Unexpected Grammar Curmudgeon

rogersgeorge on July 21st, 2016

Well, punctuation curmudgeon. It’s Linus Torvalds, the writer (inventor? developer? founder?) of the computer language Linux. I didn’t expect this from him. In fact, I tend to feel that computer languages manage their own grammar and punctuation by not working if you do it wrong.  He recently expressed an opinion about commenting. Comments in computer code are passages for humans to read, that presumably explain what’s going on, but the code itself doesn’t need them. You tell the computer that a passage is a comment with punctuation (that varies from language to language) at the beginning and end of the comment. Here’s a summary of what he said:

He likes this:

/* This is a comment */

He also approves of this:

* This is also a comment, but it can now be cleanly
* split over multiple lines

But he disapproves of this:

/* This is disgusting drug-induced
* crap, and should die

/* This is also very nasty
* and visually unbalanced */

“I’m not even going to start talking about the people who prefer to ‘box in’ their comments, and line up both ends and have fancy boxes of stars around the whole thing,” he adds. “I’m sure that looks really nice if you are out of your mind on LSD, and have nothing better to do than to worry about the right alignment of the asterisks.”

You get the idea. His original essay was quite a bit spicier, and not suitable for a family blog such as this one. If you follow the link, you can start right below the horizontal line.


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Writing well—can you do it?

rogersgeorge on January 24th, 2009

Quick answer: YES! Long answer: Yes, and you need to.

When you write well, any of several good things happen. You want these, right?

  • People do what you tell them.
  • They believe what you say.
  • They respect you and consider you an expert.
  • They keep reading.
  • They might even enjoy reading what you write.

And if you write poorly, any of several bad things will happen (not might happen, will happen). Would you exert any effort to prevent these?

  • Some readers will look down their noses at you.
  • Some will misunderstand you, perhaps with disastrous results.
  • You will bore, frustrate, irritate some readers.
  • You will lose some readers—they’ll stop reading.

You’ll create some kind of effect now matter how you write. May as well try for the effect you want, right?

  • Maybe you want to move someone to action (such as buy something), or
  • You might need to demonstrate that you know something (term paper).
  • Perhaps you need to tell someone what to do (“type your email address and click the button”);
  • How about an effective warning? (“Do not attach the wires until you are 100 feet from the explosives”)
  • You get the idea.

What is good writing? (This is a pretty high level definition, but you need to start from here:) Good writing creates the effect you want in your reader. You need to write well. Period.

Don’t let nightmares from junior high English drag you down—good writing is not that hard to do.

Want to do it? You can.

One of the best things about good writing is that it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. Every improvement you make makes a difference. If you don’t know it all, that’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to head in that direction. The most effective techniques are easy.

Grab these five easy techniques. They’re free. Start to follow them; you’ll be a better writer.

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