Making them up as I go (2)

1. Tell the truth.
2. Entice, or fail.
3. To emphasize, summarize.
4. If it ain't short, it don't work.
5. Be clear.

And so I don't forget:
Don't explain. Just tell a story.
Don't argue. Just say things that make sense.
Expect people to be bored by the writing, and shorten it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Eric Hoffer:
There is no reason why the profoundest thoughts should not make easy and exciting reading. A profound thought is an exciting thing — as exciting as a detective's deductions or hunches. The simpler the words in which a thought is expressed the more stimulating its effect.

Friday, January 5, 2018

'words dilute meaning'

Eric Hoffer:
Wordiness is a sickness of American writing. Too many words dilute and blur ideas.

There is not an idea that cannot be expressed in 200 words. But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say. If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Apparently I'm out of the loop

These days, words seem to change faster even than technology. I was at Forbes trying to read Adam Ozimek amid all the flashy things on the screen. In the sidebar, Star Wars caught my eye:

Star Wars, and the bare arms below it:

How to make your side...

My side?

How to make your side hustle...

Hustle? I was expecting something like How to make your side pain go away...

Does my side hustle? Does my side not hustle enough? Who is on my side? Is this a Conservative/Liberal thing?

All this goes thru my mind before I get to the next word. When I read, I try to assemble the meaning as I go. I don't wait till I get to the end, then gather up the pieces and try to fit them together. I try to make sense of what I'm reading as I go.

Maybe not everybody does that.

How to make your side hustle your main hustle...


...from a woman who did it.

Oh! A "side hustle" is something you do. Okay. They mean like a business. How to make your side business into your main business. Yeah, that makes sense now.

What a lot of work this is, for nothing.

Did you see me pause there? Pause and say "yeah" and wait, and not try to guess what they were talking about? They forced me to wait to the end, then try to fit the pieces together in order to understand what they said.

It was "side hustle" that did it. It's a new word, new to me. I didn't get the meaning. Maybe if they flagged the term by putting it in quotes it would have been easier to figure the meaning. But hell no! That would ruin the effect. The effect is achieved by going with the flow, new term, new word, new phrase, run with it.

Run with it. Otherwise you're out of the loop ...

I can't even guess what the new speak might be.

They forced me to wait to the end, by using unfamiliar new terminology. Side hustle. Who knew? They could have put it in quotes. Or they could have made it into one word: sidehustle. Or side-ussle maybe, the way people would say it.

For sure, nobody has time for an "H" these days.

// here's the interesting part

So anyway our new word si'dussle comes from the English hustle. Google lists a few meanings for hustle, including:

1. to "force (someone) to move hurriedly", or
2. to "obtain by forceful action or persuasion."

The latter sense of the term is "North American informal" and includes three branches:

2a. to "coerce or pressure someone into doing or choosing something."
2b. to "sell aggressively."
2c. to "obtain by illicit action; swindle; cheat."

Coerce to action, sell aggressively, swindle and cheat. Given these related meanings, it is interesting to observe that the word "hustle" has come to mean "business".

That reminds me of the archaic meaning of invest: to "surround (a place) in order to besiege or blockade it." That's a good match to the current meaning: to "devote (one's time, effort, or energy) to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result."

Yeah, by "a worthwhile result" they don't mean something like a hobby. They mean something like a takeover.

// on a related note

On a related note, our word business comes from the Old English busyness.

Busyness is to hustle as business is to sidussle.

Google shows similar usage patterns for "business" and "hustle". Increase since the latter 1800s, peak around the Great Depression, reaching bottom around 1970 or 1980, and then increase resumes:

I can't help thinking those patterns bear some relation to this one:

There are lags, of course. "Long and variable" lags.

When I read, I try to assemble the meaning as I go. When I write, I try to make it so you can do the same. I don't want you to have to stop and back up and try to work things out. It's my job as writer to do that part. When you read what I wrote, I want it to go down easy. In the struggle to convey information, that's half the battle.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Grandma stands corrected

Our 8-year-old grandson is here for the holidays. It's time for bed. "Do you want to say goodnight to everyone, Jake?" Grandma asks. "Everyone is in the dining room and Grandpa is in the red room."

Without a moment's hesitation, Jake asks: "How can Grandpa be in two places at once?"

"Well," Grandma replies, "Grandpa is in the red room, and everyone else is in the dining room."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Maybe that's why I have so many readers I can count them on one hand

Writing for my econ blog, I change
It doesn't work like that
It doesn't work that way.
Why? because I like the alliteration in work that way. That's alliteration, right?

Is it worth doing? Yeah. Writing is like making somebody eat something they don't want to eat. I try to make it like a live eel, slippery, so it goes down easy. It might make you shudder, but at least it goes down easy.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"So" is a complication

I'm writing for my econ blog:
I didn't capture the graph as an image, and the data has since changed, so the old link doesn't show what I saw last year.
Two commas, and three pieces of a sentence. Three is a lot to handle. Two is easier to see.

On top of that, there is a "so" in there. The data has changed, so the old link doesn't show the old data. I don't like "so".

Using "so" is like using "therefore": The data has changed; therefore the old link doesn't show the old data.

"Therefore" is a problem. It should make readers stop and evaluate the logic: Is is true? If the data changes, does the graph change? Yes, of course it does.

Even if the answer is "yes of course", I have distracted readers by encouraging them to stop and evaluate of my statement.

I'm not trying to fool anybody. I expect my readers to be sharp and to look for things I say that might be wrong. I always hope to be corrected if I'm wrong, because that improves what I have to say. But my task as a writer as a blogger is to convey information. I don't want to put things in my writing that interfere with conveying what I have to say.
I didn't capture the graph as an image, and the data has since changed. The old link doesn't show what I saw last year.
Two sentences now. Shorter sentences. That's good. And my conclusion (if you want to call it that) is presented matter-of-factly. I'm not challenging you to test my logic. I'm just presenting ideas. I think that makes it easier to read.

Not every "so" is a problem. But quite often when I'm proofreading, I'll take one out. Sometimes they're simply unnecessary. Sometimes they're worse than unnecessary.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The pause after "but"

I first noticed it while watching Star Trek: Next Generation. Every time Mr. Worf used the word "but" in a sentence, the pause came after the "but". These days, everybody says it that way.

The pause after "but" implies a comma after "but" in the writing. A pause before "but", where it should be, implies a comma before "but" in the writing.

but THAT
That's how I see it.

THIS but
That's how everybody else sees it.

The pause after the spoken "but" implies some kind of impending doom. Maybe that's why everybody says it that way now. With every action we take and every story we tell, impending doom awaits. Death of civilization, yes.

But guess what, guys. "Civilization dies by suicide".