I’ve been editing content for our department’s web site over the last several weeks, and I’ve developed a small twitch under my left eye. Perhaps it’s eye strain, but I suspect it is because I continue to come across some of my biggest technical writing pet peeves. And I say “technical writing” because that is where I come across these maddening phrases most often. Sure, there are more important things to worry about, like world peace and our crappy economy. But I don’t have any control over those things. These writing issues…I have control over when I can change them.
Login vs. Log in
This particular misuse is becoming more and more common, either because people are too lazy to hit the space bar between the “g” and the “i” or because they just don’t know the difference between the two. “Login” is a noun, as in “What is your login name?” But many people treat it just like a verb. You don’t “login” to a site, you “log in.” Because “log in” is an action, and therefore a verb. My coworkers often look at me funny when they walk by my office and I’m swearing because somebody has used “login” as a verb.
“Bleeding Edge Technology”
I think this phrase became popular in the late 90s and I really wish it had died along with the dot.com boom. When I first heard someone say it, I thought I was hearing things. “Did she just really say ‘We’re on the bleeding edge of technology’?” Do I want to be involved with something that will make me bleed? According to Wikipedia, Bleeding edge technology is “a technology that is so new (and thus, presumably, not perfected) that the user is required to risk unreliability, and possibly greater expense, in order to use it.” Ok, fine. We get it. It’s risky. It’s cool. Can we please stop using this phrase so much though? It makes me feel like I need to stock up on Band-Aids.
“Grow your business”
I know I’m not alone in hating this particular phrase. My friends and I have actually had heated discussions about how much we loathe it. “Grow your business” is not limited to technical writing, but that’s the context in which I first came across it. Now, we here it all the time. Grow your investment. Grow your portfolio. Grow your penis. Ok, that last one might actually be accurate, I’m just sick of the commercials. But I digress. Your business and portfolio are not organic, breathing entities. Therefore, they cannot GROW. They can be built, they can increase in size, they can expand. The next time someone tells me they are going to “grow their business,” I’m going to send them fertilizer and see if they get the joke.
I have come across this phrase so many times in the last week, I could scream. I’ve deleted it each time and replaced it with “Click.” Why? Because the “simply” is implied in “click.” Click is not a complicated thing. Adding “simply” is patronizing. It reminds me of those bad infomercials we see if we stay up late enough at night. “Simply plug in the nose hair trimmer and get rid of those unsightly monkeys dangling out of your nostrils.” Yeah, just don’t use it.
Using “allow” instead of “enable”
I will confess to being guilty of this one in my first years as a technical writer. But the habit was quickly beaten out of me. “Allow” implies that permission is needed to do something. “Enable” means that the capability to do something is there if you choose to use it. For example, “The nose hair trimmer allows you to shave those disgusting hairs from your nostrils so that you might actually get a date.” That sentence implies that the nose hair trimmers give you permission to trim your hair. Substitute “enables” for “allows,” and you now have a proper sentence. Because if we needed permission from our appliances and computers to do things, we’d probably be screwed.
Click where? Here? Right here? Or over here? Yes, the “here” is usually underlined, but it’s just poor form. And you’d be surprised how many times people haven’t been able to find the link in “Click here.” So, instead of giving a generic, not-at-all helpful, “Click here,” write something like “For more information, visit our nose hair abolishment program page” and make “visit” or “page” the link. It’s just more descriptive, and God knows we can all use more descriptions in our lives.
Will the change of use, or the complete abolishment, of certain phrases, make the world a better place? Highly unlikely. But it might stop my eye from twitching.