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Archive for August 2011

Put down the phone: To write well, read more

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I am in the room where I teach. You stop at the door and knock.

“Come in,” I say. You stride in and sit in the chair next to me. The phone in your hand chirps. You glance at it, then at me. I frown. You sigh and put your phone in your pack.

“What can I do for you?” I ask.

“I want to write well,” you say. “How do I do that?”

I nod. “How much do you read?” I ask.

“Not a lot,” you say.

“Why do you not read more?” I say.

“I do not like to read,” you say. “It takes too much time.”

“That is too bad,” I say.

“Why?” you ask.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 24, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Budweiser, politics, and style vs. substance

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Anheuser-Busch InDev wants to sell more Budweiser. That’s because Bud’s market share in the United States has declined for two decades. American shipments fell 7 percent last year. Bud will likely fall from its No. 2 position in best-selling beers as Coors Light speeds past it.

A-B’s corporate response to slowing sales? Repackaging. The corporation has sunk 18 months and untold millions (it won’t say how many) into redesigning the can that contains the same beer. Says A-B executive Rob McCarthy:

The bow tie and the prominence of the bow tie came through both for current drinkers and for potential drinkers as just a powerful symbol of the quality and heritage and authenticity of the brand.

New package. Same beer. New style. Same substance. Well, so what?

If your substance is insufficient to attract attention, then you have a choice: Adopt a new style, or fix the substance. In America, the choice is often the former — in business as well as politics.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A prescriptivist confronts Twitter — and blinks

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If you teach writing for a living, you tread that fine line between prescriptivism and descriptivism. A prescriptivist (which, sadly, I lean toward) is one who harrumphs over a misplaced apostrophe (even when meaning is quite clear) and tells people how language ought to be used according to her strict interpretations of the language’s rules of the road. Think William Safire.

A descriptivist views language as it is written, as it develops, without the harrumph, harrumph. She systematically studies linguistic change and records it without comment.

I raise the issue — to harrumph or not to harrumph — because I recently harrumphed … a lot. One of my graduates, who is distinguishing himself in his first newspaper job, is tweeting his stories at light speed to promote them. As you know, tweets are capped at 140 characters. So Twitterati tend to use shorthand, abbreviations, and other things about which I have no clue to express a thought. Frankly, to me most tweets I see represent a lack of planning on what to say and how to say it. But I have to teach journalism students how to wisely use Twitter. So it’s my prescriptivism versus their linguistic inventions and generational conventions.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized