Watch what you refer to

rogersgeorge on October 21st, 2011

Multinational corporations are understandably careful about how they use their logos. They are generally also paranoid about how others use their logos. Herein lies the context for today’s lesson, which is about referring to other places in your writing.

Recently BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle company (which predates their auto division, by the way), has begun enforcing standards for how BMW motorcycle clubs can use the distinctive BMW circular pattern in their club logos. Depending on the personality of the club, this ruling has created more or less of a stir among the members.

The BMW roundel. Am I being illegal to post this? Tell me so, BMW, and I'll take it down.

I happen to belong to both kinds of club. (Yes, simultaneously. See a recent post about using “both.”) Some clubs are like sheep, and they meekly go where they are told. However, imagine a bunch of motorcycle-riding extroverts being told that their club trademark isn’t good enough. Or is too good. Goats are not like sheep! After a lot of online and face-to-face discussion, one member presented a letter on the subject to send to the powers that be. The letter was very well written, and the discussion is ongoing, but one paragraph supplies the material for today’s lesson.

Part of the discussion included the possibility of the club withdrawing from the MOA and the RA, with many members reconsidering the value of their individual participation as well. Though regarded as extreme, the number of those willing to take this step was not insignificant.

Re-read that second sentence. Did you do a double-take? It looks as if the number is both extreme and not insignificant. This would, I suppose, always be true (We call this a tautology, and it’s related to the fallacy of begging the question, but I digress.). Shall we suspect, dear reader, that this writer does not mean to repeat himself? I gave you that first sentence so you could figure out what the writer meant. “Extreme” refers to withdrawal from the national organizations. Now it makes sense to connect the “not insignificant” with the number of people thinking about taking this extreme measure.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to re-write the sentence so its meaning is immediately clear.  My sincere thanks to the Mac-Pac Eating and Wrenching Society for supplying me with the material for today’s lesson, and I close with one of my cardinal rules for writing:

Bad writing must never be justified with the excuse that the reader will figure it out.

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