Boston Broadside
November/December 2001
Vol. 59,  No. 2
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2001

President's Message

"Words sing. They hurt. They teach. They sanctify."

By Hans Fenstermacher

Never have these words by humorist Leo Rosten been truer than in the weeks following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As a nation, we have come together, if only for a time, to feel the power of unity and to join in a collective expression of our feelings. To a greater or lesser extent, we have all experienced confusion, pain, anger, frustration, resignation, and, yes, even healing. In framing that experience, many once less-charged words now affect us in new, profound waysterrorism, Twin Towers, homeland defense, bin Laden, anthrax, fallen heroesreminding us of the awesome power of words.

Words Can Give Support

The day after the attacks, I sent letters of support from the Boston membership to our fellow STC members in the Washington, DC, and New York Metro chapters. Patricia Myers in New York responded: "Your warm and comforting words are very much appreciated. It is very heartwarming to know that so many people are helping with their support and prayers." Carolyn Kelley Klinger, President of the DC chapter, eloquently expressed words of support for the unknown victims in her response. "Thank you again for reaching out to us. We are all very shocked and unsettled today as we attempt to go through our daily routines. The grief I feel for the loss of these people I don't even know is overwhelming." Words cannot change reality, but they are the main way we exchange ideas about it, and that very exchange of words helps us deal with sometimes inexplicable events.

Words Can Sometimes Fail

America still has not found adequate words to name the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001. It has been called the terrorist attack, the event, the bombings, and the September 11th tragedy. Firefighters and police officers in New York refer to it as that World Trade Center thing. The WTC location itself has been rather ominously named ground zero by the media. Rescue and recovery personnel in lower Manhattanas if to dull raw nerves so malevolently exposedhave dubbed it simply the site. This "failure" of words is strangely comforting though, perhaps because it reminds us that some things are bigger than all of us and resist being labeled in conventional ways. Sometimes words may seem similarly inadequate in our work and lives. When this happens, it helps to think of these rare failures as exceptions that prove the rule that words are, indeed, the most powerful weapons on earth.

Our Words Matter

As for those of us who make our living with words, we may be called technical writers, information architects, content developers, translators, or some as yet uncoined term, but we all do the same thing. We enable users to understand and, therefore, use products better. Sometimes we forget that our words don't just happen; they are the result of deliberate choices we make in placing one word after another. Those choices may not seem very noblethey may not "sing"but they are vital nonetheless. And although they occasionally fail, most of the time our words succeed in teaching, supporting, and meeting a need. What more could we ask?

For more information on how you can help the victims of our American tragedy, visit

is president of the Boston Chapter STC. In his day job, he is president and founder of ArchiText Inc., a provider of localization and globalization services.