Word humour

Today’s word humour comes from a rice package On the top right of the package is printed: ‘Tear here for more flavour’ Presumably, if I open the package with scissors and open from the left, the rice will somehow have less flavour than if I tear from the right Thanks Uncle...

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Unclear phrases detract from the main message

I heard a radio news item yesterday morning reporting that a UK-based politician is ‘hoping for re-election a second time’ It got me wondering about the journalist’s meaning Did she really mean what she had said, or was it a little slip It’s a common enough phrase – ‘re-elected for a second time’ – but it’s also confusing In saying ‘second time’ rather than ‘second term’, the journalist left me unsure If a politician is re-elected, then clearly they’ve been...

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Simple sentence errors that reverse meaning

Last week, I was talking to a client about the way that simple errors – like leaving out one word – can change (or reverse) the meaning of a sentence His example was along these lines: ‘This letter is provided for information only, and should be seen to pre-empt the CEO’s decision’ (I’ve changed the sentence slightly to ensure anonymity) This sentence misses the word ‘not’; it should read ‘… should not be seen to pre-empt the CEO’s decision’ My client was concerned...

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Structuring lists within sentences

I often find myself frustrated with the way that writers structure lists Here's an example from a book I'm reading at the moment:'You've no doubt spent years acquiring skills, talents, qualifications, experience and knowledge and building your network and contacts'This sentence is tough on readers It's a list with two parts - things that you've been acquiring and things that you've been building But the set of things that you've been acquiring has four sub-parts, while the set of things that...

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Simple signs communicate quickly

I was enjoying some autumn sun this morning, when I noticed this sign in a playgroundSurely there's a short and simple way to give the same message! What parent has enough time to read a 58 word signBy the time you've figured out what a 'play element' is, when the 'heat of the day' might be, and what it means to 'check the surfaces of individual play elements', your child has either run on the street or burned their hands!Wouldn't it be clearer to write  Caution Playground equipment...

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Email conventions: Getting the timing right

Email might be indispensable to business, but we don’t have good conventions about its timingEmail writing has become fairly standardised, and most people seem to understand its conventions These include: it’s a good idea to start with some type of salutation; CAPITALS = SHOUTING; it’s easy to give unintended offense; it’s wise to think before hitting send; and it’s best to think carefully before hitting ‘reply all’But timing is more interesting How long should you wait before...

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Choosing between ‘I’ and ‘me’

The choice between 'I' and 'me' causes a lot of grief Of all the issues that I discuss in writing workshops, it's near the top of the list of things that cause confusion It definitely tops the list of issues that people get wrong when they're absolutely convinced they're right!Last week I enjoyed listening to Michael Cathcart (Books and Arts, Radio National) as he checked himself on his use of 'I' and 'me' He said:' that's plenty of time for you and me to read Or is it you and I...

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Note to entrepreneurs: ‘educator’ and ‘community’ are not parallel

Parallelism is one of those delicious concepts that help to mark professional writers from amateurs It’s a writing tool that professional writers notice and hunt for, but which readers rarely see It’s part of the invisibility of good writing An editor can improve parallelism and receive almost instant praise from a client: ‘I don’t know what you did, but it reads so much better now’; ‘That’s exactly what I wanted to say, but you’ve worked your magic on it!’Parallelism is...

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Anticipate audience expectations

The idea that communicators need to anticipate and meet the expectations of their audiences isn’t new Communication has conventional forms and, by following the conventions and meeting audience expectations, communicators can minimise errors and increase accuracy Audiences learn the ‘communication script’ that is relevant for situations, and expect that script to be followed This seems like a simple enough guideline, but it can be difficult to get it right Sometimes...

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