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Language Log

Monday, Apr. 17, 2006 - 3:20 p.m.

One thing I can't seem to get right when it comes to institutional communication is that when I send emails in an official capacity, I should not try to be helpful or personable. I should not try to give useful information that will help contextualize why the fuck it is taking so long to make, say, decisions about language offerings. People either don't care, or it confuses them even more.

So for example, I have recently learnerd that the following is BAD: "Right now the language does not have enough students to allow us to offer it. However, one person has expressed an intent to apply. If she does so, then we would have enough students to allow us to consider offering Language X."

GOOD: "[absolutely lack of communication]" or "We don't have enough students to allow us to offer Language X. Please pick another language or contact us for an refund of your application fee."

See, I thought, the bad one would be good, since it would be a) providing some information at a time when people are hounding me about making their travel plans, and b) it wouldn't be prematurely telling them to get lost. But apparently, it's too much info. Because then the people who I have tried to help write to other program organizers to say "what the hell?" because they think maybe it's just me who doesn't know the answer, and ask things like "please let us know if the other person is going to apply or not."

To which I have a list of ways not to respond to such queries, such as "Sorry, I seem to have lost my crystal fucking ball." Apparently even "I wish I could tell the future, but I can't." is a little unacceptable. So is "If I knew that, this whole goddamned thing would have been a lot easier". I haven't figured out how to say more or less exactly that in a non-rude, institutionally-appropriate way.

Seriously, though, I see why bureaucrats can be so unhelpful sometimes. Helpfulness is punished by the system.

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