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Can we ever make it perfectly clear?

Published August 02. 2010 09:30AM

Writers strive to find the most accurate way to tell stories and describe things. That's our job.

We use words as our basic tools, just like mechanics use wrenches.

We build sentences to convey thoughts, just like chemists concoct formulas.

We come up with words and phrases and string them together in ways we hope will work.

It's both an art and a science and not always easy. The art can be abstract and the science not exact.

Add to that our own limitations and you can see why mistakes happen.

On top of that, English keeps changing. It's the world's dominant language in communications, science, business, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy. But because of that, English is a dynamic tongue.

Wikipedia says "a working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of fields, occupations and professions such as medicine and as a consequence over a billion people speak English to at least a basic level."

It's also the unofficial universal language of the Internet.

But, again, it keeps changing, and we sometimes use words that ain't words. The changes constantly keep us writers on our toes. Politicians have the same kind of troubles.

Last week, moose-hunter Sarah Palin added to the fray by trying to coin a new verb, 'refudiate.'

In speaking of a proposed mosque at Ground Zero, she asked peaceful Muslims to "please refudiate" the project.

A few years ago, President George W. insisted on adding the verb "misunderestimate."

He said "Don't misunderestimate our administration's resolve to get this done."

Our leaders are notorious for making blunders with the King's English.

Barack has extensive trouble recognizing words, including "corpsman." Twice in one speech he pronounced it as "Corpse Man," somehow confusing soldiers with living ghouls. And there's more. He sometimes doesn't think things through.

In one campaign speech, Obama said "I have now been in 57 states."

Trying to be cute, he greeted folks in a Florida town by saying, "How's it going, Sunshine?" The problem is, he was in the town of Sunrise, not Sunshine. There's a good chance 99.9 percent of Sunrise residents were at least mildly offended.

Obama also said in Europe "I don't know what the term is in Austrian," even though Austrians speak German.

And so our leaders are no different from the rest of us. We all need to keep working at this language thing. Precise, accurate communication is a goal, not a reality, and that's why we practice journalism. Nobody has gotten it right yet.

People always will face challenges when trying to make themselves perfectly clear. To err is human; to forgive, divine.

And I don't poke fun at others in a malicious way. I've had plenty of screw-ups myself.

When I worked in PR/advertising at Hess's Department Store, I remember writing a 50-percent clearance of autumn clothing with the phrase:

"On Friday, our famous models will be at the Patio Restaurant displaying European fall dresses half-off." Oops.

The sale likely attracted 80 percent more male customers than female.

But in those days, nobody ever got into trouble for such things.

Nobody was blamed. I didn't have to refudiate anything.

The corporate bosses knew it was simply a misunderestimation.

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