Monday, October 4, 2010

Around the Word

The BloGG's Monday wake-up call explores ways writers communicate—or miscommunicate—with readers:
  • We writers sometimes have a touchy relationship with our readers: how many of you, for instance, felt excluded by the opening "we"? "I'm not a writer, so what am I—chopped liver?" you may ask, or else, "I am a writer...and speak for yourself!" As the Subversive Copy Editor notes, the editorial "we" encourages a variety of uses and abuses. At best, it can create a sense of community and shared feeling—think Obama's campaign-defining "yes we can." At the same time, "we" can take on less inviting—and more sinister—tones, enforcing elitism or erecting a smokescreen around an author unwilling to take editorial responsibility. Even unintended exclusivity or condescension will rub an audience the wrong way. On Language columnist Ben Zimmer records the retorts of feisty critics who classify first-person pluralizers as "kings, editors, and people with tapeworm." So, what do we think?
  • Huck Finn, Harry Potter and...the word "yahoo"? In honor of last week's Banned Book Week, The Word columnist Erin McKean examines banned words in the media and federal institutions. While many are the usual four-lettered suspects, McKean notes that clichés and euphemisms have also gotten the axe—just this summer the FDA forbade the use of misleading qualifiers like light, mild and medium on cigarette packages. Yet while it's true that euphemisms, deceptive adjectives, and sanitized acronyms can obscure ugly realities with alarming elegance, McKean warns that censoring language undermines the possibility of frank, upfront discussion. Do you agree? Do any of these word bans seem justified to you?
  • A perfect novel is a "cathedral made of fire," writes Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Cunningham—just as fiercely radiant and, unfortunately, just as impossible to actually construct. In the New York Times, the author of The Hours and By Nightfall muses on the Protean transformations that every artistic work undergoes, taking on a different shape in the author's mind, on the printed page, under the translator's pen, and in the mind of each individual reader. Cunningham compares the quest for perfection in art to a search for the Holy Grail, but—reassuringly—believes we may be elevated by reaching for the unattainable.

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