Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Service of What Happened to the Word FROM and Other Omissions

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Something's missing

There’s a commercial for 1800gotjunk.com that ends, “you never have to take off work.” And for years people have said—and written—“I graduated high school.” So what happened to the missing word FROM? I am far from a perfectionist when it comes to conversation but I miss hearing that word.

Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

In a morning show radio discussion of other March blizzards in NYC in anticipation of tomorrow’s storm, the host brought up the “great blizzard of 1888” [that Wikipedia reported dumped some 40 inches of snow in parts of N.Y. and N.J. and up to 58 inches in Mass. and Conn.]. In predicting this week’s expected snowfall the host repeatedly left out the word IN when he said “anticipated precipitation Central Park.” That was the first I heard a missing “IN” and I hope it doesn’t become a habit.

This led to irritating abbreviations. I’ve recently heard on newscasts the word “presser,” short for press conference. Is it too difficult to say “press conference?”

Information technology expert Josh Cintrón shared a contraction he dislikes: “phoner” for phone interview. He admits to being a stickler for word choice and referenced the ridiculous image of someone who had just “caught the train.” He added, “not for nothing,” a phrase that may make some people cringe. But we agreed that we’ve become fond of this typical NYC double negative. [Who said we had to be consistently picky?]

When someone tells actor Daniel McHenry that they are “fixing dinner” he wonders “who broke it?”

Are there any missing or erroneous words or abbreviations that irk you? Do we drop words or parts of them simply out of laziness?

 

Photo: elitereaders.com

Photo: elitereaders.com

 

 

 

 

Service of the Language of the Lazy: Name-Calling Beats Learning the Facts

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Lazy 2

As a child I often heard the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but I never believed it because if someone slung a nasty name at me, I always felt insulted. And once when I was very young a bus driver was abusive to my mother. I don’t recall his exact words, but I have a vivid memory of the feeling in the pit of my stomach left by his name-calling. That’s probably one reason some adults continue to resort to this technique.

But there’s another: It’s the language of the lazy. The slothful version of “When you leave your shoes all over the house I find it both unattractive and dangerous–someone could trip and fall,” is to point at the sneakers and loafers and grunt, “You’re a pig.”

Instead of saying, “I wish that more devout Muslims would explain how they feel about ISIS and what they suggest the most effective way might be to arrest the movement,” the lazy version is “Muslims are evil.”

Photo: blog.lawcanvas.com

Photo: blog.lawcanvas.com

This is Trump’s specialty, from the cruel nicknames he gives political opponents to the childish rant he snapped at Secretary Clinton during the last debate, calling her a “nasty woman.”

It’s also a foolproof technique to avoid having to know more than a few words about any subject. The easy answer to “What is your policy about ______” is “what a stupid question.” Conversation over.

Why bother to explain your position when you can resort to one of the names he called columnist Marc Thiessen: “failed.” Failed, failing–or some version of the word–is a Trump favorite. Thiessen is in good company. Trump also tweeted this description of The New York Times, Jeff Zucker president of CNN, The New York Daily News, John R. Allen, retired US Marine General, The National Review, to name a few who haven’t seen eye to eye with him.

George Will. Photo: washingtonpost.com

George Will. Photo: washingtonpost.com

Who is the “really dumb puppet?” The editor of the Fox News Channel, Chris Stirewalt. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press is “pathetic;” members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board are “dummies;” columnist George Will is “broken down, boring and dopey;” Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore is “a joke” and Donna Brazile, DNC chairwoman is “totally dishonest.” Isn’t name-calling easier than parrying with facts to address what each of these organizations, reporters, columnists or executives may have written or said about him or his proposed policies? I’ll say.

Thank you to Jasmine C. Lee and Kevin Quealy of The New York Times for collating “The 282 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List,” the source of the name-calling noted above.

The technique was effective enough to land Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential candidate. Why do you think so much of society today finds this appropriate behavior to be praised and rewarded? What happened for this to be so? Will this approach impact how we all interact going forward?

Photo: Parade

Photo: Parade

Service of Words that Irritate

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Photo: girardatlarge.com

Photo: girardatlarge.com

I’ve written before about jargon that has driven me nuts since I first heard it. Judy Schuster wrote recently: “I’d love to see a post about the awful words that are being coined by people in business and in the media.”

I expanded the topic to also cover words and/or acronyms—even a phrase– that irritate.

Photo: abovethelaw.com

Photo: abovethelaw.com

Schuster shared some words that inspired this post:

  • Repurpose (she once threatened to wash a colleague’s mouth out with soap if he used it again)
  • Right sizing (otherwise known as layoffs)
  • Incentivize
  • Efforting  

Daniel McHenry, an actor, asked: “Why do people make up words? What’s the point of having a language?” He shared these examples:

  • Brexit
  • Gynormous

Two young information technology experts—Josh Citrón and Brandt Ziegler–objected to the IT buzzword

  • Quiesce—to momentarily/temporarily stop or pause or disable.

They added:

  • Leverage our synergy to maximize our outcomes
  • Core competencies
  • Market volatility
  • ROI

    Photo: simparel.com

    Photo: simparel.com

While on the subject of words, Citrón and Ziegler couldn’t stop.

  • One dislikes it when people say “On accident,” instead of “By accident” and he shivers when he hears the word “moist.”
  • Citrón objects to all the ____gate words such as travelgate or deflategate [to describe under-inflated Patriots footballs].

If you listen to enough political talk on cable, you hear words the pundits pick up and repeat, like a tossed basketball, from evening to evening, such as “writ large” [MSNBC had an outbreak of this one a few weeks ago]. Eventually writ large made my teeth grind. Did you hear dystopia make the rounds? The word means “an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one,”—Google. [See the photo below.] I heard President Obama use it at least once in a press conference or speech after the Democratic convention.

Doesn’t it feel great to get annoying words or expressions off your chest? Do you have any to add? Do some of the ones listed also irritate you?

Photo: leeswames.wordpress.com

Photo: leeswames.wordpress.com

Service of Words That Should be Changed or that Need No Embellishment

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Forbidden word

Pick Another Word

The people who selected key words in the following examples didn’t think of their impact on others.

  • Words have powerIn this first instance, the name of a clinic was selected from the point of view of health professionals. It didn’t have patients in mind. A friend, I’ll call her Nora, received a call from out of the blue from the “Survivorship Center.” At first she thought it was a scam and that the person on the line was asking for funds. She’d been going for checkups to the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During the call she learned that the nurse practitioner she’d seen for years was leaving the Institute and that she was now assigned to the Survivorship Clinic. Nora told me: “I don’t like being categorized as a ‘survivor,’ and I don’t want to be a card-carrying member of such a group. I’m not ashamed of having had breast cancer, but that I had it shouldn’t be part of my identity.” She was infuriated when she received a letter in the mail with the clinic’s name on it. She hasn’t blasted the news of her previous illness and resented that the postal worker saw the name of the clinic. She felt it was an invasion of her privacy. In a second call to this clinic Nora told the person she spoke with that she thought that the name was dreadful—even tacky. Her response was that Nora was free to go elsewhere.
  • Then there was a word I’ve referenced before: Relocatable. That’s what the Air Force called a certain type of housing back in the day. The word focused on how the structure might be easily moved with no regard to how it sounded to people asked to live in it. It had no appeal to those assigned to the punishing North Dakota climate known for minus 60 degree temperatures and ferocious winter winds. The word implied flimsy and evoked images of belongings flying in the air should a Wizard of Oz-strong cyclone hit. Many of the relocatables remained empty in spite of a base housing shortage.Redundancy

Redundant: You Are or You Aren’t

 

  • I sat up straight when I heard a supporter describe a political candidate as “very, very honest.” There are some words that need no embellishment. Honest is one of them.
  • Queen Anne-style armchair

    Queen Anne-style armchair

    With furniture, if a piece imitates an original, the word “style” clarifies what it is, as in “Victorian-style chest,” or “Queen Anne- style chair.” But a doctor, artist, PR person or bus driver is or isn’t.

  • In this context, early one morning last week Len Berman told his listeners about a UK-based company that is now set up to work in NYC to fight parking tickets. It bills itself as “the world’s first robot lawyer.” As the WOR-Radio co-host of “Len Berman and Todd Schnitt in the Morning” read copy about this service he hesitated after saying “A real lawyer” and repeated, “real lawyer?” then continued. I, too, would have paused. Is there an unreal lawyer?
  • Len Berman

    Len Berman

    Do certain words that name a service, organization or product rub you the wrong way or create a negative image? Do you think that let-it-all-hang-out TV programs, where people share the most intimate information about themselves, impacted the choice of the Survivorship Clinic’s name?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” said  Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, which I thought when I heard “very” matched with “honest.” Other examples? What about the reference to a “real lawyer?”

Claire Bloom as Gertrude

Claire Bloom as Gertrude

Service of Word Choice: dictionary.com Has The Answers

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

definition

Are you familiar with fracking, incarceration and incendiary? These were words used by presidential candidates for which dictionary.com recorded brisk activity during debates for president.

Some words that President Obama used recently were “incontrovertible and overt.” The President “continues to influence word searches,” according to Rebekah Otto, director of content at the word website wrote Charles Bethea in his New Yorker article “Stumped.” Grace “trended” when the President sang “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for Reverend Pinckney.

fool“Dictionary.com has a feature called Word of the Day; its lexicographers send vocabulary words to a subscriber list of nineteen million,” wrote Bethea. “Sometimes the linguists appear to be editorializing. Last Friday, after two more town halls, the site offered ‘ninnyhammer’ (‘a fool or simpleton’). Other recent selections, following primaries and caucuses: ‘rabble-rouser’ (‘Our users love agent nouns like this,’ Otto said), ‘rodomontade’ (‘vainglorious boasting or bragging’), and ‘skulduggery’ (‘dishonorable proceedings’).”

The content director loves it when words are misused such as when, in her speech endorsing D. Trump, Sarah Palin spoke of “squirmishes.” Otto described the word as “an unintentional portmanteau marrying squirm and skirmish.” She confirmed that bigly is a word, if little used. Trump chose it when he announced his candidacy.

Photo: cnn

One of the most intriguing aspects of Bethea’s column was Otto’s analysis of words most used by candidates during recent debates. Because unscripted they are more telling–“exploring each candidate’s linguistic essence.” Otto listed: “Clinton: systemic, children, seller. Sanders: speculation, tuition-free, cease-fire. Cruz: utterly, whatsoever, booming. Kasich: blue-collar, surplus, formula. Trump: nasty, sudden, tremendous.” Otto noted that the two Democrats use “concrete language” vs. the Republicans who use “descriptive language,” adding “with the possible exception of Kasich.”

Bet you can guess which candidate made which quote when Clinton and Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee–AIPAC:

  • “If we look at the broader regional context, converging interests between Israel and key Arab states could make it possible to promote progress.”  
  • “What kind of demented minds write that in Hebrew?”

Were you familiar with all the words that Bethea reported generated vigorous searches on dictionary.com or that the staff selected for its Word of the Day? I didn’t know either ninnyhammer or rodomontade. What can you tell about a candidate by his/her word choice? What about the citizens who look up the words—are they curious or uneducated?

Curious George 2

Service of Specificity: Bias-Free Language and Politics

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

 

 

Photo: sacnas.org

Photo: sacnas.org

I first read about this University of New Hampshire language guide kerfuffle on The Daily Beast and then linked to Holly Ramer’s Associated Press story, “UNH president offended by bias-free language guide,” on the pressherald.com.

Ramer wrote: “The president of the University of New Hampshire says he’s troubled and offended by many parts of a ‘bias-free language guide’ developed by students and staff, particularly a suggestion that using the word ‘American’ is problematic because it fails to recognize South America.”

She added: “He [Mark Huddleston] says it’s ironic that a well-meaning effort to be sensitive ended up being offensive to many people, including himself.” He made clear that “free and unfettered speech” is the policy of the university, not the language guide.

UNH unh.eduA few days later The Washington Post’s Janell Ross picked up the story in her “The Fix” column. She added a layer to the story that explained why we are now reading about a guide first published two years ago. “What has followed is a takedown of what a young conservative journalist and his editors regarded as a kind of fiendish political correctness happening at the University of New Hampshire. Of course, the guide at the center of this story is itself intended as a takedown on cultural insensitivity. Wheels within wheels.”

Peter Hasson is the “young conservative journalist,” a Texas correspondent for a conservative online publication, CampusReform.org, “wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute’s founder and president, told me.” [Janell Ross is the “me.”]

In addition to “American,” according to Ross, Hasson listed other words he “deemed problematic” that were flagged in the guide: homosexual; illegal alien, Caucasian, mothering, fathering, foreigners. Quoting the university’s website, the purpose of the guide is to “invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.” Instead of homosexual the guide recommends “same gender loving.” Preferable to “illegal alien,” is “undocumented immigrant” or better yet, “asylum seeker.”

I’m all for changes that help improve communications, which by that definition, also removes the sting of bigotry from language and maintains accuracy and clarity. Not all these examples do that. Does “Asylum seeker” address people who only come here to find seasonal work so as to send money home?  What to do with Caucasian, defined by Google as “white skinned of European origin,” which I am. As Seinfeld and his cronies used to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” so if it applies, what is?

I first became sensitive to the American North/South issue after spending a summer in Chile, Brazil and Argentina as a teen. There, which America I was referring to mattered. But why delete the word “American” from everything? Isn’t the audience pertinent? If I’m writing about a family-owned company with headquarters in the same Massachusetts town for its 100 years, and I’m sending a press release about it exclusively to media in the U.S., a subsequent reference to “American company” is clear, accurate and unbiased.

Where do you come out in all of this: Should the president of a university know what’s on the institution’s website long before a controversial part of it hits the press? Are liberals the only ones who are sensitive to the impact of words? Is the converse true—that conservatives don’t care? Isn’t “bias-free language” a less opinionated description of what is also called political correctness? Do other countries associate word-choice with politics?

 

Photo: worldofmaps.net

Photo: worldofmaps.net

 

 

Service of Being Out of It: Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year

Monday, December 15th, 2014

words 4

Nobody ever called me hip but I try to keep up to date on words. I must have been wearing earplugs this year.

I became aware of how out of it I am when I heard on NPR that “Vape” is the word of the year according to The Oxford Dictionaries. According to NPR, “In case you’ve never frequented a vape shop, the word can apply both to breathing an e-cigarette’s vapor and to an e-cigarette device.”

I could have guessed what vape means but not the contenders: “bae” and “normcore.” NPR defined the noun “bae,” as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner and “normcore,” as “a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement.”

Some other words you may not know as defined by NPR: words 1

budtender, noun:
A person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop.

contactless, adjective:
Relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.

indyref, noun:
The referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

slacktivism, noun, informal:
Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.

Are you familiar with these words? Do you plan to add them to your vocabulary? Can you list other English words that I or others may not know?

words 3

 

 

Service of Words II

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Porch

In an article, “The Friendliest Place in the House,” Amy Gamerman advised Wall Street Journal readers not to call a porch a deck. She wrote: “As porches have grown in popularity, ‘deck’ has become the new four-letter word of high-end home design. ‘We never use the word deck, it’s a pejorative term; we always use the word porch. It could be any covered outdoor space,’ said Stephen Vanze, a partner in Barnes Vanze Architects in Washington, D.C.”

deckArrogance aside, what puzzled me was that to me a porch doesn’t resemble a deck, a covered deck is just that, so why use the wrong word for the sake of fashion or to confuse?

I take words literally. I was studying the online catalog of a prominent NYC continuing education venue to promote appropriate classes to members of New York Women in Communications. I noticed that the prices were listed “From $385” or adult education class“From $485,” or “From $Something” so I called customer service. In that context, “from” meant that the prices started at $385 or $485 and I wanted to learn what might cause them to fluctuate upwards. The customer service person confirmed that these were the prices. I suggested he ask someone to delete the confusing word in every course description and he giggled and asked why—“if they have a question they can call customer service,” he said.

Do you change terminology after reading an article like the one about porches/decks? Have you questioned a word in instructions, regarding prices or a procedure enough to have to call someone about it?

Words

Service of What’s That Again?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Say what 2

I shake my head when I hear or read what some people say or do.

Oh Really?

I listened to an interview on Bloomberg radio where the head of a corporation reported buying 37,000 foreclosed homes which the company remodeled and is now renting. The CEO’s voice oozed pride and he concluded that he especially likes it when his company can do well by communities by providing labor and attractive, affordable housing to people who couldn’t normally live so well–all made possible by the company.

Foreclosed homeThat’s what he said. Then why did I hear: “You took advantage of poor people and got their homes for a song; needed someone to fix them up so you hired workers and you’re waiting until housing prices rise before selling them at a huge profit–might as well make some money by renting them meanwhile.”

He is in business to make money and his stockholders win. I object to his putting a halo spin on the process.

 

Roots

Pack up an officeAfter 35 years a major magazine fired its editorial staff in NYC where it has been published since its founding by a New Yorker. It is heading south. About the move the publisher said “This is a chance for our editors to live the lifestyle they promote on the page.”

Why did I hear, “We’ll be able to pay lower wages and cut our overhead?” A sound business decision in this economy no doubt, but say so. Who is he fooling?

Say What

Food driveAn international discounter known for paying minimum wages launched a holiday food drive in an Ohio store asking its more fortunate workers to support others less fortunate.

Huh? Wouldn’t the store have better served its employees–and image–to give a turkey and fixings to all staffers? Then it could suggest that if some employees opted to gift the feast to a poorer family, few would object.

I wonder if some people really believe what they utter and think that they are so clever pulling the wool over our eyes? Or do they fall for what their advisors persuade them to say? Or think the public is stupid? Can you share similar examples?

 pull wool over eyes

 

 

Service of A Perfect Word of the Year: Selfie

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Oxford English Dictionary

The “Oxford English Dictionary” publishers have it right. They chose “selfie”—a photo you take of yourself to post on social media–as the word of the year.

What a perfect symbol of the “I’m the only important person in the world, look at me” attitude rampant these days.

I heard about the word choice on the day I held open a bank door for a 40-something well-dressed woman who sailed by without a grunt of acknowledgement and moments later, while crossing First Avenue, a bicyclist missed hitting me by the width of a slice of paper. Along with me she also ignored the traffic light and stopped only when a car crossed in front of her.

Selfie in carSpeaking of traffic, it’s no surprise that selfie practitioners are a danger to other drivers, passengers and pedestrians. There seems to be a trend, if not a premium, to post self-portraits shot behind the wheel. What more vivid example of selfishness is there?

My fuse is increasingly short with the takers who keep on asking me for favors, show zero gratitude and don’t even fake support of any of my initiatives. The list is growing–two instances just this week. The sad thing: I love helping others; I don’t like feeling used.

How does such a mindset affect service? What will it take to turn society away from a selfie world? Am I hopelessly out of step and instead of fighting should I join the trend? What about you?

self centered table

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