Elizabeth Fryer: You get what you ask forElizabeth Fryer has written a memoir, My Lost Summer, about her recovery from a coma when she was a teen. Technical editing is her forte. She owns Suasive Communications, a sole proprietorship.
Last month I read a jokeâˆ’now my favoriteâˆ’in the September issue of Readerâ€™s Digest:
- â€œA wife asks her husband, â€˜Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk and, if they have avocados, get six.â€™
A short time later, the husband returns with six cartons of milk.
â€˜Why did you buy six cartons of milk?â€™ his wife asks.
He replies, â€˜They had avocados.â€™â€
I had to read it twice to â€œget it,â€ and then I read it to my husband, who failed to see the brilliance in it. He thought the wife had been perfectly clear in her directive. No, she hadnâ€™t, but I couldnâ€™t convince him of that.
Wanting to share the joke with like-minded people, who would appreciate it as much as I did, I powered up the laptop and posted it to my LinkedIn group Technical Writers in Action. I closed the joke saying, â€œIt shows that people must be clear in giving directions, leave no ambiguities, or they might get results other than what they intended. I bet the husband is a literal-minded tech writer.â€
In six days the joke garnered 11 likes, and a few people left their similar, real-life stories.
Tim James, of the Greater L.A. area, wrote of a time when he was about 10 and his mom sent him to the grocery, about a quarter mile walk. â€œMy mom had written a list that said â€˜2 1/2 gallons milk.â€™ Well, she was shocked to see me lugging home five cartons of milk. Where she meant to purchase two, half-gallon milk cartons, I purchased two and a half gallons (five cartons) of milk!â€ He didnâ€™t describe his momâ€™s reaction other than to say he wasnâ€™t punished. He did add, â€œCarrying five milk cartons a quarter of a mile at age 10 was grief enough.â€ I can just imagine it, the poor little guy.
The overseas contribution comes from the Melbourne, Australia area. Julia Williams wrote, â€œReminds me of an unpleasant experience my teenage son had after he read the instructions on a chocolate sauce squeeze bottle. It said that to microwave the sauce, you should â€˜remove the plastic lid and foil seal completely.â€™ So he removed the plastic lid and carefully wrapped the bottle with aluminum foil. Then he put it in the microwave ...â€ After rereading that one too, I laughed out loud. So did my husband.
Finally, Dick Miller, from Portland, Oregon, wrote that, â€œin the early days of personal computers,â€ he taught a class called the ABCs of Choosing a Computer. â€œMy job was to lead the lecture-discussion and then circulate around the room, offering help and adviceâ€¦. At one point, I saw a student pick up the mouseâ€¦ and place it on the computer screenâ€¦. I went over to ask her what she was doing. â€˜Oh,â€™ she said, â€™it doesn't seem to be working. Can you help?â€™â€
Her workbook â€œplainly stated, â€˜Use the mouse to drag the icon to the trash can.â€™ Whereupon she picked up the mouse, placed it over the icon on the computer screen, and dragged it in the direction of the trash can icon.â€
Mr. Miller ended his story with a moral, which seems appropriate to end this article too: â€œSometimes it's easy for those of us who know too much about something to be unable to see it through a novice's eyes. Know thy user, for they are not you!â€