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The Nichol's Report: Clarity in Language
1995, October (February 25, 2007)
By Michelle Corbin Nichols

Edwin Newman, of NBC's Meet the Press and Nightly News fame, spoke to nearly 2000 people at the 42nd Annual STC Conference in our nation's capital on Monday, April 24, 1995. Mr. Newman spoke about the state of the English language today, reminding us that we, as technical communicators, should be most aware of the language we use to communicate technical information.

Technology has "bloated our language" and slackened the nit-picking tendencies that our English teachers so carefully taught us. Mr. Newman said that he had been called a "nit-picking crank" for his persistent pursuit of correct and precise usage of the English language at all times. (I must admit that once he began speaking of always using the English language correctly, I began to listen for errors in his own speech...and found none.) He feels that we are cheating ourselves and others by not using the English language clearly.

Mr. Newman sprinkled his speech with examples, so that we could all enjoy the mistakes that the information age has wrought upon us. At first he clearly explained the mistakes, but as he warmed up, he left more and more of the examples up to us to decipher. The first set of examples involved adding prefixes to words to enhance our meanings. For example, how can you "pre-board" a plane with children? There can be no such action as pre-boarding; one can only board a plane. Or, perhaps one might suggest he is a "self-confessed" liar, when confession can only be done by oneself.

"Straightforward English clears the mind," says Newman. He fights for clarity and charges us with avoiding unnecessary jargon and complex structures that technologies force upon our language. The media often play down correct word usage, praising the colloquial looseness of our language, and suggest to the mass public that writing and speaking clearly make us out to be snobs. Mr. Newman's message was clear: careful writing equals clear writing; clear writing equals clear thought. End of article.

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