Differences between Obtuse and Abstruse, Aggravate and Annoy
As you might have heard, I am really good at impersonating former presidents. Like Ronald Reagan: “Wellllll.” See what I mean? If I didn’t know it was I, I would ask myself for an autograph.
For Clinton, I have to make my voice sound raspy, a little twangy, and real Southern, which is how my voice sounds anyway: “Ah have grown weary and gray saying this, but ah will say it one more tahm. Ah did not...have pickle...with that corned beef!”
Now, for the first time ever before a live audience, I will attempt to impersonate both presidents at once. The Press Briefing Room: 300 blood-thirsty reporters circle like barracuda over a crisis involving Iran, the People’s Republic of China, arms shipments, drug deals, and illegal contributions to the Democratic Party. The two presidents take the podium. The room goes silent. They speak as one, the Gipper meets Arkansas: “Mistakes were made.”
True stories. You remember. I just melded them for theatrical effect: Two Presidents, two political parties, two crises, one sentence, zero attribution. Which brings me to our topic today.
Over the last two years, mistakes were made by me in writing these Tips. Fortunately, you have been quick to let me know, and I love to make fun of myself, especially publicly. Chagrined, here are three that sent me to the reference books I mentioned a few weeks ago. (See Tip: “Once Upon a Time I Fell, and It Has Made All the Difference.”)
The first came from a Senior Editor with the United Nations. She liked the Tip, but not the title: "6 Sentence Openings That Aggravate Judges." She gently reminded me:
. . . “aggravate” is not a synonym for “annoy” or “irritate” but means “to make worse.” (You can aggravate a judge's headache but not the judge.) I'd be interested to know if you considered the above and rejected it, or if this was a slip.
Next, Senior Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice in San Francisco read the Tip “One Thing Judges Never Read” and objected to the line “jurists in powdered wigs spent much of their time drafting obtuse rules for pleadings and lying in wait”:
I believe the word you wanted was "abstruse" ("hard to understand"), not "obtuse" ("dull, blunt, stupid").
He was right, and I felt so obtuse.
And last a corporate IP guy in Ohio who does not like our WordRake signature logo, “Write
Simply to the Point”:
I find it odd that you do not follow your own guidance. It is more direct to state, “Write simply,” than to state, “Write to the point.” “To the point” requires interpretation of an abstract geometrical concept, e.g., the point where two lines intersect, to reach an understanding of essential meaning of what is being written. “Simply” is an adverb to the verb “write.” “Simply” encompasses far more meaning than “to the point” ever could and sheds any abstract geometrical baggage.
He signed “Q.E.D.” I had to look it up: an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "quod erat demonstrandum,” which translates literally as "which was to be demonstrated." It’s a formal way of ending an argument by alerting your opponent that the immediately previous statement was arrived at naturally by an unbroken chain of logic and, voilà, was the original statement requiring proof! In English, Q.E.D. means “Checkmate, Jerk Face.” More people have been shot for writing those three initials than for holding aces and eights.
But for calling these mistakes to my attention, the Senior Editor, the Senior Counsel, and the Corporate IP Guy each will receive a one-year subscription to “Write to the Point” absolutely free. Oh, wait, that’s right; it’s already free.