The Finlayson style guide

January 24th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

By popular request, Chris Finlayson has published his office style guide. I especially like the phrases to be avoided:

  • I note
  • I am aware
  • I understand
  • Delighted
  • Strategy
  • Accessible
  • Outcome
  • Passion
  • Passionate
  • Stakeholder
  • Community
  • National Identity
  • Nationhood
  • I acknowledge
  • ‘Sense of self’
  • cutting edge
  • engage
  • strengthen our voice
  • shared experience as a nation
  • Celebrate

Also how to be succinct:

  • Sentences should be as short as possible. Avoid wordy phrases that can be said more simply.  For example, amend:

      –  ‘in my view’ to ‘I think’; 

      –  ‘I am writing to thank you’ to ‘Thank you’;

      –  ‘you have stated that’ to ‘you said’;

      –  ‘I trust that’ to ‘I hope’;

      –  ‘I wish to acknowledge’ to ‘I acknowledge’;

      –  ‘there are of course’ to ‘there are’;

      –  ‘I would like’ to ‘I want’;

This style guide may catch on!

Waiter vs Waitress vs Waitron

September 22nd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An amusing column by Karl du Fresne:

After wittily skewering the pretentiousness that frequently characterises restaurant reviews in newspapers and magazines (and of which I’ve probably been guilty myself), Joe confronts the terms “waiter” and “waitress”.

He notes that the “ess” suffix has fallen out of favour, supposedly because it’s demeaning. Disappointingly, he seems to capitulate on this issue when I would have expected him to put up a fight.

Although acknowledging that he has never met a waitress who said she found the word demeaning, he nonetheless turns his attention to the quest for an acceptable, gender-neutral alternative and comes up with “waiters”.

This term, Joe writes, describes their job precisely and is by definition sexually non-specific. But alas, “it has been deemed unsatisfactory by the people who resolve such matters. It seems that usage has smeared the word permanently with testosterone.”

He then pounces with glee on the preposterous neologism coined to get around this non-problem – namely, “waitron”.

I’ve seen this term used occasionally and assumed the usage was tongue-in-cheek; a satirical poke at the political correctness that now contaminates the English language. How could it be otherwise?

But no; it appears the word is making a serious bid for acceptance. It’s not in my 2005 edition of the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary (though the hideous “waitperson”, a word that almost justifies the reintroduction of capital punishment, is). However we have seen silly, gender-neutral words infiltrate the language before, and a googling of “waitron” indicates it might be gaining ground.

I’m with Joe when he laughs this ridiculous word off the page. He says there are only four words he can think of that end with -ron: cyclotron, electron, neutron and moron. “One is a machine for boffins, two are sub-atomic particles, and one describes the character who invented the word waitron,” he writes. Classic Bennett.

Heh. If someone put on their CV they had been waitron, I would not hire them on principle!

I agree with Joe that there’s nothing degrading about being described as a waitress – or an actress, for that matter. The words waitress and actress simply acknowledge the reality that these people are intrinsically different from their male counterparts.

Does anyone think less of Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts for being called actresses? Any discriminatory connotation exists only in the minds of crazed ideologues. …

But there’s more to it than that. The English language is a wondrous tool that enables us to narrow down meanings and nuances very precisely.

One of the purposes of words is to create mental pictures and impressions. A writer or journalist using the gender-neutral terms waiter or actor leaves the reader in doubt as to whether the person in question is a he or a she.

This can be a crucial distinction. If I were to write that I had chatted up a cute waiter in a Courtenay Place bar it would create a very different impression than if I had used the “ess” suffix.

Either scenario is highly unlikely – but it illustrates why people who use words for a living should fight like fury to prevent the English language from being de-sexed.

Someone should start a group on Facebook!


September 3rd, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

After I blogged yesterday about some media incorrectly calling Afghans, Afghanis, Grant Robertson pointed out that a few weeks ago John Key called them Afghanistanians.

I’d like to make clear I take no responsibility for the Prime Minister’s inventing of new words 🙂

He does this quite often. I suspect his staff have told him that even though he is Prime Minister, he really should stick to using existing words instead of inventing new ones. But to no avail.

I know the Dominion Post has been compiling a list of words invented by John, and in due course they will publish the extended New Zealand Dictionary (PM’s edition).

English language skills

April 29th, 2009 at 7:46 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A Chinese nursing student is taking her tutors and university to the Human Rights Commission, accusing them of failing her in her final year of her bachelor of nursing course because of her accent.

“My tutors failed me because they said the way that I speak meant people couldn’t understand me, and they said it meant I will not be able to provide proper care to patients,” said Linda Tang, 42, who last week decided to drop out of her course at Unitec because she believed the tutors were making it impossible for her to pass.

“To say my English is not good enough is just an excuse. I feel that what they have done is discriminatory, especially to the Chinese, because we are penalised not for our lack of knowledge or ability, but simply because of how we talk.”

I feel very sorry for Ms Tang who is obviously keen to be a nurse. But the ability to communicate in English is important, and some accents can make it very very difficult for others to understand. No easy answer here as it is very difficult to change an accent, but in a medicla profession, oral communication can be vital.

Ms Tang, who holds a bachelor of english degree and is a former English lecturer at a university in China, said she was confident of her written English ability. Before enrolling at Unitec, Ms Tang said she was a bilingual teacher at Kingsland Institute and taught English to other immigrants.

Which makes it surprising that her oral English was not deemed good enough. One can’t judge withotu hearing, but you would hope she was given feedback early on about the need to improve, rather than just be failed at the end when everything else is okay.

“Maybe I can’t speak English like a Kiwi, but I am bilingual and also speak Mandarin and surely that must be seen as a plus in nursing rather than something negative,” Ms Tang said.

“If Unitec fails Chinese students for not being able to communicate properly in English, Kiwi students should also not pass because they cannot communicate with hospital patients who speak other languages.”

Umm no, English is an official language, and the primary language in NZ.

As I said, a sad case.