A few years back, I was bored enough to chime in on a forum discussion of “political correctness” and its stifling effect on the technical writing profession — as if technical writing could get any more stifled! Some poor souls’ delicate sensibilities were bruised when other members suggested maybe the word niggardly didn’t have a place in the technical writer’s verbal arsenal, because — um, in case you hadn’t noticed — it sounds kind of like a well-known racial slur.
“Why not just say stingy?” these bullies had suggested, eliciting audible huffs from the indignant plaintiffs. Some went so far as to post detailed etymological information about the origin and meaning of both the noun and the adverbial forms, thus proving (to themselves, at least) the silliness of any attempt to ban this perfectly good word.
“Let’s all take a deep breath,” I suggested, “and think about this from a practical standpoint. You say you don’t see how anybody would complain about the use of this word in an otherwise bland text. You don’t agree with the reasons for choosing stingy:
- Your readers aren’t going to be reminded of racist language.
- It’s got fewer words and fewer syllables.
- People know what the hell stingy means without looking it up.
“OK, fine — you’re obtuse.
“But tell me, please, in 500 words or fewer: when exactly would the concept of parsimony come into play in a technical writing context, or in any business writing situation, for that matter? Have you ever found it necessary to mention stinginess in online help, a user manual, or a set of requirements? If so, please post examples. I’m bored and that would be mildly entertaining!”
I got a couple of bravos and a couple of desperate defensive double-downs, that’s about it — not one piece of technical writing where penury came into play!
Then I had to get back to work.