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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Quick! What's this sentence about?

From How inequalities of wealth matter for consumption by Nick Bunker:
A person would only change his or her consumption patterns if his or her lifetime income changed, but wouldn’t change his or her spending much if he or she experienced a temporary increase or decrease in spending.
First reaction: The sentence seems to be about gender politeness.
Second reaction: I'm not reading any more of that.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"at least I mean what I say"


Which two of these statements mean the same?
  1. Every draft is a Bill of Exchange
  2. Every draft is not a Bill of Exchange
  3. No draft is a Bill of Exchange
Number 2 means the same as number 3. Number 1 means the opposite. Easy, right? You'd think so.

How bout this:
  1. Some drafts are Bills of Exchange.
  2. Some drafts are not Bills of Exchange.
  3. Not every draft is a Bill of Exchange.
All three are equivalent this time.

When you say "not every one of them is X" it means NOT ALL of them are X, but SOME are.

When you say "every one of them is not X" it means NONE are X.

If I say "all of them are X" it should be obvious what I mean. If I say "all of them are NOT X" it should be equally obvious what I mean. When I say "ALL of them are not" I do not mean SOME of them are. I mean ALL of them are not, and NONE of them are.

Petty, right? But if you don't know petty stuff like this, you cannot say things that are logical. And if you try, you will probably get things wrong.

Here's a clip from pages 215 & 216 of The Foreign Trade of the United States: Its Character, Organization and Methods, a Google Book by Lillian Cummings Ford and Thomas Francis Ford. At the bottom of page 215 is part of the phrase "Digitized by Google":

I don't know what the hell that paragraph means.

They point out that in common usage, the terms "draft" and "bill of exchange" mean the same. Then they say that "strictly", NO draft is a Bill of Exchange. I think they mean to say that, strictly, only SOME drafts are Bills of Exchange. But they don't say SOME. They say ALL. They say ALL ARE NOT.

I can read the following sentence, where they say "a draft is not necessarily a negotiable instrument". The "not necessarily" part tells me that some drafts are negotiable and some are not. So the word SOME comes in by a back door.

They repeat the confusion in their last sentence: They say Bills of Exchange are the most common form of draft (again implying SOME) but conclude by stating clearly that "every draft is not a bill of exchange." No draft is a bill of exchange. That's the conclusion of the paragraph, and that's what they want me to understand.

No draft is a bill of exchange.

Look... I think I can figure out what they mean. But if I am using their book to learn something, the only thing I learn for sure is that they do not say what they mean.

In fact, they say the opposite of what they mean!

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."