Indecent Indexicals

Dear Independent Clause,

I’m looking over a book with tons of indexicals and pronouns that lack antecedents. Why must this blatant abuse of language make the baby Strunk cry? I offer a sample, and never mind the technical details:

People find DSLs valuable because a well-designed DSL can be much easier to program with than a traditional library. This improves programmer productivity, which is always valuable. In particular it may also improve communication with domain experts, which is an important tool for tackling one of the hardest problems in software development. CSS is an excellent example of this, most people who program CSS don’t consider themselves to be programming. Despite this, however, I don’t generally think that end-users will usually write in DSLs directly – it’s the communication enhancement that’s important.

My question is: what should I do when I see this train wreck masquerading as the English language? Since I’m not a copywriter or editor, I feel powerless.


Miffed in Maryland

Dear Miffed,

I feel your pain. What you can do is constrained by your position toward the writing. If you are a lowly student, you can only bide your time. Possibly you could tell your professor and win some brownie points; but his boyfriend might have written it and then your professor would fail you out of spite.

If you are a professional equal to the author, then you could send her a nicely worded note indicating that you loved all her conclusions but wished that she could express it better. Offer to edit her work in exchange for other services (there’s no way I can write that without sounding dirty). This can also backfire. My father was a scientist and used to point out flaws in his colleague’s research. His intent was to improve their work, but he made few friends in his department.

If there is no material way to respond to the author you have a few options. Grit your teeth until they fall out. Take up running. Take up drinking. Start an anonymous blog. Let it go. But above all, Miffed in Maryland, write better than they do.

Yours in solidarity,

Independent Clause


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