The Difficult Arts Of Reading And Writing

by Oliver Klimek on July 16, 2011

Reading and writing are some of the most basic skills in life, and you learn them (hopefully) as soon as you go to school, or even earlier. but there is more to writing than just putting down sequences of letters, and there is more to reading than just deciphering words. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes it is not so easy as you may think. Non-literary writing is all about making the reader understand what you have in mind. And reading such texts requires you to grasp the meaning behind the words on screen or paper.

Sometimes this may even be the source of conflict, as I learned myself last week. I received quite a bashing from a few people for my blog post and forum contributions regarding the new Amrut Herald release. And in hindsight, sometimes reading and sometimes writing was to blame.

The way I expressed my subjective conclusion that Amrut seems unhappy with their short maturation times derived from a forum statement could well have been mistaken as a quote that the original poster was implying this unhappiness. Mea culpa from my side here. Of course this created a stir, and of course this also reinforced the opinion of those who have known for long that the blogosphere is full of self-proclaimed whisky experts who in reality don’t have much of a clue.

But the coin also has a flip side. My statement “it is very doubtful if the 18 additional months can have a real impact on the character of the whisky” was turned into a “claim that the maturation period is too short to have any effect” and called “plain wrong”. Yes I have doubts, and I have explained in quite some detail why I have them. But a doubt is not a claim. A doubt leaves room for being convinced that it may be different. A claim denies that. Also “stretching the concept” in regard to Helgoland being called an archipelago is not the same thing as a denial. It may be not incorrect, but it is at the far end of the scope of meanings for the word.

The conclusion can only be: As a writer, be extra careful how you put your words. Rest assured that I will. As a reader, think twice before using absolute terms like wrong or claim when criticizing a text. I will always be open to be corrected, if I make factual errors. But subjective opinions and notions like doubts or suspicions should not be mistaken for claims of facts. Many things can be seen from different angles, and especially with such complex issues as whisky maturation, the truth – if there is any – can only be found by comparing before-and-after casks samples.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith July 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Oliver,
I’ve personally decided not to comment on any of the Amrut articles or forum posts as I have no strong feelings either way about this bottling and, I guess I may find it hard to acquire one for personal review, but what I will say is that with regards to reading and writing, this is possibly much more difficult when one is doing so in a different language to one’s own native one.

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Interested July 17, 2011 at 11:44 am

You said that:
“My statement “it is very doubtful if the 18 additional months can have a real impact on the character of the whisky” was turned into a “claim that the maturation period is too short to have any effect” and called “plain wrong”. Yes I have doubts, and I have explained in quite some detail why I have them. But a doubt is not a claim.”
But this sounds more like a claim to me:
“It is the geographic equivalent of a cask finish, with the difference that re-casking has a true impact on the whisky.”
Going of your own definition the above statement is not a doubt so must be a claim:
“a doubt is not a claim. A doubt leaves room for being convinced that it may be different.”

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Oliver Klimek July 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

The claim is that a cask finish has a true impact. I think we all agree about this. The difference to the “loaction finish” is that there the impact is doubtful.

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Interested July 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

The problem is that you do not state that it is doubtful. You say that the geographic finish does not have a true impact on the whisky.

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Oliver Klimek July 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Why should I need to state it again? I had already written before that for me the impact is doubtful. You even quoted this sentence. I suppose the reader has not forgotten this when reaching this passage. So I see nothing wrong with opposing this doubtful location finish to the factual cask finish. It looks like you really are trying to find a fly in the ointment here ;-)

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Interested July 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

You can not make one supposition at the beginning of an article then state it as fact for the rest of the article unless you specifically state something like “for the purposes of this article I will be assuming that…”. This is the problem with amateur bloggers, they do not have the background necessary to know these things or an editor to point out to them where they make such mistakes.

By your standards the peice below is perfectly fine then?

Oliver Klimek is a blogger on the internet that I doubt to be truthful.
This is the problem with the internet and the self published writers/ bloggers, they have nothing to force them to stick to the truth. They have not official bodies keeping them in check ensuring that they have evidence before publication but they have access to arguably more people than a lot of newspapers do.
Newspapers are factual and truthful, people like Oliver are not.

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Oliver Klimek July 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Sorry, but I fail to grasp the analogy between your example and my writing, especially as I did not write expressis verbis: “There is no influence” . You understand the difference mentioned in the sentence you are complaining about as “Has a true impact” vs. “Has no true impact”. I understand it as “Has a true impact” vs “Has a doubtful impact”. By having called it doubtful before, the nature of the difference should have become clear. I wonder how many readers understood it in “your” sense as opposed to “my” sense. This sentence may be ambiguous, but only if you neglect the context. If you feel more comfortable, I have no problem rephrasing it.

I may be “only” a blogger. But I stand with my name behind what I write.

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Interested July 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm

First off, I would like to get one thing straight. I may have come off on the wrong foot here, I do respect your site and love reading your tasting reviews of whisky. I find them very informative and quite close to my own likes/ dislikes.
All I was trying to do here is point out that you do have ambigious points and that it is always going to happen with bloggers as they do not tend to have editors. I think it would be a good idea for someone to start a round table of trusted bloggers who can use each other as editors before posting. It is all to easy to write something that can be misinterpreted, I have certainly done this in the past.
As to my example, you will note that at no point does it state that you are untruthful, it only states that I have doubts that you are (this is just for the example, I actually believe you to be honest and truthful) and at the end only states that people like you (bloggers) are untruthful. So at no point does it say that you are untruthful but the reader comes away with that impression. That was the only point I was trying to make.
Hope I have not caused any offence.

Peter Smart

Interested July 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm

P.S.
I am a blogger myself, but after getting caught out much like you I now get my Wife to play Editor for me.

Peter Smart

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Interested July 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm

P.S.
I am a blogger too and after getting caught out much like you have I got my Wife to play Editor for me to avoid repeats.

Peter Smart

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Oliver Klimek July 18, 2011 at 8:58 am

No offence taken, Peter. I already had the feeling that you were playing devil’s advocate here. It is a good idea to have your have your wife or another family member as your personal editor, but I am not sure if I would like a “peer review” system of other bloggers. After all a blog is a very personal thing. And also readers should not view a private blog in the same way as a professional online newspaper because they are entirely different beasts. If bloggers post their opinons, they only stand for themselves. Journalists are usually identified with the platform they write for. Newspapers or broadacsters are expected to be objective, and rightly so. Blogging in contrary is a very subjective thing. But of course this does not mean that bloggers should not be careful about what they write.

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