An e-mail from an E-EDITOR enthusiast in Brisbane alerts us to bad news for fans of Bullfighter — the unique bullshit-hunting, jargon-shaming software distributed free of charge by Deloitte Consulting.
Just 18 months after Bullfighter came along to save the world from a million lousy, pompous, overblown travesties of the art of business communication, Deloitte has withdrawn support for this excellent initiative.
There's no explanation on the firm's Web site, merely a statement that the software is no longer available or being distributed. There is no indication that it has been withdrawn for updating or revision, so we can only fear the worst.
Needless to say, E-EDITOR has already been in touch with Deloitte, enquiring about Bullfighter's future and offering to host the download service on a non-profit basis. So far, there has been no acknowledgement or response.
This is all a great shame. Bullfighter has been genuinely useful in helping e-editors throughout the English-speaking world stand up to the daily barrage of illiterate, self-serving, obscurantist nonsense that emanates from management and government.
It could easily have been marketed as a fully commercial product, but it seemed doubly creditable that Deloitte had made it available to all as a free download.
We recognised the marketing and branding benefits Deloitte derived from Bullfighter. But we felt they were entirely deserved, a well-earned payoff for taking a stand in a matter of some importance.
Now, though, the whole exercise is beginning to look less altruistic.
Deloitte has reaped a vast amount of positive PR, but the firm's relationship with its jargon-sniffing creation was always likely to become problematical. Perhaps Bullfighter has been gored because it was too near the knuckle.
Perhaps Bullfighter set standards its progenitors could not live up to.
Perhaps it was simply too uncomfortable for Deloitte's consultants to go about their daily business without deploying the usual range of faddish buzzwords, mangled metaphors and half-understood jargon that passes for management discourse.
We hope not. These people had the guts to back the idea of Bullfighter in the first instance, in the full knowledge that it would inevitably be let loose on their own output.
They knew what they were doing. And they must have calculated that Deloitte could cope with a bit of teasing, in exchange for a significant boost to its credibility and reputation for straight talking.
If the consultants want to back off now, they should seriously consider handing Bullfighter over to E-EDITOR, the Plain English Campaign or some other trusted body that could continue to make it available to the world.
Better still, they should relaunch an improved version, Bullfighter 2, and carry on the good work themselves.
Having created a clear opportunity to differentiate Deloitte Consulting from its competitors in a unique and sustainable way, they should exploit it to the full. There's enough mileage left in the Bullfighter concept to keep it going strong for many years to come.
Just time today for a quick gloat about the consequences of our recent troublemaking at the British Library (see posting of 1 October).
While the custodians of the national culture were clearly less than delighted when the E-EDITOR style police pointed out the glaring mistake on their display panel promoting the current Graham Greene exhibition, they did mutter that they would correct it and get the 9-foot panel remade.
A return visit this week proved that they have been as good as their word. Where the blurb for the Greene exhibition once talked about world-weary "ex-patriots", it now refers to equally world-weary "expatriates".
And, as if liberated by a new certainty and sense of purpose, the authorities have gone mad and erected two of these panels, where there was originally just the one.
If that means just a few more visitors are lured inside to learn more about Graham Greene and his writings, we'll feel our crabbing, pernickety intervention was more than justified.
After all, Greene has long been up there in the E-EDITOR pantheon (see the FAQ section of the main www.e-editor.co.uk site), alongside other literary heroes and influences ranging from Wodehouse, Stoppard and Douglas Adams to Michael Bywater, Smokey Robinson, Winston Churchill and Elvis Costello.
There was one particular point we forgot to mention in our last 800-word tirade about the importance of getting your communication right for your reader.
While we were emphasising the need to write for the reader, we didn't say anything about the other side of the coin — the need to edit for both the reader and the writer.
Those of us who do both, editing and writing, know who has the harder task.
The writer writes, with no ultimate responsibility to anything but the content and anyone but the reader.
The editor shares both these responsibilities, but also assumes the added burden of keeping faith with the style or persona of the writer.
That's not to say that most of the material we are paid to work on has anything resembling style, in the high-faluting literary sense.
But even after the skilled e-editor has done his or her worst, cutting and polishing like some dedicated craftsman in an Antwerp diamond house,* the shorter, clearer, stronger piece that emerges should still have something of the author in it.
Almost intuitively, the editor will work to preserve or echo the speech rhythms and syntax that appear in the draft text. Words and phrases will be chosen that sit comfortably alongside the author's own phrasing. Odd or eccentric expressions may survive into the final document, simply because they carry the stamp of an individual consciousness and something would be lost if their idiosyncrasies were ironed out.
Except in contexts where no bylines are used and house rules dictate a homogenised style, conserving these glimpses of personality and voice is important.
The sense of characters behind the words is part of what makes a publication or a Web site feel alive and vivid, though most people are completely unaware of it at any conscious level.
Experience teaches, of course, that non-professional authors almost invariably believe their style has been ruined and their meaning twisted in the subbing process, while the professionals usually appreciate what's been done for them.
The trick is to put the content and the audience first. Once you know the text is saying what it should, in a way that will be clear and accessible to your audience, you can then start worrying about the writer's voice and personality.
You may even find, on a final read-through, that you can see opportunities to restore a couple of words or phrases that are obviously dear to the author's heart, as the context is now clear enough to make them work. If so, do it. It makes good career sense to keep as many of these people on your side as possible.
* Incidentally, our research shows that about 40% of a rough diamond is lost in the cutting and polishing. We think that's an interesting figure, and one that might give a useful clue to the degree of cutting many business drafts could bear.