Sunday, February 1, 2015

When I Edited Engineers - 2

From my aerospace editing days: another hint (seldom taken) to the engineers on how to make their proposals sound less like they were written by engineers. (I use “engineer” generically, because that’s who I worked with, but it could be any technical subject matter expert.)
On Using Nouns As Verbs
…and don’t try to make that “verbizing nouns.”
There are enough words in the language already that can confuse you when reading something because they can be either noun or verb: think “approach,” “balance,” “control,” “design,” “estimate,” “function,” “gauge,” “heat”…
Yet proposal authors keep inventing more. Some popular corruptions include “architect,” “status,” and the seemingly all-purpose “baseline.”

You have to wonder why. Does “architecting” a system have some advantage over designing it? Were we missing something all that time we just reported on things rather than “statusing” them? Is “baseline” really so versatile that it’s up to establishing the requirements for the engineering design AND naming the management team?

It’s a rich language, with plenty of nuance to go around. The Eskimos’ language is often remarked on for having dozens (or is it hundreds?) of words to describe snow. But when you think about it, English has something akin to that for rain. We differentiate “misting,” “a few drops,” “a drizzle,” “ sprinkles,” “ showers,” “driving” or “torrential” rain, “a downpour,” “a cloudburst,” “a deluge,” “cats and dogs,” “buckets,” “gullywashers,” and rightly or wrongly, “precipitation.”

The point is, whatever you have to say, there’s probably a perfectly adequate word or phrase already in the langue to say it with. Granted, language is a living, evolving thing; but unnaturally rearranging the parts of a living thing -- take a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein.