On the hunt for the square bracket bonus
FOR 264 Stoep Talks, weird small things have been accumulating in my notebook, waiting for critical mass before being introduced to you, good reader. If any low-grade horsethief tells you that means “I can’t think what to write about today”, kindly wash his mouth out with soap.
Here’s a weird small thing: the internet insists that Randburg has taken over Johannesburg. Does it know something we don’t? Does its Artificial Intelligence that works things out a million times faster than Einstein know that on July 18 the Amaplotte Kommando will thunder up Jan Smuts Avenue in tractors, making us sign Oaths of Loyalty at musket-point?
AI doesn’t deign to let us know – tsk, humans, hardly worth wasting your breath on. All we know is that googling a pizza restaurant or chainsaw hire or art gallery delivers an address like 54 Tyrone Avenue, Parkview, Randburg, or 82 Louis Botha Avenue, Houghton, Randburg or 706 Ontdekkers Road, Florida, Randburg.
Congratulations, Randburgers. (When your Loyalty Police reach the stoep remember we said that.)
Weird Small Thing 2 is the print industry fad – in some publications a religion – for square brackets. As if reporters are on Final Warnings, they clutter your stories with more square brackets than the competitors; it makes us look intellectual without requiring readers to think.
Often it puts the poor reporter to thinking, but on how to shoehorn the square brackets in, rather than how to write the story better.
Here’s a doozy from the other day, quoting a DA spokesperson. What came out of her mouth was obviously “Patricia has to reply on Wednesday by close of business”.
But this writer was hot on the hunt for the Square Bracket Bonus, and adjusted things. The intended outcome
Don’t let any writer try to fool you by saying he’s run out of ideas...
was meant to read “… on Wednesday by [the] close of [the] business [day]”. Which is a mere six distracting square brackets importing a mere three small, unnecessary words.
But like Sir Walter Scott said, Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive. Here comes a similar principle. Oh how we make our readers antsy when we get all over-fancy.
The square bracket bug bit a bit too hard, more than doubling the simple three-word “close of business” into seven words – seven words that on first reading you knew were wrong, but you had to read again to identify what was wrong, viz “… on Wednesday by [the] close of [of the] business [day]”.
That’s far from the end of the publishing world’s weird small things. (Predictive text! A whole psychology fits into that.) But it’s nearly the end of my word count. So we’ll wind up by stumbling upon a quiet advance in the state of the human race.
Two of publishing’s weird small things can be eliminated together, by neutralising each other. That’s square brackets, number one, and secondly the asterisks used for what is mistakenly called “strong language”. (The truth is “weak language”, look how it replaces thousands of serviceable adjectives that convey meaning with one lazy adjective that conveys none.)
Well, let’s play them off against each other. Instead of coy asterisks in a phrase like “f**king big rock”, we gooi square brackets in to say what the speaker might have said if his vocabulary hadn’t been decimated by the f**king pandemic. Which could be “[impressive] rock” or “[daunting] rock” or whatever according to context.
Waddayaknow, our word count is up and we’ve only touched 2½ weird small things. But we have a dozen in reserve for next time we don’t admit we got stuck for a topic. A fine Friday to you, good reader.