Tuesday, February 17, 2009

English as a Foreign Language

Have you studied another language? (Spoken human language, that is: Vulcan, ASL, COBOL and the like don't count.) If so, you have a tool you can use to yourself ahead of the crowd as a writer.

I say this because studying a language forces you to examine how the words go together--once you get past the vocabulary. Until one has a good slice of vocabulary memorized, along with some conjugation, I think the mind treats another language like a code to crack.

When you begin to construct valid sentences in the other language, you're at the point where you should be applying the same sort of analysis you use to learn and apply the language to English. I observed this phenomenon with the first foreign language I studied, Spanish. And it came back in different ways when I studied Japanese and German. If you haven't noticed this in your own mental processes while you're writing in English, try to work in consciously. In addition to making you think about how words go together in sentences in different ways for different effects, it will also help you see how your readers perceive what you're writing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Useless words ...

At some point in the near future, I'm going to write an article on transient words and phrases--my name for overused and casually used terms that flare up for two or three years, then fade away.

Why be concerned? You'll date your writing--especially fiction--if you use transient language. Use words and phrases that are really popular (those that writers pass around to show off or make people think they're with it), and people may think you're too derivative. Or, as in the third example below, you'll only be spreading words devoid of real meaning.

A few samples: "frisson," which enjoys extensive overuse in fiction, "leverage" (oh, go ahead and say what you mean; no one will think you're ignorant for using a one-syllable word: "use"), "more bang for the buck" (translation: "we can't think of a definite positive to describe the product"), and the five year-old, consciously-copied "absolutely!" (Regards "absolutely" ... just say "yes!")

You might stop and think when you use "basically," too. "Basically" is basically an empty prefix. It's been around more than a decade, and grows more hollow each and every time it is uttered or written. Listen to people around you, or on TV or radio, when they try to describe something: "Well, basically, I'm shopping for a car." What? Either you're shopping or not--there's no "basically" about it. "Basically, he was shot and killed." Ditto.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Personal Observations About Public Radio

Well, I haven't posted in several weeks. No topics that I can talk about here (yet) have come up, until today:

You really have to wonder when a university operates a radio station that is staffed by paid employees. I mean, why was the broadcast facility established, if not for use as an educational tool by university students and faculty?

This came to mind when I learned that Miami University of Ohio is sort of contracting out its operations to WVXU (formerly Xavier University’s station) and firing a half-million dollars’ worth of employees. WMUB (Miami) will mostly simulcast WVXU's programming. (Which, of course, comes primarily from paid or unpaid non-students.)

But—get this!—there’s a bright spot in that Miami just may use faculty and students to generate programming. Duh! You idiots wouldn’t be in this mess if you had put the station to that appropriate use from the beginning.

Why is it that public radio stations affiliated with universities are run mostly by people from the community and not from among faculty and students? Yes, a station needs a couple of real engineers. But not a paid staff sucking up a half-million a year when the university as been squealing like a pig stuck in a picket fence over exceeding their budget?
Did public radio become a scam to get broadcast licenses after the FRC/FCC stopped handing them out of anyone who could writing a convincing letter?