Semi-graphical super-grammar

April 8, 2010

I should really present some kind of graphical for-example to better convey just what the heck I’m talking about, but here goes anyway.  Furthermore, it’s surely telling that I’m not generating that for-example graphic, because I’m at my day job and have to make this quick.  In fact, that’s actually the whole point of this posting, come to think of it.

I type out technical sentences all day, all the time:

This does it this way, but this other thing is similar but it also does this other thing.  On the other hand, if you use this one instead, it’s like this instead of like that, but the same in these other ways.


In “one-dimensional” English, these sorts of explanations get long and complicated.  I often worry, surely with some good reason, that people who don’t speak English natively just can’t understand them, no matter how hard I try.

So if I’m always writing on a computer and then hitting “send” or Control-P for print, it gets me to thinking…

…that there’s a new graphical “super-grammar” waiting to happen here.

Some way, eventually standardized in a few Control-_’s in Gmail, of structuring these sorts of statements in a more obvious way, surely involving lists, tables, font sizes or even colors.

I’m reminding myself of the “truth tables” that we did in electronics class, which let us state what-if outputs for every possible combination of inputs.

And I say grammar to imply a standard, that you can grade fifth graders for doing correctly or incorrectly, that takes the “graphic designer” style stuff out of it.  Like, pre-sets that are the best practices for how present-day graphic designers (or “information designers,” as Tufte would say) convey these sorts of complex if-then’s and for-each types of relationships, but right there in Gmail or whatever.

What we’re all working with today, like:

  • Sentences
  • Capitalization
  • Paragraphs
  • Punctuation
  • …and all of that…

… are all throw-backs to the first printing presses 500 years ago(!), which of course could only do left-to-right rows (aka “lines”) of various type blocks, one per symbol.

We can do so much more than that now.  Mind you, bullet-points are a great start, but we can do better.



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