Wassup with ‘up’?

On a busy, close-to-year-end evening on Bourke Street, while I was watching everyone enjoying the festive season, I heard around me ‘what’s up’, ‘clean up’, ‘set up’, ‘give up’, ‘show up’, ‘sold up’….

That’s when it struck me, “What’s actually up with ‘up'”? Why has it suddenly become the most important word in English? And trust me, this did strike me big time, and I decided to do some fair bit of research!

Now that I’m convinced some of it does make sense while some redundant, I thought of sharing with you how ‘up’ has shaped (or ‘shaped up’) in the new world. And I give credit to Oxford Dictionary (http://oxforddictionaries.com/) for all the understanding I have gained.

Note: I’m discussing the most common usages here. You can refer to Oxford Dictionary for all other meanings of the following verb phrases. Also, I don’t want to divert from the main topic and assume we all know ‘up’ is both an adverb and a preposition.

Sometimes, adding ‘up’ completes the sense. For example, in verb phrases such as
give up – part with something (John decided to give up smoking.)
set up – to establish (Mary seeks help to set up her own blogs.) (If you’ve stopped here thinking about word settings here such as set up, setup and set-up, that’s the theme for my next blog.)

Thus, it definitely is not redundant when used with verbs to form verb phrases. Take a pause and think about some more verb phrases where ‘up’ makes sense. What about ‘shut up’? Is it the same as ‘shut’? Well no! Telling John to shut the door is very different from telling him to shut up. 🙂

Let’s look at some other functionalities of ‘up’ when used as an adverb.

In verb phrases such as ‘get up’, it refers to rising from a sitting posture and standing erect. Other similar phrases are stand up and sit up, among others.

In verb phrases such as lift up and pick up, it means to take the thing from its present place to a level higher, i.e. raising it. In phrases such as dig up, it refers to bringing something from below the level of earth.

Additionally, there are many figurative uses of the word ‘up’ when used in verb phrases.

‘break up’, ‘tear up’ meaning to divide into parts
‘swallow up’ meaning reaching completion
‘finish up’, ‘clear up’ meaning progressing towards an end
‘brush up’, ‘fix up’ meaning fixing or putting in order
‘tie up’, ‘bundle up’ meaning to bring together

So, you’ll find the adverb ‘up’ serves many functionalities when used in verb phrases, and that there is a thin line between its use as redundant and emphasizing. You never know, sometimes redundancy can add just the needed emphasis!

How about ‘hurry up’ and ‘meet up’?

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Content pollution

Imagine yourself in a roadside café for a coffee interview with your potential boss. You hear music playing, cars honking and passer-by talking. In the midst of all noise, you miss the important message from your potential employer. How do you feel? Bugged, right? That’s how users feel when they don’t get the important message on your website because it’s hidden by redundant details and excessive word count.

This is what I call content pollution. Never heard of this before? You may have heard ‘information pollution’ then. Information pollution is the contamination of information supply with irrelevant, redundant, unsolicited and low-value information . However, I call it content pollution to be specific with web content.

Simple rule for web writing thus says, ‘Less is more’. If there’s some information users don’t need, don’t waste their time by writing it on your web page. Your best bet is to say less, but communicate more.

This is where web writing differs from print writing. How many web authors understand this difference though? Some? Or if not, how many apply the rule? I come across so many web pages everyday that give me an impression, “This is not for you! It’s for some high-school English teacher”.

So, how do you stick to the real essence of your information without much blah blah?

Style guide: To have a consistent tone delivered across your web writing, you should follow a style guide at all times.
Tentativeness: What you think adds clarity to the writing can add ambiguity. ‘Kind of’, ‘probably’, ‘sort of’ are such words. You don’t need them, right?
Redundancy: I’ve seen many web authors using ‘in this article’ in their writing. When you read such thing, are you not on that article already? ‘In my opinion’ is another one. If you’re the author, doesn’t it imply to the reader that IT IS your opinion? Are such phrases needed at all? Perhaps no! Think of all such redundant words/phrases and get rid of them. By doing this, you not only come to the important message quickly, but also reduce the word count of your writing. Remember, less scrolling leads to better scanning. [Redundant terms/phrases are a big list and I’m planning to dedicate a post on these :).]
Language: Don’t use too many pronouns. This improves content clarity and its search optimisation.
Use direct language and stay away from technical terms and jargons. Jargons and industry-specific languages cloud the important message adding ambiguity.

I definitely want to add more here because there’s plenty. But let me reserve some for my next post on ‘content pollution’. Till then, follow these to strengthen your writing and build reader confidence.