Embracing and Abjuring Bullshit, and Making Us Think

A lot of communications fodder in Thursday’s Strib.

My favorite — MnDOT and other road and bridge types around the country wanting to change the nomenclature of substandard bridges so the people who drive over them aren’t scared. It’s a good little lesson on what happens when internal jargon — the thing we fight our clients to ditch — gets loose and runs around naked in public. Terms like “structurally deficient” don’t really mean a bridge is unsafe, the engineers say. “Fracture critical” shouldn’t make us take a detour. OK, so use more accurate words, and use that national language, English.

MnDOT’s proposal? “Car dealers no longer have ‘used cars.’ They instead switched to ‘previously owned.’ Can’t we similarly come up with nomenclature that is less of an issue?” Not if you think like hucksters, you can’t. Let’s not descend to bullshit and make the problem worse. How ’bout “previously safe bridge”?

But the Strib itself admirably avoided bullshit when the paper announced that Susan Albright is done as editorial page editor. None of this “pursuing other interests” or “spending more time with her family” cover-story nonsense. She and the new/old once-and-future temporary understudy publisher disagreed on whether to focus on local editorials and leave the national and global stuff to the syndicates. Temp publisher wants mostly local; they disagreed and parted ways, telling their readers about the issue and the disagreement. Great model for honest communication. Top execs can differ, can argue, can walk, and tell the public about it, and the company doesn’t crash. And its constituents feel honestly dealt with and not condescended to by PR types crafting vapid messages. A tip of the Hatlo hat to the local paper.

And in Katherine Kersten’s column, there’s a thought-provoking question for liberals. “It’s hard to imagine a pro-life Democrat bucking the party orthodoxy as (Rudy) Giuliani has and retaining any chance to win the presidential nomination,” she writes, while positing that there are in fact a lot of moderate Republicans running for office. It’s a challenging point. Giuliani is a long way from the nomination, but a lot of Republicans like him, despite the fact that he is, apparently, sort of, at least used to be, kind of pro-choice. Would a Democrat who believes abortion should be illegal make it? Is abortion a litmus test more for the Dems than for the Repubs? Kersten did what she’s supposed to do — make us think.

Grammar Confessional

OK. I’ve just looked up the difference betweeen “complimentary” and “complementary” for the millionth time. I cannot, ever, remember which is which.

I get stopped in my tracks contemplating “it’s” and “its” way too often, even though I had a sign on the inside of my locker as a kid that read “No apostrophe for the possessive” in a vain attempt to get the rule to sink in.

Nine times of 10, I type it “reasearch” (although to my credit, I usually catch it).

And, abandoning a personal, two-decade windmill tilt, I’ve largely stopped fighting for adherence to the AP rule about not capitalizing professional titles when they follow names.

There. I feel better now. Word people, the Grammar Confessional is open.

— Hornseth