Friday Four

Friday, June 19, 2015

1. Norman Yarvin practices good period-economy in the process of discussing some conventional wisdom about writing:

So if you find yourself breaking sentences apart to follow a rule that sentences should be short, you're doing it wrong; if they can be broken apart without much trouble, they also weren't any trouble for the reader to understand in the first place. It's when you read a sentence, get lost, and have to backtrack to grasp its meaning, that rewriting is indicated.

2. Does software have its own Gresham's Law?
When we look at this from the perspective of the software system itself, Sustrik's Law reminds us that software is subject to a particular kind of entropy, in which well-designed systems with clean interfaces devolve towards big balls of mud...
When I consider Microsoft Word, I think so; when Emacs, I do not. But I'm an oddball who finds the way most people use computers to be tedious.

3. Having a B.S. in mathematics, I understand why mathematicians are hoarding a certain now-defunct brand of chalk:
[W]hat's so great about Hagoromo chalk? I tried doing a little math with it on some chalkboards at UC Berkeley. The first thing you notice is a shiny, clear coating on the outside -- it feels like a thin layer of enamel. That sounds like a minor design element, but it cuts down on the biggest annoyance with chalk: dusty fingers. The chalk is also a tad thicker and sturdier than your typical American sticks. But I'm no chalk connoisseur, and I'll admit any subtler differences eluded me. "It's hard to articulate but when I'm using it, I can feel it's nicer," said [Stanford math profesor Brian] Conrad. "It both flows nicely and it lasts much longer, too."
I hated the dustiness of chalk then and -- as a parent whose kids like messy street chalk -- I hate it now. Hey! maybe that could be a new market for the current owners of the manufacturing process...

4. On a rainy day, my imaginative daughter decided we could play "cats", giving me the opportunity to tell her about the many endearing quirks of felines and remember Jerome in the process. Among the quirks more typical of cats is that they like their chins rubbed. When I told her about this, Pumpkin (and then Little Man, of course) wanted a chin rubbed. This led to two things. Immediately, I learned that both are very ticklish under their chins. And later, my son started occasionally coming up to me, grinning and meowing. My reply to his joke is to goose him under the chin.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected a typo. 


Steve D said...

'It's when you read a sentence, get lost, and have to backtrack to grasp its meaning, that rewriting is indicated.'

However breaking apart a long sentence changes the emphasis of the component parts and therefore subtly alters their meaning even when the connector is something as mundane as the word ‘and’. The sense of time flow or cause to effect is altered. For example, if you are describing two actions the ‘and’ will serve to wind them together in the readers mind; perhaps also give a sense of temporal continuity or cause and effect while conversely breaking this into two sentences will tend to separate the actions in time. How long did the character pause? Long enough for a comma, semi-colon or period? If you need to emphasize an action by the character or separate it from another action, then use two sentences.

You can use this technique in non-fiction as well to link or separate items for the reader but it is subtle and has its limits. Splitting apart sentences linked by prepositions (or vice versa) or conjunctions such as ‘but’ can lead to larger and more defined alterations in meaning.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you. I tend to write long sentences and have often been told to split things up that seemed perfectly fine to me. The last time this happened, I thought that something wasn't quite right on re-reading. (I didn't have much say or time to think about why, that time.) Your remarks point to why that is the case.