Comma splices and cultural differences

The craft of crochet is fundamentally the same, but the stitch names are different in the UK  and the US. The same stitches have different names. A single crochet (sc) in America is a double crochet (dc) in England. You have to be very aware of the origin of your pattern before you start.

And knitting comes in English and Continental style flavours. The same fundamental concept, just that you hold the yarn and needles differently.

Same same, but different

Regional writing differences

At a previous workplace I worked in a team of writers, one of whom was an American who was travelling through Australia. It constantly surprised me that, although we were very similar in many ways, we were also very different. It was so subtle as to be unnoticeable, but then it would hit you like a sledgehammer when a difference cropped up.

Little things like idioms and slang. I remember a funny day we had to urban-dictionary “tweaking” – who knew it was a drug reference!

One day she was peer-reviewing something I wrote and she sent me this in an email:

splicecommalogotrans3

We had a good laugh about it. I can’t remember the exact sentence but we worked for a software company, so complex, noun-heavy phrases were difficult to avoid.

Go with your gut but remember your audience

I stuck to my guns and said that my spliced comma should stand. Luckily my Aussie colleague backed me up. I was taught in school to use a comma in long sentences where you would naturally take a breath if you were speaking. I have since learned that some Americans are very anti- comma splicing.

I’m not going to debate grammar rules here, but I learnt two things: stand up for what you believe in, and go with your gut (but remember your audience).

My Aussie colleague would confidently tell me that she would often end sentences with a preposition so long as it felt right. Our audience was primarily Australian so these decisions were acceptable.

I have always been of the belief that as a tech writer:

you’re allowed to break the rules so long as you understand what rule you’re breaking

And it’s all about effective communication of information to your audience.

You do what feels natural and it all comes back to your audience, or in the craft sense, what is right for the project.

Takeaways

  • Always peer review – editing is a Good Thing
  • Don’t be sensitive
  • Be open to other ideas of “correctness
  • Remember regional differences
  • Discuss with colleagues, get consensus then be consistent
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Unword of the Day

a whole nother
very unique
do the needful
revert
expel the virtues

My husband used to work on a project at a major bank, and he dealt with staff in their many South East Asian offices. Working with lots of people who have English as their second language, he encountered a wide range of unusual language usage.

Being a sensitive soul (and a tech writer in another life, I’m sure) he was often offended by some of the clangers he heard, and would bring them home for me to be shocked about.

Many blog posts have already been written about “irregardless” but that is one of the first he noticed.
“Do the needful” is another favourite, and one he heard the other day was “expel the virtues”.

It’s everywhere

I subscribe to the view that English is a living language and I tend to embrace language inventions that tickle me. I’m all for the reinvention of “because” as a preposition (now because NOUN), and I regularly use fat as the past participle form of fit:

“I tried on the skirt and it fat real good”.

People who are new speakers of English tend to be able to combine pieces in new and interesting ways. In some cases they are just following the language instinct, something Stephen Pinker wrote a whole book about.

The point

It’s not worth losing sleep over. Try to go with the flow and don’t censure people when you think they’ve made a mistake. It may be hard to relinquish the meanings of words like “literally” which has recently had a ‘secondary’ meaning accepted in the dictionary, but this is the way of the future and sometimes I think if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.