News flash: not everyone reads American

Note: this is not a case of American bashing, just a plea for clearer writing. Those with a weak sense of humour may find it disquieting or incomprehensible.

I recently came across a biography on the internet which included this phrase:

I have been described as a .NET utility outfielder

My reaction: huh?

I read it again. Still nothing. Honestly, I have no idea what a utility outfielder is. I don’t even know for sure what sport they play. I felt like sending out this newsflash:

Awoo! Awoo! Please be aware. Not everyone reads American!

Then, I thought, this is serious. The natural wish to write in an approachable way is great, but it might make some northern American writing less accessible to some potential readers. Given the growth of internet access outside northern America, make that most potential readers.

I’ve worked for a handful of US employers in my time, and we all got along famously. Until we had to communicate meaningfully. A typical meeting might include the following pep talk from the CEO:

Guys, it’s time to step up to the plate and get past first base. Faced with a third down, you need to get off the bench and go the whole nine yards. I know you’re no rookies, but I’ll quarterback this initiative, go point, and handle the left-field curve balls. Once we get them on the back foot, it’ll be a slam dunk!

(I may have got some of that wrong – my eyes tended to glaze over in the middle.)

People, we’re neighbours in cyberspace, and that’s great. But please remember that in reality, we don’t share all the same vocabulary and cultural (particularly sporting) references. In the end, faced with a torrent of such metaphors, I ended up giving the only response a Briton could:

Yes, boss. It’s a game of two halves, but a real six pointer. With extras in the slips, we have to take the crease and handle the googlies as they come at us. They’ll aim to even it out over both legs for a score draw, but we’ll knock them for six and then draw stumps. Think it’s all over? It is now!

Actually, I don’t think that makes much sense either.

Anyway, north American internet people, I love your writing – could you just make sure that I can understand it next time?

Thanks, and have an awesome weekend.

Don

PS – actually, the bio didn’t say ‘I have been described as a .NET utility outfielder’. I have altered the actual words to protect the innocent. He/she didn’t mean any harm, and I don’t want to ridicule them.

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9 responses to “News flash: not everyone reads American

  1. Oh Donald, I think yee may be asking too much of my fellow man. Look to our leader! Our intelligent and well versed President is most:
    (a) naturally curious about everything in life
    (b) a voracious reader
    (c) an eager learner
    (d) but may have an occupational preferance for cowboy duties

    Though I live on this side of the world with .NET utility, I sit next to you in my ignorance of what it means.

  2. Well said, Don. Not everyone reads American. It’s very good advice and as more and more blogs are read internationally, it’s even more importat!

  3. Thanks for the comments Ev and Frank.

  4. Don,
    Indeed.
    I had something similar to say sometime ago. I was less polite than you are.
    http://theotherthomasotter.wordpress.com/2006/03/20/howzat/

  5. Pingback: Readability and cultural blinkers « Donald H Taylor

  6. America and England – two nations separated by a language. Rgds Vince

  7. From yet another side of the divide (male vs female), this doesn’t seem American argot (which I do speak), it seems manly sport references heard by men around the world. I’ve long been left out of conversations that drifted there. Welcome to my experience, men not sport-obsessed.

  8. Very appropriate post, Don. It’s amazing how many Americans travel to Europe and Asia expecting to do business, yet their speech is not only peppered with sports metaphors, but also television, movies, politics and all forms of popular culture.

    At worst it’s a case of cultural imperialism (“Hey – they’ve got McDonald’s; they all love us, right?!”); at best it’s a naive perception that everyone thinks and experiences the world the same as you do. Unfortunately I haven’t experienced that the internet has increased understanding, but has instead added to the confusion. Gnome sane? 😉

  9. Pingback: 3 L&D lessons from Australia’s dismal cricketing collapse | Donald H Taylor

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