Response to this letter can be summed up in one word: Huh?


June 08, 2008|By JANET GILBERT

The great thing about the English language is that it has so many words; you can be selective to ensure your message reflects your personality, as well as conveys your meaning.

For example, if I were to describe the English language with the phrase, "It's got more words than you can shake a stick at!" I would appear down-to-earth and folksy.

On the other hand, if I wanted to appear lofty or even pretentious, I might write: "Its myriad options give linguists and ordinary citizens, pari passu, unlimited opportunities to impart individuality."

Fanfare, please! Having signed up for the word-of-the-day on, I have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use the four-star vocabulary phrase pari passu in this column.

I think I'm using it correctly - it means at an equal rate or fairly - and it probably has the following desired effect on you readers:


Don't get me wrong, I love smart people. But what I love about really smart people is that they do not feel the need to telegraph their smartness by sprinkling their conversation with arcane vocabulary words.

My point is this: Language is a toolbox, and you need to select the right words for a particular job. At best, you will tailor your language to your audience so that you can be understood with minimal explanation.

And that is why I am gong to write to Joel K. Oppenheimer, project manager at the State Highway Administration.

Because I just got a letter from Neil J. Pedersen, State Highway Administrator informing me that I can write to Oppenheimer because "Citizen involvement in the planning process is encouraged." But I guess I should not write to Pedersen, even though he signed the letter.

Let me clarify, somewhat. Apparently, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration has initiated a project planning for Interstate 70 from Sykesville Road to Columbia Pike in Howard County.

They sent area residents, including me, a notice that says: "This study will develop and evaluate possible improvements to I-70," and "As a part of the public involvement activities, and consistent with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, comments are invited regarding historic properties in the project area, including standing structures and archaeological resources." Further, the letter states: "The State Highway Administration is soliciting public comments to help define the project purpose and need. Copies of the Purpose and Needs Statement can be obtained by contacting the Project Manager as listed below."

Well, let's see now. Is anyone else lost?

Here's the letter I've just finished composing, choosing my words to convey my tone as well as my meaning.

Dear Mr. Oppenheimer,



Janet F. Gilbert

P.S. Please give my regards to Mr. Pedersen.

Look, I know what I-70 is. And I appreciate historic properties and I'd like them to be saved. But I suppose I should get a copy of the Purpose and Needs Statement, so that I can make some appropriate and helpful comments to define the project's purpose and needs?

I just hope they don't reroute I-70 through my historically significant front yard.

Tucked in the first paragraph is the one sentence that sort of says it all, or nothing, depending on how you look at it. "The project planning phase includes agency and public involvement, the review of all reasonable alternatives, including the No-Build Alternative, and an evaluation of social, cultural and natural environmental impacts."

Something's going to happen.

I just can't figure out what.

So I've signed up for the project planning mailing list, so I can be confusingly informed via future code letters.

I don't know about you, but this type of communication just makes me, well, verklempt.

I hope Mr. Oppenheimer has to look that one up.

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