Thursday, 18 December 2014

FOGgies (pt 4)

(The story so far: the FOGgies are annual awards for outstandingly bad writing. The idea for the name derives from Robert Gunning's FOG index, although these awards don't restrict themselves only to obstacles to readability measured by that index.

Waves of apathy for the FOGgies – reflected in the Blogger statistics – have persuaded me, rather against my will (as bad writing is a favourite topic of mine  indeed, I'm a practitioner when I take my eyes off the prize [communication]: effective writing takes time  to put an end to the FOGgies apart from an end-of-year summary. But before the book is closed here's just one more.)

The FOGgy for Hasty Sub-editing (or 'Can they really have meant to write that?) goes to The Times for:

[Banks ran out of dollars and ...] cracks in the Kremlin elite spilled into the open yesterday [...when a 20 per cent fall in the rouble caused panic in Moscow.]

The judges said
"This snippet (sandwiched between two related facts) was in the one-sentence opening paragraph in a piece on the front page, whose chief function  was to point to three other articles on inside pages of The Times of 17 December. The article was presumably cobbled together from several sources – at least two or three, probably half a dozen or so. First sentences in such articles are a common source of oddly mixed metaphors.
In this case, the bread of the sandwich is about the financial details. But one source, presumably, provided the social and organizational background – particularly the Kremlin elite . The tRoubles affected the structure of this elite, emphasizing pre-existing cracks in it (in the structure, not in the elite –  saying they're in the elite suggests that the Beautiful People have serious cosmetic problems). And the cracks didn't spill; whatever the structure of the elite was holding back, bottling up, or possibly hiding, is what 'spilled into the open'. But whereas that source –  with its discussion of the fabric/structure of the Kremlin elite, cracks in it, and what was behind them (waiting to  'spill out') – probably dealt with all this in several paragraphs, here it has to be distilled into a single clause. Individual words survive, but are shoved into uncomfortable collocations.
This sort of article isn't designed to convey much in the way of content, so the reader isn't seriously incommoded by cracks in the structure (not of the elite but of the sentence). When you think about it though, it is quite heroically mixed up; and the image of suppurating sores on the faces of oligarchs is distracting to say the least."

Tales from the word face: a New Hope

After a year's fallow period (which involved only a few months spent on When Vowels Get Together: The paperback and the occasional spasm of 'marketing') I'm now thinking about a companion-volume to Digraphs and Diphthongs. It will be another step in the When Vowels Get Together story; in fact it's made me realize that the 'Get Together' bit doesn't have to imply (as I at first intended) getting together with each other. So the When Vowels Get Together family has various potential members – vowels getting together with other vowels, vowels getting together with stops, with fricatives... . When I'm done, it could be roughly what I had in mind when I started on my Dictionary of Vowels and Their Sounds back in 2011 when I produced my entry for the ELTons 2012. The planned book (with a number of specimen chapters) was shortlisted –  as regular readers already know –  but did not win. (My '15 minutes of fame' [more like seconds] are at 19'17"- 19'30" of that video, or those with less time can scroll down to the foot of that page. ).

The first of these companion-volumes is going to deal with the sounds of vowels in conjunction with sonorants. These are listed here as /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /l/, /r/, /w/, and /j/; in fact, as that page is devoted to SAMPA (a non-IPA transcription system – which works, up to a point, for English while using the characters used on an old typewriter), the characters used there are not IPA symbols and the slashes are editorial (that is, my fault). But, apart from  /ŋ/, (which in SAMPA is 'N', and which, with mnemonic felicity, is known to the Windows Character Map as 'eng') all the characters work for an IPA transcription.

Previously, I mistakenly used the term  liquids, included /h/, and excluded the nasals. I may still include /h/, as – while that phoneme is correctly a fricative – an 'H' interacting with a vowel commonly does not represent a fricative. So I plan to stick with the title 'WHIRLYGIG', and I'll see what I can do about the nasals.

After Christmas I plan to publish a provisional schedule.


Somewhere in the HD annals (search for "Winston Churchill" if you want to track it down) I did a pastiche of bad writing and contrasted it with a memo from Churchill to the War Cabinet (about how he wanted communications to happen in the, if you'll excuse the expression, WC). It was extraordinarily easy to write, given my background in Technical Writing. The recipe was simple: think of what you have to do to enhance readability, and do the opposite.

PS: Your clue for today is: Response: corporal's first to be promoted in initiation. (8)

Update 2014.  – Added this PPS:

PPS The mention (in that footnote – ) of Churchill is in this post.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
nearly 48,600 views  and nearly 6,550 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,400 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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