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Carolyn Ann and Rich:

I'll make sure next time we have a discussion on language I consult you both : ) Thank you so much for the richness of your thoughts. Having majored in linguistics, I can always learn more about the use of English expressions!


I look forward to hearing/reading about your class. If you weren't so far, I'd attend myself.

Carolyn Ann:

Isn't it funny about herd mentality? We see that on concepts as well. Sometimes ideas are applauded as a means to further visibility with a VIP. Everyone stops thinking and something dumb gets resources allocated... a story for another conversation.

Richard! No need to ask for permission to interject - you're a part of this conversation! Thank you, Valeria, for providing the venue for this chat! And your participation! :-)

Of course, when I get going, most people don't really get two words in, edgeways, anyway...

I can agree that some authors communicate better when they consider their audiences. But I can't wholeheartedly agree to that proposition in its entirety. Sometimes, the reader just has to elevate themselves to the level of the author - which is why I chose Shakespeare as my example! :-)

I definitely hear you, and support you, re passive and active voice; I pick and choose, depending on the tone I want to set - but it's (nearly) always a conscious choice. And yes, far too many fall prey to the (abysmal) Microsoft Thesaurus. At least Apple has the "Oxford American Writers Thesaurus", although it is quite beyond me why they didn't pick Roget's.

Ah well - I once got into an argument about my usage of a thesaurus (I don't use them). The person I was arguing with used my pickadill phrasing in my writings as the reason enough to threaten suspension from that forum. I think my argumentative nature had something to do with it, too. :-)

I still smile when I think of little fracas. :-) You had to be there, and I though it all quite funny - I was told I had to provide "positive support". Huh? Wozzat? (I think it was shorthand for "critical and intelligent discussion is not invited here." Or, "be nice, and fluffy, not intelligent". C'est la vie.

Anyway, I probably didn't make one part of my point clear enough - if you're writing to a particular audience, you certainly have to consider their ability to read, their attention span and so on. But not always. I think there's a tendency to over-compensate, and to assume that a complex point can be made in a two-second sound-bite, or the commercial equivalent - the single PowerPoint slide.

Mark Twain certainly didn't consider the grasp of language his audience had! Mr Twain also provides us with the ever-delightful "blatherskite", in fact! I love that word! :-) (I've never made up my mind if I like Hemingway, or not. Some of his work I can read, the rest I can't stand.)

(BTW: I've been accused of this before, so I just want to be clear: I was simply saying that "blatherskite" is a delightful word. There's absolutely no inference intended!!! The "more sensitive" have interfered with my honest expression, and of using such inferences to infer insult... That's not the case, although I did like the way I put that. :-) )

But the next Great American Novel will not be written by someone who takes their audience into consideration! We have that, aplenty I might add, and it results in stories that are "good" at best; the usual epithet would be "mediocre", but I'm trying to be kinder than I usually am. It's more the pity those writers are hailed as anything but dreary, but there we go with expectation.

No, my problem with tailoring our language - and I acknowledge the problems of commercial writing - to our audience is that our audience ends up being so totally uninspired, and uninspiring. Can you imagine an artist who's not allowed to paint outside of expectation? Recognizable shapes, only, please? Frank Stella and Sol LeWitt need not apply; neither should Richard Serra, or Dan Flavin! Yeah, I'm showing off - but only to illustrate my point re the writers voice needing a lack of fences. (See what I mean about the thesaurus - there's a word I need, but I can't recall it, so I turn to a handy phrase, instead. :-) The problem with me showing off is that I'm nearly always shown to be showing off... So I avoid it, usually!)

I'm rambling, and that's how I write. I don't concentrate on what my readers want to read. I make no effort to understand what they want to read, what viewpoint is the most popular, how the winds of opinion of blowing, nor if they need to run to a dictionary, or the medicine cabinet (tablets for the headache I just gave them...) It's not something I'd recommend, though.

Language is too important to be consigned to strict obedience of rules; when "we" know the rules - break them! (For anyone else: don't, until you know them!) When we constrain our language, we most assuredly constrain ourselves.

Carolyn Ann

PS Funny story: I was sat in a room, with about a gazillion other managers (my boss was an empire-builder), and some Microsoft guy was giving us a tour of MS Word. He asked for some grammatical errors to highlight how Word would underline them, and everyone sat, silently. To this deafening roar, I said "me and him". Nah, that was correct! We almost had a vote on it. Even the guy who went around boasting of his English major told me I was wrong... Well, as it turns out - oh dear. There were some red faces that day. :-) /CA

Carolyn Ann,

If I might interject, I think we might be mistaking the concept as a rule to dumb down the language. Not so. It is not so much that anyone is advocating we all adopt Hemingway as the style of all English. Rather, I think we are reminding writers how productive it can be when we consider our audience and how important it is to remember the first rule of communication is to communicate effectively, which places the burden of being understood on the writer and not the reader.

Economy of language only means that we don't have to write "he stated that" when "he said" might suffice, unless "he stated that" has a real purpose and intent. Economy of language reminds us not to inflate our word choices just to make the writing sound brilliant or complex or intelligent, which often says more about the writer than the meaning of their sentence. Rather, it's always best to weigh which words are the right words to communicate our point.

Often times, I see writers who attempt to demonstrate their command over the language by expanding their vocabulary and making some lofty MS Word thesaurus choices. Unfortunately, they very often diminish the meaning of their statement.

Ergo, there is no reason to call Shakespeare the "noble bard" or "the Swan of Avalon" simply because we've grown tired of using his name in the span of several graphs or to prove how many ways we can proclaim him a poet.

Personally, I enjoy toggling the varied styles I know up and down, depending on what I am writing and to whom. And even though most of it is commercial writing, I have never felt the rules of any one style overly limiting. On the contrary, sometimes the stylistic rules present interesting challenges in their own right.

I just finished writing about condensate and deaeration. Yet, my editor, who was completely unaware of what these terms might mean, knew basically want I meant simply based on the construct of the sentence, which I will unfortunately leave a mystery in this case. :)


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