by Patricia Tierney
One aspect of editing that seems little discussed in this age of technology is the precision of the individual word. We write "Press the Enter key," rather than "Depress the Enter key." We watch our constructions for active voice when it is more appropriate than passive, but among technical communicators I hear very few discussions that appreciate our language without reference to technology.
For instance, a lawyer is always a lawyer (unless disbarred), but as Theodore Bernstein wrote, an attorney is an attorney only when he has a client (The Careful Writer, 1965). The difference is that "lawyer" describes someone whose profession is law, and "attorney" in its strictest sense means "representative." Have you ever thought the expression "attorney-at-law" redundant? It isn't. Additionally, if someone has given you documented, legal power to act in her behalf, it is a power of attorney, not a power of lawyer.
Most of us, carefully instructed in the art of "affect" and "effect," learned that the former is a verb and the latter a noun. This information is correct, but it is also true that in the right circumstances "affect" is a noun and "effect" is a verb. The correct usage depends entirely on the meaning being conveyed. For example, to effect a change means to bring a change into existence. Too frequently I have observed editorial corrections of perfectly valid uses of these words, actually changing what was right to what is incorrect.
The power of words — used precisely or imprecisely, correctly or incorrectly — is incredible. We as technical communicators must respect words as we use them to describe technology, to maintain consistency or style, and to minimize jargon. It is my hope that we extend that respect into enjoyment and continued learning.and yes, into appreciative discussions. because there is so much to appreciate and help us become even better at the work that we do.