What Homer knew about technical writing
With possible titles of “why consistency works”, or “what Homer knew about technical writing”, or even “what Homer, technical communication and Eminem have in common”, this post is just a musing. And perhaps amusing, in a gentle way. If it provokes any thoughts or ideas in your head, I’d love to hear them!
Homer and other epic poets use a number of repeated phrases. Famous ones are:
- wine-dark sea
- the wily Odysseus
- rosy-fingered dawn
- gray-eyed Athene
- D’oh! 😉
- I’ma make a new plan*
* We could argue that rappers use them too. I suspect there’s a whole blog post right there!
People call these repetitions “stock phrases” and “epic formulae”. People say the use of such phrases is a trick to make it easier to fill a gap in a line of poetry, to keep to the metre when you’re thinking on your feet.
I think there’s a less prosaic purpose too.
In a single familiar phrase, a writer can call up all the connotations and associations that the reader has accrued over the years of exposure to a shared culture. With just two or three words, you can evoke a flare of imagination, a memory, a delightful frisson of fear or just some previously-learned facts.
Ah, the power! Being able to make your reader remember something complex in such a simple way. Efficient, concise, unobtrusive, pleasurable and rewarding.
We do the same with consistency of terminology in technical writing. Ba da boom. 🙂
Off topic: I’m fond of trees. I took this picture when walking in the bush this morning.
Posted on 26 September 2010, in language, technical writing, trees and tagged consistency, epic formulae, formulaic lines, Homer, Iliad, Ozzie trees, rap, stock phrases, technical communication, technical documentation, technical writing, trees. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.