across this enlightening quote, and I must say it changed my life:
“The event of the event not taking place is an event we had not heretofore considered; however, since the event has happened -i.e. the event of the event actually being called off has eventuated - we will be in touch with everyone eventually.”
After reading it for the third time I was forced to lie in a dark room with a cold compress on my head for the rest of the day. However, when I’d recovered my faculties I realized that here was the answer to a question that had been plaguing me: what to write for this month’s Humorosity?
People these days seem physically unable to say what they mean, to spit it out. I blame politicians; they started it with their ability to talk from both sides of their mouths while blinking out yet another message in Morse code and using sign language on a fourth behind their backs. Grrr…don’t get me started.
Anyhow, if the average person isn’t aware, s/he can be sucked into the mire of jargon and big words that mean nothing but look impressive. Jargon has its place in the world, just not the world at large. Ever listen to doctors mumble among themselves? Ever understand a word they’re saying? Of course not! But they know what they’re talking about - or so we must hope. But when one of those physicians is speaking to a group of, let’s say, mental midgets also known as teenagers, they can’t stand on the podium spouting off about thrombosisgenia, miocardiacal fractions, alkaline conjunctive dyspepsia and the like. Those idio…I mean teens will be zoned out in less time than it takes to say DNA. What’s a poor speech-making doctor to do? Speak English! Skip the hoity-toity 7-years-of-medical-school talk and come down to an 8-years-of-high-school level.
Ever attempt to read any insurance policy? Governmental policy? Manuscript written in Sanskrit? Ever listen to anything coming out of a lawyer’s mouth? Then you know all about unclear meanings.
Businesses especially love this pretzel-twist type of straightforward backwardness. My guess is that they think if they make the going hard enough, we wimpy fools will give in and sign the contract on the dotted line. And why not? When faced with 20 pages of nonsense that only vaguely resembles English, we slump in our chairs and begin to feel
Pop quiz: For 50 bonus points, what does the below sentence mean?
Without delay, Deployment that capitalizes on optimal paradigm Synergy with optimum logistical parameters and operational components with no less than 4 zillion elements shall interface.
Answer: I don’t have the faintest. It’s my HMO’s motto.
The rule for legible, readable writing couldn’t be easier. Say what you mean, and say it simply.
Authors would do well to remember this. Provided your 3,000-page monstrosity titled “Wilbur: The Life of a Fly” gets published, it will most likely make a better doorstop than enjoyable read. If you want your book to do something besides gather dust in warehouse bargain-basement stores or be passed around at Christmas faster than the mythical fruitcake-without the spine getting cracked- until the weighty tome crumbles into dust, then cut it down! Go through the manuscript with a hardened heart and red-pencil out every word that doesn’t add something, doesn’t mean anything, isn’t performing. Cut a third then go back and cut another. It’s going to be hard, every slash will be a whip mark across your soul- but if you want to be an above average writer, you must make the cuts!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the adult romance you’re working on should turn into a “Dick sees Jane. Dick is drooling. Jane is taking off her…” type of novel. Although if it comes with pictures most people won’t care what the writing is like. But that’s neither here nor hair. (Like how I cleverly avoided a cliché?)
The same applies to non-fiction writing. If you want your genius on the art of self-dentistry to be spread across the largest market possible, you’d better write for the millions of people out there who think Homer Simpson is a refined gentleman. (Personally, I never understood why Marge married him in the first place, and when is she going to do something about that beehive? It’s 2004, Margie, a new millennium already!)
I’m sure you’ve all heard the term “generic words” by now. Words thatsit there in a sentence, taking up room without adding anything to it- kind of like the oatmeal in a meatloaf. Only not exactly, since oatmeal is a binding agent whereas these words could be deleted without the sentence falling apart. In fact, these words taste much like oatmeal-
kind of cardboardy and bland. Nice, sad, hot, cold, very, good, okay,fine…
Words with oomph and pizzazz are the spice of a memorable sentence that lingers on the tongue. Spunky, furious, treacherous, squid-like, grainy, throbbing, cloying, cathartic…
Example: Can you figure out which is Cream of Wheat and which 9-alarm chili?
1. The tears ran down her cheeks, she was very sad.
2. Roxanne tasted the salt of tears mingled with blood as she bit her lip in vexation. Darn Jasper anyway, she fumed, why’d he have to go and ram his hang glider into that cliff before prom night?
And one final pet peeve… the word “proactive.” This, in my mind, is the worst of the pasteboard, false-fronted, Formica veneers. While it sounds impressive, what does it really mean?
• Take a proactive stance.
• Our business has a proactive vision.
• My cat ate a bag of Doritos and proactivated all over the rug.
• When I stepped in the smelly mound, I felt the proactive rise in my
throat and barely made it to the bathroom.
Say it 50 times and see how stupid and meaningless a word it is. Go ahead, I dare you! Be proactive.
In closing, I’d like to say: Remember, perversity is the perspicacity of proximity!
And now for a new feature that I might not do again, depending on my mood and the perks offered. I call it: READER MAIL (Hmpf.)
Dear Honeydew Zubari,
Help!!!! My husband is a struggling novelist, which I don't mind. He writes mostly at night after I've gone to bed, which I don't mind, either. In the morning, though, I'm covered in words written in blue ink and he makes me go and lay down on his scanner ( which I don't mind, if you know what I mean--wink,wink ) and downloads what he's written. Here’s where I need your help. What can a girl use to remove ink from those tender, hard to reach places without encouraging a rash?
Dear ti- Oops, I mean Amoeba,
Now that’s just sick. What you and your spouse get up to is no business of mine. Oh gack, I don’t even want to have your hard-to-reach places and rashes in the same thought! Or at all, for that matter. Call Kinko’s with this kind of question in future, okay?
©2004, Susan “I’m no Dear Abby” Scott