Monday, June 26, 2017

Verb Tense, It's A Thing, And Other Frustrations

I'm supposed to be teaching a technical writing course at my IRL job.

Great. I've done a lot of training over the course of my career (now in its 15th decade, or maybe it just feels that way). I do technical writing/editing every damn day.

I got this.

Is that a participle I hear dangling?

I've basically got the entire course mapped out in my head. All I have to do say out loud the internal monologue I give daily while I'm editing other people's reports. I pretty much know it by heart.

On the other hand, that's maybe not such a great idea.

I'm pretty sure my co-workers know when I'm having a particularly frustrating time wading through a piece of technical writing one of them produced. Just as I have no problem humming and even singing out loud when I'm in a good mood, I have an entire verbal repertoire to express vexation, ranging from unintelligible grunts to muttered strings of profanity that would make Popeye proud.

Arf arf arf, stick a hot poker up yer rectum,
Bluto, arf arf arf.


Anyway, if I were to produce a training script from the things I say to myself (and occasionally murmur, not exactly under my breath then a few feet above and beyond the threshold of hearing), it might not pass muster with HR.

It would be awesome af, however, and probably super-entertaining. And I'll bet my students would never forget Chuck's Rules of Not Writing Like a Third-Grade Troglodyte When You're Supposed to Be a Grown-Ass College Graduate.

Here goes.

1. Hello, class. I wrote my first book in the third grade. It was about snakes. It wasn't particularly well researched, and the language was not especially nuanced. Yet it contained fewer grammatical errors than the average so-called professional report by an apparently educated and experienced scientist that crosses my desk every goddamn day. Let's talk about how the fuck that can possibly be.

2. First of all, the reports we produce in this company are at least 65% boilerplate language that should never change. I find it amazing, therefore, that so many of you are inspired to delete the perfectly structured template verbiage and replace it with six sentences in a row that begin "The property was..."

3. "Is" and "are" have two distinct and different purposes in the English language. One property perhaps "is" located adjacent to another. Several properties "are" located adjacent to another. The verb "to be" is, you know, foundational to our system of grammar. How is this so fucking difficult that you literally never get it right?

4. Look, you dumb shit, you can't simply sprinkle commas and semi-colons into your sentences as if they were merely two different colors of confetti. WORDS ARE NOT CONFETTI. Jeez. How the hell is it that I understand the function of semi-colons to separate compound clauses and/or indicate inequal yet related grammatically complete thoughts, but you don't, with your fancy-ass degree in something sciency/engineeringy?


6. Perhaps this is a bit political, but I don't believe that corporations are people. So please....for fuck's sake...don't say "ABC Co. services their customers," or "BigAss LLC installs their products..." Companies, corporations, organizations are "it." Fuck Citizens United, the linguistic purists of America agree that a company is a goddamn "it." If you write, "The Client says they provide..." I'm gonna jump down your throat with a fucking dictionary. Think about it, OK?

7. How DARE you begin a sentence with a numeral? "6 drums are located"? REALLY? "Six." The word is SIX. God. Damn.

8. OK, this. This makes me feel actually murderous. WHO THE HELL taught you to write "five-feet" or "two-miles"? I want to know who this person so I can wrap an actual garrote around his or her motherfucking neck. If I had a nickel for every misbegotten hyphen I had to delete, I'd live in Jamaica instead of in a North Texas suburb correcting your lame-ass mistakes.

9. This entry is directed to one specific person whose reports I'm obliged to edit weekly. If something - a drum, a piece of equipment, a goddamn chicken - is located in the central portion of your site, it's located in the central portion of your site. Not "near the central portion." Not "along the central portion." Not "by the central portion." And I swear to JF Christ that I will die of a heart attack changing your dumb-ass attempts to write it any other way.

10. Listen up, you assholes: Acronyms are spelled out once and parenthetically defined, after which the acronyms are employed EXCLUSIVELY.  The presiding environmental entity in the State of Texas is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). If you insist on spelling it out - and writing the goddamn acronym - at multiple points in your report, I will eat your skull in lieu of popcorn at my next movie night. GOT IT?

So yeah. That's my average day working with purportedly educated scientists.

My teenage daughter knows more about the basics of sentence construction than they do.

I hope they thrive under the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, we'll be readying our places as members of the tribe of Holy Fuck, At Least We Respect the Foundational Knowledge of Our Civilization.

Cheers, Drunkards. Write well. It's the best thing, I promise.


  1. Well, they haven't used"prepone" in place of "bring forward", have they? They still use "6 - or six drums are located" instead of "sic numbers of drums are located"? So you're still far ahead of Hindunazistani English.

    Count your blessings and hold on to them tight.

  2. Do what you can about people who place an apostrophe in plural nouns, please. They look just like everyone else but they add an apostrophe to plural nouns.

    I'm not a grammar Nazi, for obvious reasons. But really?

  3. On the one hand I'm appalled by the grammar some people employ, especially for external communications, but on the other hand at least it keeps copy editors employed.
    Still, is it too much to ask that a person who works in a library be able to pronounce "library"? If you insist on saying "lie-berry" you shouldn't be the person in charge of answering the office phone.

    1. I had a colleague who couldn't say library. Or cinnamon. We joked that his wife, seven months pregnant with a girl, would be naming her Simmanon Lieberry.

  4. I have no idea what any of this means, but its some funny shit!!! And I am drunk...

  5. Verbing weirds nouns. Don't allow that.


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