Combs Spouts Off

"It's my opinion and it's very true."

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Posts Tagged ‘english’

Label directions improved, but I have mixed feelings

Posted by Richard on March 11, 2015

As a technical writer, I’m always interested in the instructions, directions, or other user assistance provided for various consumer products. I’ve always admired the person who first came up with the simple, brief, three-step directions for shampoo use: “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.” A more recent version I’ve seen changes the last step to “Repeat if necessary.” (It sacrifices a bit of brevity for more accuracy and is less encouraging of overuse. I bet the sales/marketing types hated it.)

As a gum disease sufferer, every so often I develop a particularly bad area, and my periodontist prescribes spot treatment with chlorhexidine gluconate. It’s a prescription oral rinse that comes in a pint bottle and is intended (by the manufacturer) to be used like a mouthwash. I’m told to dab it around the problem area with a cotton swab for a week or so (swishing it around in my mouth would stain my teeth terribly). Then I put the remaining 95% of the bottle under the sink for the next several years. By the time I need to repeat the process, it’s expired, and I get a prescription for another pint bottle. Pretty wasteful, but this last time it only cost me $4, so I’m not complaining.

I did notice that the directions had changed since my previous purchase four or five years ago. The label used to instruct you to swish it around in your mouth and then “expectorate.” On the new bottle, it now says to “spit out.”

The technical writer within me applauds this change as being much clearer and more user-friendly. But the high school Latin student in me is somewhat saddened.

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The New Yorker and “Postmodernism Lite”

Posted by Richard on July 30, 2012

In The New Yorker, dance critic Joan Acocella wrote an essay, disguised as a review of Henry Hitching’s The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, on the dichotomy between prescriptivist and descriptivist theories of language. At Slate, Steven Pinker, a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, dissected and demolished Acocella’s “topsy-turvy understanding of linguistics.”

If you’re interested in language and linguistics, read both. Pinker’s is by far the better, but reading Acocella’s first allows you to appreciate his response all the more, and especially the connection to what he calls “The New Yorker’s attitude toward science, which might be called Postmodernism Lite. “

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