August 2010


The idea of a reduction sprang to mind last year when we were preparing the graphics for our awesome book, Short Cuts.  Basically, this process involves taking whatever you’ve got and transforming it to whatever the publisher requires.   In our specific case we had graphics small and large, color and black white, etc. that needed all to be the same – greyscale images of a certain size and resolution.  This wasn’t the whimsy of the publisher, but the technical requirements of the production and printing process.

Most of us are exposed to reductions without really being aware of them.  For example, early every inline graphic you see on a typical web page is fairly low resolution compared to what your basic digital camera can produce.  A standard emerged at the birth of the web, which suggested that graphics should be very small (as in the file size on the web server) since everyone wanted their page to load up quickly, especially before the advent of widespread high-speed broadband internet service.  If you’re a web designer and you want your page to load quickly, you can make your graphics small (like a thumbnail), reduce the resolution, or both, which is what everyone still does.  Most web graphics are small and very low resolution, 72 DPI (dots per inch), compared to, say, the resolution of a $20 digital camera.  The other part of this story is that the resolution of a typical consumer computer screen hasn’t changed in a decade.  It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just that it’s OK.  If you’re a photographer, or want to make some web graphic into poster-size art, this low resolution gets fuzzy in a hurry.

My point is that reductions are an acceptable part of our lives.  Who hasn’t enjoyed a traditional overture?  They are essentially the entire work’s main themes in miniature.   The piano reduction is a distillation of, say, Beethoven’s fifth symphony, into a score for piano.  And while none of us actually used “Cliff Notes” or their equivalent while making up for lost hours spent on other pursuits, somebody was buying all those suckers.  The elevator speech, a reduction of why you should hire me or buy my product or idea in thirty seconds, remains a common practice in the business world.  The abbreviation or acronym is so common as not to be noticed (LOL).  On the other extreme, a new website (http://unsuck-it.com/) will reduce an over-blown business term, say “Content Creation” and reduce it to what it means, in this case, “Writing”.

Not every reduction is our pal however.  Everyone’s favorite reduction to hate is the ubiquitous “fine print.”  Whether a hidden charge, or the terms of an agreement, the perception, when they are noticed, is that they are an attempt to deceive us.  The deception may be that price in BIG LETTERS will change in time or is accompanied by additional charges.  “As low as” or “Savings up to,” are certainly key phrases, that when reduced, brings one into the store.  The audio version of fine print occurs at the beginning or the end of the radio or tv spot in a hushed yet breakneck speed.  A slightly subtler version occurred in a popular drug advertisement where a butterfly flitted across the screen whenever the litany of side effects was mentioned (in hushed yet rushed tones).  A common MacGuffin of a spy movie is the secret plans that are dramatically reduced into a “microdot” and then easily concealed anywhere, such as the earrings of a beautiful girl.  The commonplace variant of this is widespread use of microprinting, text that has been reduced to the degree that if copied, would appear as a line or smudge rather than text that can be revealed through strong magnification.

While we claim to hate reductions (who wants excerpts from Carmen?), we are completely surrounded by these communications on a diet.

Sources:

Why is the web 72 dpi and print 300 dpi?
http://bonfx.com/why-is-the-web-72-dpi-and-print-300-dpi/

What terrible business jargon do you need unsucked?
http://unsuck-it.com/

The Butterfly Runs Into Flak: Critically Analyzing Lunesta’s Television Ad
http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2007/04/butterfly-runs-into-flak-critically.html

Invited by our friends at Oxford University Press to submit a posting to their blog, we cheerfully packed the latest fruit of our labors off on the electronic highway to its destination at http://blog.oup.com/2010/08/rebus/ where it arrived safe and sound (despite a few bumps along the way, which seem to have resulted in some unexpected but benign indentations in the text). So buckle up and check it out. We’re sure you’ll agree that the OUP site is definitely worth the trip.

Our May 25 posting “What’s in a –nym?” featured the list of words ending in –nym that A. F. Brown included in his then-exhaustive Normal and Reverse English Word List— pseudonym appearing pseudonymously—and included a link to an updated and augmented list that appeared on Wordnik.com (a site that all lovers of language are encouraged to visit).

Never ones to let well enough alone, we offer the following opportunity to dazzle your friends and confound your enemies with a test of your –nym knowledge. The test consists of a list of ten words, each beginning with the letter k, each serving as an example of a –nym that you are asked to identify from a set of choices. Immediate feedback is provided for each choice, and you can display your final score when you’re done. Lexicographers, start your blenders here!