Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Consider the web-forum. I disapprove of these convergences mostly, the less focussed (Yahoo or the BBC’s comment-enabled features, for example) really seem to bring out the worst in people: participants taking side-swipes at each other, venting spleen blindly, making no effort to hide heartfelt prejudices. Nonetheless, these ‘chat rooms’ can be a decent resource if one has a genuine interest in something and can readily resist the temptation to get too involved. Encompassing by their very nature, sorting the frivolous threads from the more substantial can be a little tiresome, which is why I try and keep my own participation to a healthy minimum. The forum I frequent from time to time concerns itself with cycling. Above all else, I'm there to look at the classifieds. Inevitably I am brought into superficial contact with the forum’s members, which isn't so bad because some of them can be quite amusing. Sometimes a name is all it takes. There is a forum member who calls himself ‘Spacey’, whose avatar is a picture of the actor Kevin Spacey, and I thought to myself wouldn't it be wonderful if it actually was Kevin Spacey showing an interest in the 2009 Bob Jackson Vigorelli with the Reynolds 631 frame, and pondered the likelihood. Turns out the guy looks a bit like the American actor and deemed this alias to be as good as any (or so he says).
            The internet is a beast of capricious appeal, and I suddenly found myself reading up about Kevin Spacey on Wikipedia. Aside from the revelation that Kevin began his career in entertainment as a stand-up comedian, I also discovered that his father had worked as a technical writer (and data consultant), which aroused my curiosity. I'm vaguely aware of what a technical writer is and does and once worked in the not altogether dissimilar role of ‘transcript writer’ myself, but followed the link anyway and was greeted with Kurt Vonnegut’s take on the trade:

"[technical writers are] trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to the reader."

I’d been musing on related concepts and was not sure I agreed with Mr Vonnegut’s assessment. As a transcript writer, I was once admonished for using the word ‘eschewed’ after transcribing a disciplinary hearing at some financial institution located in Canary Wharf. The interviewee – who was in effect giving evidence against a purportedly awkward work colleague – had been evasive and avoided suggestions the interlocutor felt compelled to make. To provide some texture, and avoid the sort of ‘he said, she said’ reportage such content often forwarded, I ended up reaching for the verb ‘eschew’ in an effort to provide some sort of vocabular relief. When my work was later edited, I was told that this word would not do as some people might not know what the word ‘eschew’ actually meant, even though I considered it a fairly ordinary word in itself, and what are synonyms for if not to relieve the tedium of an inquisition that endlessly repeats itself?
In any case, I've not worked in such a word-focussed capacity since. That said, in my current administrative role I am having to form sentences on a regular basis, and the objective is still pretty much the same: clarity, economy of language, imperturbability. This is the lingua franca of the work-place, utilitarian and functional in an effort to bridge the gaps between operators of different language, class and culture. In this sense, Mr Vonnegut is correct: revealing anything about oneself is not the point. But does this preclude such vernacular from possessing any sort of prosodic features whatsoever? Does language even allow for it?
It got me thinking about those strange vignettes that pop up throughout David Lynch’s Inland Empire, sketches that Lynch originally conceived as a nine part ‘sitcom’ consisting entirely of anthropomorphised rabbits – actors wearing rabbit costumes beneath regular clothes – non-sequiting to each other in a drab and sinister living room. (“I have heard those things being said before”; “I will bet you are both wondering”; “I have misplaced it”.)

I decided to cut-up a selection of sentences and paragraphs from random emails I’d sent to various customers to create a sort of disjointed dialogue. I wondered if such statements held any value when placed in isolation – or juxtaposed against each other at least. Stripped of their original context, could they function as something else entirely, even if that thing was non-specific, vague, as ostensibly non-functioning as Lynch’s strange masques? Can words and sentences in and of themselves convey something about the author’s self, even when the intention is that they should not?

‘I think you have misunderstood my colleague. He is not asking you for payment yet, he was asking for a formal purchase order. What you have provided looks like an internal purchase requisition. We can use this as a de facto purchase order if you like, but it appears to us to be a document intended for your own internal purchasing department.’

‘I have adjusted our schedule as requested. Be aware that there will come a stage when we can make no further alterations to these delivery dates: stock already exists to fulfil certain shipments, but is being manufactured for others. Please find amended documents attached.’

‘I have referred you to the quote for 1,000 pieces already – twice in fact: once in this email, and again in another. I have also re-attached it here. But I don't think it's a quote that you are really after. We can't accept payment based on a quotation. We need a purchase order from you for 960 pieces, using the cost that we quoted for the 1,000 pieces, and then we can issue a sales order and a pro-forma invoice. You can then make payment via the links acting against information we will subsequently provide.’

'Please note, we are unable to include your banking fees as part of the invoice. First, such fees are not necessarily fixed and may amount to more (or less) than the sum you were charged for the last transaction. Second, the invoice has to be representative of the services we have rendered: our product and the shipping of it. We are not charging you for the transference of monies, the banks are. As such, to factor this into an invoice would be misleading, and may even contravene financial regulations.’

‘As per the sales order confirmation you were sent, we expect to make delivery toward the end of November, so any time prior to then to be sure. However, by such time you will have probably paid invoice 301626 and will be well within your credit limit. As such, assuming you pay on time, you need not worry about the pro-forma for the second shipment.’

‘I should add that we do charge a small handling fee to customers who wish to use their own courier – for packing the item, arranging the collection, registering the delivery on-line, and so forth.’

[Internal Memo] ‘It seems that the shipping charge will still re-set itself when we're changing quantities. I'm noticing inconsistency with this whole functionality, which is potentially more damaging than if it worked one way or the other. Can I clarify how it is supposed to operate?’

‘I believe the ship, once it has sailed, will take about a month to reach its destination.’

'As you can see from the product catalogue I sent, there is no motor with the same dimensions that operates at 6 V. Certain customisations are possible but that puts the price up, and you have already expressed that price is a critical factor. Moreover, in developing new adaptations, a customised motor would be subject to a minimum order quantity and a financial commitment up front. In any case, a motor is what it is for a given reason, so it might even be that a 6 V motor is subject to dimensional limitations - for it to be economically feasible, at least.'

'We have certainly sold to companies that concern themselves with matters of a dental nature, but there is no over-arching motor that seems to be popular in this field and nor have we involved ourselves with the development of any particular product; you yourself probably have a better idea as to which of our motors might be suited to such an application, or how a device of this kind might work.
If you have any questions regarding our own product then we would be happy to answer them, but any opinion we might be able to offer on the efficacy, or otherwise, of orthodontic vibratory stimulation would be mere conjecture.'

'The point I was trying to make was that the document for the first delivery is applicable to the second. If the 1,250 pieces from batch #2222, sent to you on order 450013000, were analysed and approved, then so too were the 489 pieces sent to you on order 450015000. All 1,750 pieces that comprised batch 2222 were analysed and passed as one batch; therefore one cannot be deemed analysed but not the other - the 1,250 pieces and the 489 pieces are of the same ilk and cannot be separated.
In any case, I understand that, for bureaucratic reasons, you need separate forms for each delivery, even though it is clear that both batches are part of the same bigger batch (they are the same). As such, please find a document designed exclusively to cover the second, smaller delivery.'


  1. I heart all this.
    "I believe the ship, once it has sailed, will take about a month to reach its destination." A single, Victory Gin scented tear left his eye.

    Actually I dimly recall a financial LRT summary 'eschew' eschewing, but it can't have been me editing it out if you wrote it. Could it? I probably would have though. If transcribing/editing docs with a sales desk hovering taught me anything, it's that bankers don't want comment eschewed, or statements averred, or intimation, insinuation, or suggestion. I think they think being economical with words saves them money.

  2. I don't think it was you, no. I didn't mind so much being told to eschew the verb 'eschew', but in that particular instance I was fast running out of ways to put across how the lady being interviewed didn't entirely agree with the words that were being - out of desperation - put in her mouth. The joys of low-level disciplinary hearings within financial institutions, heh?