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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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editorial rant

Today is a ones and zeros sort of day: "01-10-10". It's a little thing, I know, but sometimes it's the little things that keep us sane.

One of the little things that drive me insane: public signs that were obviously created by someone who didn't put much thought into efficient communication. Take today's Blatherpic, for example, which is up in our building elevator right now. Only a few lines, I know, but it cries out for editing. My major beefs:

WHY ALL UPPERCASE? In the dark recesses of the history of the English language, someone theorized that capitalized text was a better attention-grabber than lowercase. While this may be true in context (consider the difference between the phrase 'I don't like ladybugs on my toes' and 'I don't like LADYBUGS on my toes' and 'I don't like ladybugs on my TOES'), I've seen this rule abused and misused far too often.

WHY ALL UNDERLINED? Ditto as above. Underlining the entire "important" message dilutes the effect of the underlining and in fact, makes the text more difficult to read.

WHY THE ITALICS? Given the confusing textual chaos created by the above breaches of simple written communication, there's no point in italicizing anything in this message, let alone the word 'UNAVAILABLE'. Why that word? Perhaps the author realized (in a vague sort of way) that he/she had overdone it with the capitalization and bold text and underlining. But darnitall, the word 'UNAVAILBLE' needed some extra emphasis...what to do? Hm, no colour text available (thank god) so heck, might as well throw in some italics.

CONFUSING WORDING! In my humble opinion, the phrase "only the hot water will be unavailable" is almost as much of a travesty as the capitalization and underlining overload. If any of you have taken any kind of creative writing course, you will have the "positive assertive" rule drilled into your brain. Active, positive sentence structures and words make for much stronger writing than the passive and negative.

In sum, the underlined message could have been more effectively conveyed as follows (with no underlining or capitalization):

There will be no hot water between 9-5 pm on Friday, October 12th. Apologies for the inconvenience.

I highly recommend a book by Bill Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post: Lapsing Into Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong In Print - And How To Avoid Them.

Correction: Thanks to Dave Alway for pointing out in Blatherchat that the bird in yesterday's Blatherings is a female Golden Crowned Kinglet, not a chickadee. I've posted the correction in the Blathering. :-)

Today's Poll: (Suggest a question)

From where you are sitting RIGHT NOW, can you see an English dictionary?

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