A plea for a gutted-free New Year

GuttedWith 2016 soon upon us I challenge all sportsmen, sportswomen and especially sportswriters to promise that they won’t use the term ‘gutted’ for a whole year.

Australian families have enough stress to deal with already; the threat of terrorism and falling behind in the mortgage and having to use public transport all their life. They’re stuck with that. Why inflict the linguistic and anatomical laziness of gutted upon them?

The way we’re headed, four-year-olds will soon be arriving home from pre-school to announce they came second in the colouring in competition and ‘feel gutted’. If only they could just use a word like devastated, downcast, done-in, perhaps even defeated? But even at that tender age they’ve heard far too much sports commentary and their parents, also victims, don’t know better. Otherwise they’d reach for the castor oil.

And pity the medical profession. When Wallabies star David Pocock was injured in 2013 a breathless Canberra Times reported: ‘A gutted Pocock ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament … and needs a knee reconstruction.’ The surgeon wouldn’t know where to start.

Or take the case of English cricketer, Joe Root. He hurt his hand, couldn’t play in an international Twenty-20 competition and declared that he too was gutted. He was lucky he wasn’t taken to hospital for a finger stall and end up with a new liver. Come to think of it, though, that might have encouraged him to choose his words more carefully.

 

Evidence versus emotion

Aristotle_Altemps_DetailAristotle identified three elements in the art of rhetoric: ethos (authority or evidence); pathos (the emotional hook, one might say); and logos (a logical argument). His point was that to win over an audience required more than the facts. How these are marshalled and how they resonate matters, as Nobel Laureate, Peter Doherty, explains in his latest book The Knowledge Wars, which I reviewed in The Weekend Australian. The art is to make sure that pathos (and, in this day and age, the pithy media statement or resort to celebrity rather than expertise) does not undermine the ethos and the logos.

‘i’ before ‘e’…

i before eEnglish spelling is hard. The language has over 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 separate sounds, with many having no relationship to pronunciation. You can blame history for this mess. English has always adopted words from other languages* — Norse, German, Latin, French to name few — but without  standard protocols on how to spell them.  There are some rules like ‘i before e except after c’ and plenty of exceptions to those rules.

In German, it’s easy: if you pronounce the combination of letters ‘e’, you spell it ‘ie’. If it sounds like ‘i’, it’s ‘ei’. So the European veal dish, named after the Austrian capital Vienna, is Wiener Schnitzel. Except in this week’s Sydney Morning Herald crossword, which I just couldn’t solve because Wiener had become Weiner, meaning the solution to the clue ‘shrivelled’ was ’emaciated’ but only if you spelled Wiener wrong.

Perhaps the lesson here is for crossword compilers to avoid foreign words though that’s hard when it comes to English. Instead, what about we all learn  another language so we can better appreciate the intricacies of  human communication…and exercise our brains without having to do the crossword.

*If you are interested, there’s a Ted-Ed talk on the Origins of English.

Editing necessities

editing‘A good editor won’t introduce errors’, declares an American editor selling her wares. It’s a good benchmark and one you’d expect an international journal to adhere to. So imagine my shock when the proofs of an article I wrote (eons ago … academic publishing works at a languorous pace) arrived with the following:

The citation for ‘Pyne (2014)’ has been changed to ‘Pyne and Hon (2014)’ to match the entry in the references list:  Pyne, C., & Hon, M. P. (2014). Embracing the new freedom: Classical values and new frontiers for Australia’s universities. Address to the Universities Australia conference, Canberra, 26 February. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from http://ministers.education.gov.au/pyne/embracingnew-freedom-classical-values-and-new-frontiers-australias-universities.

The publishing house is located in the United Kingdom, home to our Westminster system. Their editors should be familiar with the honorifics we give our parliamentarians, in this case the Hon. Christopher Pyne, MP. But no, instead his ghost writer emerged as MP Hon.  If my editor were based in Australia, they could have referred to the Style Manual (6th edition, 2002) to find out about the use of ‘The Honourable’.

Mention of the Style Manual leads me to add my voice to those of other editors calling on the government to fund a seventh edition of the Style Manual. The current manual is a wonderful resource, produced by a group of professional editors, but is becoming outdated. According to the Institute of Professional Editors, the Department of Finance has yet to convince the government to provide funding for the new edition. Another reason for the delay is that having considered engaging an external team, the department ‘rejected this because the government would lose control over the content’.

This does not bode well for a manual that could promote plain English and consistent style across government agencies, and in turn save the public service much time and money.

 

 

Your AAAAA needs you now!

MYP_AAAAA-imageI’m the proud owner of a T-shirt with large white letters – AAAAA – emblazoned on a black background: Australian Association Against Acronym Abuse.

The T-shirt raises eyebrows and gets a few laughs. But it conveys a terrible truth. Acronym abuse is the scourge of modern communication. Not as dangerous or insidious perhaps as other forms of misbehaviour. But acronyms in the wrong hands eat away at all that makes us civilised. Take SOCRATES, a word that once conjured up images of Greek philosophers earnestly debating the meaning of life. It’s now been drafted by the US military to denote Special Operations Command Research, Analysis and Threat Evaluation System!

Even those conscious of the dangers of ‘acronymitis’ make excuses. A 2011 report on Australia’s aid to Indonesia noted:

‘Every attempt has been made to reduce the use of acronyms in this report. Unfortunately the development industry suffers from a surfeit of acronyms, mostly unnecessary. The author apologises for any gratuitous acronym usage that has unwittingly crept into the report.’

Sorry. If ‘every attempt’ had in fact been made there’d be no ‘gratuitous acronym usage’.

But it’s not all about despair and excuses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra now runs an annual Acronym Free Day during which staff try to go for 24 hours without uttering a single acronym. Those who are caught out (probably most staff) pay a small fine to charity.

It’s a good start but much more can be done. Government departments are the refuge of chronic acronyms abusers. Why not make acronym reduction an element in the performance targets for all agencies? Bonuses should be based not only on making Australia and the world a better place but on acronym reduction. Annual Reports should list those acronyms which have been decommissioned.

It’s a mammoth task. It will need commitment and resources. Perhaps also a new government hotline to comfort those suffering acronym withdrawal syndrome, and to distribute free T-shirts.

 

 

 

Tony and Kevin Lie Together

tony and kevin‘The people of Australia elected me as Prime Minister’ Tony Abbott declared as the knives were sharpened after the LNP disaster in Queensland. Sorry Tony, the people didn’t. It’s the very same falsehood Kevin Rudd used. Like him, you’ll go on repeating it. But a lie repeated is just that.

Given the inability of our recent prime ministers to perform even simple mathematical tasks it’s no wonder the economy has problems.

In the 2013 general election 14,988,486 Australians voted. Tony Abbott received 54,388 of those votes. That’s a mere 0.36 per cent. How that can translate into some sort of national personal mandate beggars belief.

Abbott leads the party that won office, nothing more. That party can change leader as it wishes without damage to the nation or to the Australian Constitution. The latter, incidentally, makes no mention of the office of Prime Minister. No assassination would be involved, just as it wasn’t in the Rudd/Gillard era. The parroting of that deceit is a travesty.

Now gone from politics, Rudd fared even worse than Abbott in his ‘national’ appeal. In 2013 he received 34,878 first preference votes. So only 0.23 per cent of the much vaunted ‘Australian people’ actually chose him.

The next time Tony Abbott refers to his mystical bond with the people drop him a line. Clearly he needs reminding he’s nothing more than Mr 0.36 per cent.

Image: Kevin Rudd n Tony Abbott by scorpy-roy