Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ignorance is NOT Bliss...

(This article appears on the working writers' website 'Writing Mafia',

When you join the ranks of employed wordsmiths across the globe, it goes without saying that your expertise regarding language and writing is unquestioned by those paying your (albeit paltry) salary. My inbox is regularly frequented by queries concerning apostrophe usage, pleas for proof-reading and Shakespearian dilemmas – ‘to hyphenate or not to hyphenate’ is a question that is very much in vogue at the present time.

I shall make no attempt to hide the fact that being consulted as the ‘expert’ when it comes to writing, language and grammar serves to massage my ego; a welcome by-product that any writer relishes. However, even the most ‘authoritative’ of sources can be found to fall short when scrutinised more closely. Any craftsman (or crafts ‘person’ if we’re being politically correct), will admit that they’re always learning their trade and writers should be no different.

In the early days of my writing career, I feigned ignorance on more than one occasion, happily glazing over a particular turn of phrase or unknown word in order to save face and remain the ‘expert’ that I hoped my employers were taking me for. But in reality, whilst saving career face, what was I actually gaining in the long run? Answer? Not a lot.

A particular instance this week pointed out just how far I’ve changed my thinking in terms of accepting the limitations of my so-called ‘expertise’. A manager used the phrase ‘luddites’ to refer to some colleagues he was exasperated with when trying to push through a new agenda at work. Now, whereas the copywriter of old would have glazed over this and happily got the gist of the overall message, the first thing I did in this instance was to check my dictionary.

For those of you not au fait with emails concerning petty office politics (you lucky things), ‘luddite’ refers to:

“A group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed labour-saving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.”

This unfamiliar word now clarified, I immediately understood my manager’s difficulty in passing a digital marketing proposal, adding a new word to my vocabulary in the process.

So you see, whilst we may enjoy playing on our ‘literary expert’ status amongst peers, ignorance isn’t always bliss. The English language is growing daily, and as writers, we need to ensure that our vocabularies are added to just as quickly. Pretending that we know a word may save face in the short-term, but when the alternative is learning and actually expanding the very expertise we’re trying to portray, the option is simple – ignorance is for the ignorant.

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