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Some tips on writing without giving offense

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Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 10:00 pm

How would you like to write in a way that does not offend anyone? Well, do what I did, and take a class in "Cosmopolitan Composition," a new course for writers, who want to avoid conflict and controversy, offered at New Age University.

Professor Char Bookburner, who has lectured at most major universities, is teaching a carefully collected cornucopia of creative approaches to non-controversial composition. She begins her course with a review of American law and the U.S. Constitution. "You will find the right to be free from offensive written material located somewhere in the back of the Bill of Rights," she says. "In the future, it is expected that courts will elaborate more fully on this basic right, much as they have done with the 'right of privacy,' also located somewhere in the back," she explains to her eager students.

Professor Bookburner proceeds with a program of "dos" and "don'ts" for the modern non-offensive writer. There are too many to list in this brief column, but here are two examples in which to test your own knowledge as to what is offensive and not offensive in today's emotionally sensitive world.

Find the offensive errors in the following statements:

Example I: "In a grueling contest, Nick Nascar just won the race in the Charlotte 300."

Answer: One must be careful not to use the word "race," as this can be offensive to some and taken out of context. The words "contest" and "won" should also be avoided, as this implies competition, and may be offensive to those who have never been first at anything. Also, Charlotte, a former Confederate city, may bring up memories of unpleasant ethnic divisiveness from the past, and should be avoided as well. Therefore, the following would be a more appropriate approach: "Nick Nascar, automobile speed enthusiast, was the first to cross the finish line, among a group of equally qualified drivers, at a recent event in a historical city in North America."

Example II: "Female marksman, Carrie Firearms, is the first woman to break eight clay pigeons with a single burst from a 12 gauge shotgun."

Answer: This one should be obvious, as no story should ever be written about a shooting contest. But, there are more subtle errors that may not be noticed at first glance. For example, the words "female," "marksman," and "woman" imply extensions of the words "male" and "man," which are simply unacceptable in today's world of equality.

For people negotiating the pitfalls of political correctness, Professor Bookburner's course is a "must" for those who want to avoid offensive, degrading and inappropriate material. It could even protect one's job and career, and obviously, I highly recommend her. By the way, I also might mention that she is a pretty foxy-looking babe, as well.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and humorist.

First published: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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