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divided by a common language

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  • divided by a common language

    I used to subscribe to one of the metalworking magazines from England. I always found it interesting how their editors liked the technical prose in their articles. Of course, there are many specific terms that differ on two sides of the Atlantic (as well as elsewhere). I call it a wrench, in England it might be called a spanner. I call it a belt sander, in England it might be called a linisher. Such dialectical differences are to be expected, and at times I've even seen abortive attempts to compile lists of equivalent terms.

    Right now that's not what I'm writing about, though. This group has a significant foreign component (hooray!) and again I'm noticing major style differences in one particular area. While I might write "I chucked the part in the 3-jaw and faced it to length" it seems that anyone from England would automatically write instead "The part was chucked in the 3-jaw and faced to length". In other words, I use the active voice and English tech writers tend to use the passive voice.

    I have taken several engineering school technical writing classes, worked in industry in jobs largely doing technical writing, and am married to a career tech writer. I have always been trained to use simple, plain English, and avoid the passive voice whenever possible. Whenever I'm confused about what is the best way to phrase something, the book I turn to is "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, a priceless gem written a long time ago but which is entirely timeless; http://www.bartleby.com/141/

    I guess what I'm saying is the overuse of passive voice (I know, now I'm getting judgemental) grates on me.

    metalmagpie

  • #2
    English language and grammar was not my best subject at school and I must admit it still isn't my strong point, but to me both statements are equally acceptable forms of communication in the real world.
    Tony

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    • #3
      Originally posted by metalmagpie
      I guess what I'm saying is the overuse of passive voice (I know, now I'm getting judgemental) grates on me.

      metalmagpie
      I'm a fan of Elements of Style too, particularly Rule #17: Omit needless words.
      Allan Ostling

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      • #4
        I can understand Sir John, Evan and Nick Mueller just fine. Besides, reading should be an adventure! Learn a few new words.

        Clutch

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        • #5
          the only forum member here that left me scratching my head was aerosmith.
          Ernie (VE7ERN)

          May the wind be always at your back

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          • #6
            What grates on me is when a single person describes his/her activitities as done by "we".

            That is the pluralis majestuae, reserved for the king/queen. Holland has one, England has one.

            As for chucking and facing, it does'nt matter who does it, it matters that it's done. So it's cultural, maybe in America it's added value who does it.

            To put it bluntly, a finished part can be a hard struggled victory versus an executed plan of attack.

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            • #7
              I've written zillions of third person, active voice, imperative mood tomes and dislike the formality of it. On a BBS I'll take the written works of the common man any day over MIL-STD-XXX/Chicago Manual of Style adherence.

              The reader shall assume responsibility for regulating his or her own annoyance with the content presented herein.

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              • #8
                I have to beat-up my students (especially those in grad school) and make them write in the third person. I know I found it to be a PITA when I first encountered the form. However, one adapts especially when it is required for publication in refereed journals.

                That said, whenever I need to emphasize a point in class I purposely use the phrase "more better". Never fails to get the student's attention.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by MCS
                  What grates on me is when a single person describes his/her activitities as done by "we".

                  That is the pluralis majestuae, reserved for the king/queen. Holland has one, England has one.

                  As for chucking and facing, it does'nt matter who does it, it matters that it's done. So it's cultural, maybe in America it's added value who does it.

                  To put it bluntly, a finished part can be a hard struggled victory versus an executed plan of attack.
                  A lot of one man operations in the UK like to call themselves "we"

                  I don't like it myself ..

                  They do it to make the company sound/look bigger than it really is .

                  all the best.markj
                  Last edited by aboard_epsilon; 05-01-2010, 04:38 PM.

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                  • #10
                    If you can understand what's being said does it matter ?

                    I'm English, I speak English and write English, like most of us, when we were little we learnt off our parents and later at school from teachers with set reading books.

                    Still later we were taught proper English but by that time we could talk and write.

                    Once we had a whole 4 lessons on the pluperfect tense, I never understood it and never have, to be honest to this day I don't have a clue what it is.

                    I even asked my parents, who taught me to read and write and they didn't have a clue either.

                    From that, I came to the conclusion that it couldn't have mattered anyway.
                    .

                    Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.



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                    • #11
                      Well said John what does it matter indeed? Alistair
                      Please excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

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                      • #12
                        It's a technical writing style thing - it was drummed into us at University, although I have met professors who are trying to get their students to buck this trend.
                        Edumacation is a wonderful thing.

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                        • #13
                          I'm bilingual...I speak English, and vulgar.
                          No good deed goes unpunished.

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                          • #14
                            I use a mix of American English and the Queen's English since Canada still has the Queen as her Sovereign and British English is the official version of English in Canada. I have lived here longer than any other place and even when growing up in Berkeley I learned a lot of British terms for car parts since my first car was a Morris Minus 1000.

                            I couldn't care less how somebody writes as long as it is understandable. English is a difficult language for most people including those that have it as a first language. It basically doesn't have any rules since for every rule there are numerous exceptions. Grammar is very difficult, especially nuances such as passive or active voice. If you choose to pay attention to that you open a small can of worms for yourself since you should at least be consistent.
                            Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                            • #15
                              "We don't like what I did"

                              Was that posting triggered by me? Maybe not, but for an excuse:
                              I'm German, never lived outside of it, only spent 6 weeks in English-speaking countries (USA and if that counts Australia). My sentences might be longer than avarage, but the German language allows sentences that easily span a page in a book. So after re-reading, I simply replace a comma with a period and change the next letter to a capital.

                              Anyhow, I think I find a way to express what I want to say. I even discovered while writing manuals (and I even published articles in English; OMG) that it's easier for me to write them first in English (if that language is required) and then translate that to German. The other way round simply doens't work.

                              And I don't care if it's passive or egocentic.


                              Nick

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