By Annette Rey
Okay, so I have two more observations to report of English gone astray. In the first case, an organization needed an editor before it dared embarrass itself and spend its ad dollars this way. And it keeps airing countless times without correction. The second case is a common word misplacement.
Item 1: A television commercial says So-and-So organization “helps save the lives of animals killed in shelter every year.”
Really? Then they have a talent and a cure for death the world needs to learn, right?
An important word is missing from this sentence. How would you edit this sentence? I would add the following italicized word:
“…helps save the lives of animals otherwise killed in shelters every year.”
Item 2: A program on first-time entrepreneurs focused on their ability to market their product. One inventor spoke of being absolutely sure there were no errors, misstatements, or misleading remarks in her ad. She said if there were errors “…seventy-six million people could see it potentially.”
Potentially refers to the possible number of people, not to the act of seeing it. Clarity urges me to put it this way:
“Potentially, seventy-six million people could see it.”
In any case, all of the people who viewed it would have seen any errors.
Do you think it’s no big deal to use English in a less than precise fashion? Do you think I am picking for nits?
We use language to communicate a meaning we are trying to convey to another person. Do I want a person to hear “I have a pink dog,” or “I have a dog in pink clothing?” (when, in fact, my dog is not pink). What if I am trying to state the health status of my dog? “My dog is in the pink.”
It matters what words we use. It matters in daily living and could mean life or death at some point. If you are not clear in giving directions to a motorist, he may end up in a dangerous neighborhood or on a road difficult to traverse due to construction. He may not reach his destination on time or at all. Forget GPS which, by the way, misleads, too.
In simple everyday conversation we want to save time with accurate communication. “Where is the dust mop?” The other person, pointing to the laundry room, says, “In that room.” Okay, I look there but it is not in sight. I ask again, “Where?” “In there.” I ask again, “I don’t see it anywhere. Where do you mean?” The person comes in gesturing, getting impatient. I am left to guess. Then a light goes on in my head. “You mean in the closet?” The very relieved person says, “Yes, yes.”
The visual I got from her choice of words is, in general, the room as the location I am to look for the dust mop. Choosing a specific word, like the closet, tells me its actual placement. To me, and I think to the rest of the world, room and closet are two different locations.
I listen to what people say. I trust they are telling me what they want me to know. If they are not relating their thoughts in an accurate way, time is wasted and awkward moments are created while I have to guess what the conversation is intended to be conveying.
Do you want your readers to experience delays in understanding your story, your scenes, your character’s words, actions, motivations? Then you must practice accurate speech everyday. Your writing will improve. Correct words will come easier as you write. Your readers will flow through your work as you intend them to.
I don’t pick for nits; they just sort of jump out at me.