Lazy Writing (or On Second Reference, Uninspired Scribing)

So in a world where this doesn’t seem to matter anymore …

  1. If a basketball team has a very large player (such as Jusuf Nurkic on the Portland Trailblazers), on second reference sportswriters will almost invariably call him “the big fella.” This phony jocularity may have had a purpose when it was born in the swamp of sportswriting, but it is cliched and lazy now.  How lazy? In Portland, these same sportswriters have “The Bosnian Beast” at their disposal! Or on a more mundane level “Portland’s center,” “the Blazer’s 5,” “Portland’s third-year center,” “the Blazer’s increasingly efficient man in the middle,” and so forth.
  2.  In the West, we live in a place where wildfires are frequent. On second reference, nearly every news story about an individual wildfire calls it “the blaze.” The more erudite reporters sometimes use “the conflagration.” I doubt that the new AP Style Manual requires the word “blaze” for second reference to “wildfire.” “The fire,” “this fire,” the “XYZ fire” and so forth are neither trite nor lazy. (And by the way, a fire in the Oregon high desert is not a “forest fire” in that there is no forest out there, just sage brush, grass and scattered juniper trees. A fire in a forest is a forest fire or “the blaze currently burning in the XYZ forest.” )
  3. I grew up in Michigan and spent two winters in Minnesota as an adult. It snows a lot in these places. Nearly all news stories about snow in these places start with something like “A major snow storm is expected …” and invariably move on to “forecasters expect x to y inches of the white stuff.” “The white stuff” is the same phony jocularity found in “the big fella,” so all you news writers can’t just look down your noses as the sportswriters. As I write this, an unusual amount of snow is expected to fall on Portland, and I am as certain as I am that tomorrow is Saturday that Oregon Live will make reference to “the white stuff” more than once. UPDATE: Oregon Live, 2/10/19:

    Snow days: They’re all fun and games until you realize they mean more school in June.

    That may be a reality for Portland-area students who find themselves playing in the white stuff if the snow persists past this weekend, as forecast.

  4. A relatively new but growing metastatically one is “the C suite,” second reference for “the CEO’s office.” (It was J-Court where I used to work, but never mind.) This is a term I suspect is borrowed from consultant-speak, which is responsible for, among many other abominations, the wrong use of “around” as a preposition. If you let consultant-speak invade your writing, you are lazy. If you write  “The city has a problem around its homeless population,” you are actually saying that this homeless problem exists, and then there is another problem adjacent to the homeless problem or surrounding it or in its vicinity or close by.  I get it that useage changes over time, but for now, “around” is not a synonym for “with” or “about.” If it were, then you could write “The Democratic caucus went along around Pelosi”  or “He wondered around the origin of this leak.”
  5.  Also, “cascade” for “waterfall” … “snowy peak” for “mountain” … “torrent” for “flood” … “nasty bug” for “flu” … “outdoor pests” for “biting insects” … “error in judgment” for “mistake” … and so on.
  6. This is not a second reference issue, but I would be a lot happier if the phrase “on a daily basis” never appeared anywhere in the written or spoken English language again. Strunk & White’s Rule #17: Omit Needless Words. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. “On a daily basis” is a puffed up way of saying “every day” or “daily.” It has infected 12-step recovery, unfortunately.  “I work the steps on a daily basis” is something I hear almost every day or “on a timeline close to a daily basis. “

© Joseph Galligan 2019

And A Great Silence Fell Upon the World

From a work of mine about the future, in progress.  What happens to digi-babble when the unthinkable happens.

Oddly, though, the digital world was largely silent.  No perfect families on vacation in perfect places … no pets doing adorable things … no parents bragging about their disaffected children… no sure-fire cures for sinusitis, tendinitis or tinnitus … no come-ons for CRIU accounts … no clever but self-referential memegrams … no hand-wringing, single-issue screeds … no hagiography, pornography or radiography … no exaltation or condemnation of the latest dieting trend … no elaborate vidstreams about property in the Canadian Northwest Territories … no by-their-nature unsecure calls to make a connection with a company promising IPC security … no dope sickness, home sickness or love sickness … no avatars for people who don’t exist.

© Joseph Galligan 2019

Some Come to Laugh Their Past Away (R. Hunter)

From a work of mine about the future, in progress:


August was marked by the death of Darcy G. from rapidly spreading liver cancer, the outcome of a hepatitis C infection she picked up shooting heroin and turning tricks in Las Vegas many years before. Darcy had made arrangements for her funeral while she was in hospice care before she died and sent Ferguson a note alerting him to this. The funeral was attended by 200 people, most of whom attended a barbecue on the Lillard Blocks afterward. 

Ferguson was also in attendance, and as he ate ribs and cole slaw and drank sparkling water, something from his past struck him. This barbecue was quiet. The laughter was muted. No voices were raised in argument. No one was invading someone else’s space. No puking. No screeching. This was unlike every such event Ferguson had ever attended as a child growing up and then as an adult of some notoriety. 

He was puzzled until he realized that every one of the people there was sober.  He assumed that the machines were constantly urging them to do what they used to do, which was purchase half the alcohol sold, a good deal of the weed when it was legal and much of the street drugs that they managed not to die from overdoses on. But maybe, he considered, the algorithms and their writers had picked up on the fact that these people had said fuck it to getting loaded and the massive enterprise associated with that and were now urging them to keep coming back and take it one day at a time and seek outside help (on sponsored pages) and give it away to keep it and so forth. In actuality, he was wrong because algorithms are based on logic and predictable behavior, and what these people were doing was neither predictable nor logical.  Even modern artificial intelligence constructs could not figure out recovering addicts.

True, the addiction-treatment industry had previously invaded machine-space trying to reach these people, but they were trying to do it through the people who were still using and their families (and thus a source of money). When the treatment industry and its buttoned-up professionals and evidence-based treatment and insurance-reimbursement-driven protocols finally collapsed in the wake of the Krieger-induced collapse of the insurance industry itself and the subsequent formation of the insurance “Big Three” of Aetna, United HealthCare and Cigna, the whole thing had reverted to where it started, which was basically nowhere. “Medicare for All” was on the near horizon thanks to President Dalton-Smith, but it didn’t have the same interest in helping addicts recover since there was not nearly as much money in it now. It was left to addicted people to take care of each other, which, as he learned from Darcy G., was precisely what Bill Wilson and Bob Smith realized when they started Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. It made no sense then, and it didn’t now.

© Joseph Galligan 2019