Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Rant posted by John McHale

In a past blog I lamented on the overuse of acronyms within military circles and how it can convolute the English language. Today I'm venting over a buzz term one of our marketing people threw at me the other day - wordtrack.

I said "wordtrack, what the &*$#% is that?" She replied "it's a description or writeup." a I said then why not say that.

When did we have to sound "techno-hip" while talking about marketing write-ups? I know I'm sounding old for someone not yet 40, but text messaging and instant messaging, email, etc., is skewering the written word.

My younger cousin, while in college, told me that I was the only person he knew that wrote instant messages in complete sentences! He couldn't understand why I bothered. That's the attitude today. Poor language skills are nurtured due to laziness. Some people almost look at writing like some arcane magic, impossible to learn.

Writing like Hemmingway's or Graham Greene's is rare, but mostly everyone can learn basic grammar skills. Someone once said "if you can think, you can write." So true.

The increased use of terms like "wordtrack" reminds me of a George Carlin monologue where he wondered "when did toilet paper become bathroom tissue?" Carlin's message was that the softening of language so as not to offend can be offensive in itself. He added pretty soon people won't be ugly but will have "severe facial deficits."

As editors we see many examples of poor writing skills in press releases, company websites, technical white papers, etc. Many times the grammar is fine, but the pieces are unorganization. Sometimes four paragraphs are used to make a point that could be made in one paragraph.

For those of you submitting something for publication or even a news story, I think one of the best pieces of advice was something my journalism professor told me years ago: “your lead should be what you would tell your best friend about the subject if you only had a minute to get it out.”

Cary Grant, playing big city newspaper editor Walter Burns in "His Girl Friday," said it another way when speaking to his protege: “didn't they tech you anything in journalism school? Get it in the first paragraph, because no one ever reads the second one!”

Maybe this small plea will inspire others to communicate better, but I fear terms such as "wordtrack" are here to stay. Although, every time I hear them I think of an acronym that matches Bart Simpson’s initials….

Have a nice day.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely hadn't heard that one before. Should it even be a noun?

    And, on the flip side of these new, ambiguous terms that people think they have to coin is the overuse of several terms as well, that are, in their own sense, just as vague.

    Happened to come upon the Gobbledygook Manifesto shortly after reading your post yesterday ( and the saddest part is, even though this was done in 2006, many of the terms are still being overused.

    No wonder people are becoming numb to proper vocabulary and grammar. You know there’s trouble when your local weather reporter’s graphics depicts “Moday” as sunny with a high of 83.

    Oh, and I don’t necessarily think “wordtrack” is techno-hip, it’s just seems plain silly.