Monday, November 08, 2004

Complex Instructions for the World's Most Ordinary Task

This post is far grosser than my usual fare, so the easily concerned/offended should just stop reading now.

On yesterday's All Things Considered, author Ken Smith discussed his work on Junk English, a multifaceted problem that afflicts our language. Smith complains that whether it be Wal-Mart's sales associates (rather than salespeople) or the CIA's intelligence assets (instead of spies), English speakers are choosing complexity over clarity, ultimately harming our everyday communication.

This morning, I spotted some rather awkward Junk English during a visit to the doctor for a routine physical. As part of the physical, the doctor required a urine sample (...see, I warned you it would be gross). On the urine sample cup were written three instructions:

  1. Clean the Uro-Genital Area.
  2. Begin Voiding.
  3. Capture the Sample Midstream.

Although it was the Begin Voiding that caught my eye, each step is really a separate work of linguistic art.

I'm not sure what a Uro-Genital Area is, but there was a can of spray disinfectant in the doctor's bathroom. Maybe I was supposed to clean around the commode. If so, I left that step unstepped.

Begin Voiding is a pretty good name for an album. Voiding? Come on. If Urinate really makes you blush that much, maybe you just shouldn't be the copywriter at the pee cup factory.

Lastly, I really enjoy the use of Capture in the last step. Such active language really changes this procedure from being a gross-out chore to a fun game of Capture The Pee.

There. Now that I've given you far too much information, you may move along. Go on. Shoo.

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