Two kinds of language – and a dam letter event

It’s odd how many people, once they become corporatised or bureaucratised, lose their powers of strong, effective, colourful speech.

Here’s an interesting exchange of letters. It’s from a few years back, but it’s worth recalling because it illustrates the difference between two kinds of communication.

In one kind, it’s not considered odd to refer to “the above referenced parcel of property“ or to “a rain event”.

In the other kind, you hear the vivid speech of a human being.

Letter one

Here are some extracts from the first letter. It’s from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to a man called Ryan DeVries.

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. DeVries: It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity …

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition …


David L. Price

District Representative and Water Management Division

If he fails to comply, Mr DeVries is threatened with “elevated enforcement action” – does that mean that he will be hanged?

Letter two

Mr DeVries replies, confirming that he was the “legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane, Trout Run, Pennsylvania”. He added:

“A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood ‘debris’ dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of nature’s building materials ‘debris’ …

As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity …

‘Please contact the beavers’

If you want the stream ‘restored’ to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers …

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream.

They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond …

So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now …

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality, health, problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone …

Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.


So, which of the two would you prefer having a chat with? Mr David L Price, or Ryan DeVries?

Posted in Language Tagged with: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *