Sunday, October 26, 2008

What to Leave Out

Grandmother Pollard had one of those little signs carved out of wood that looked as if it were the alphabet trying to find a word. After glancing at it in just the right manner, the sign would spell out Jesus. Other signs and t-shirts have words that can be read as opposites--love or evil, for instance. And recently a friend sent us a video of a fountain in a Japanese mall. The fountain spelled out words as the water fell. What struck me about these messages was the idea that what was left out was just as important as what was left in.

Clich├ęs like ‘less is more,’ advertising slogans or cartoon quips, and technological terms used as verb forms eventually become a form of shorthand communication. Our language is still evolving—so much so, in fact, that someone from our age could not have been understood in the early 1900s; nor would a person from our times understand many of the terms from those earlier days. If truth be told, English from country to country can be very difficult to understand without the differences produced by time, technology, and media influences.

Helpful articles about how much to put in a blog entry suggest that short blogs are easier to read—and more likely to be read. So perhaps leaving out certain indicators allows a reader to use his or her imagination to fill in the spaces. However, writing lacks the capacity for a smile and quick nod of the head without the use of words. No matter what age or manner of technology writing represents, the connections created by the writer for the reader will have gaps left for understanding; but those gaps only matter when the words filled into the spaces make sense to the reader.

A so-called language puzzle asks the question: how far can a wolf run into a forest. Supposedly the answer is half way because the wolf would then be running out of the forest. As far as I am concerned, the wolf has run “into” the forest as soon as he passes the first tree. After that he is running “in” the forest no matter which direction he might go.

The word-puzzle example highlights our dependence on the lowly prepositions—the same words that make me look totally ignorant in my use of French. Some terms simply do not translate when one attempts to use prepositions that have two or more meanings in a language. The only recourse given to a writer who has my particular limitations is to leave those suckers out and use active voice—put the blame on the subject where it belongs. Elisa Doolittle might have said that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. I, on the other hand, would have to say: Rain hit Spain today!

Does it matter what is left out? Does ACCURACY matter? You decide.

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