Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Service of Hidden Talent & Passion—Just Look Around You!

Monday, December 24th, 2018


I’m in awe of the talents and interests of people I know that stretch well beyond their day jobs. Here’s a preliminary list:

Elizabeth, a former newspaper reporter and office administrator whose dance card is currently filled with countless charitable projects is also a master bridge player.

Martha, who owns a Boston art gallery, speaks Italian, Greek, Portuguese, French and Japanese. She is also a news junkie.


Homer, a retired international banker, has been a skilled genealogist for 40+ years with several books under his belt. He has also become a talented and inspired cook.

Barbara, a retired physical therapist, is an accomplished baker and an expert at all things stitch-related from cross and tailoring to a range of crafts.

Nancie, one of her industry’s crack publicists, is the first to know about and attend blockbuster exhibitions, cultural, sports and fun events in NYC and around the globe.

Marketing and communications specialist Erica is a culture vulture. You’ll see her weekly in theaters and at concerts, ballets, movie houses and exhibitions.

Daniel is an administrator, pet caretaker and actor.

Photo: Joshua M. Cintrón

Edward, auto body shop owner, is active in local politics, an avid Facebook poster and remodeler of distressed properties.

David, the principal of his PR agency, is a jazz aficionado.

Josh, an IT-expert, has many passions in addition to his day job. He is also a photographer, [photo above], and amateur radio operator whose fascination covers  trains, especially subways.

Can you add to this list of remarkable people? How do they find time to work while nurturing their other talents and interests?


Service of Dónde? Où? Woher? Dove? Onde? Nerede? Gdzie? Translation: Where?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

 Taxi Tv show

I was born in Manhattan and have lived much of my life in New York City. There are miles of neighborhoods in the five boroughs I would have trouble finding in a car, GPS or no GPS. Tell me where you want to go in Russian, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese and most languages, other than French and English, and I’m lost.

Map of NYCSo apart from the fact that English has been the lingua franca in this country since its inception, does it make practical sense that speaking English is no longer a requirement of New York City cab drivers?

  • Should a Greek, Chinese or Arabic driver familiar with a different alphabet be asked to take a passenger to an address on Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, Houston Street or Columbus Circle, for example, will he/she be able to read the street sign to know that they arrived?
  • What about the crucial direction in Manhattan“East” and “West?”

Stop sign in several languagesShould I invest in a street sign business in anticipation of a lineup of street names on every pole in the most used alphabets in addition to Roman? [I wonder if the English street name will remain at the top?]

No doubt I sound harsh but my dad came to this country in his 30s and had to learn English from scratch, which he did extremely well. He also wrote beautifully. [His charming accent was to die.] Millions of others have done the same. How many generations of newcomers were forced to learn English before they were eligible for certain jobs?

Years ago I met a laborer who lived and worked in New Jersey for 50 years and if he knew 50 English words, that was a lot. He spoke his native language with neighbors and colleagues at work and local shop owners too. But I wouldn’t recommend him for the job of taxi driver.

In order to work as a cab driver or in most jobs wouldn’t you want to learn Italian, French, German, Portuguese or Japanese if you moved to Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Portugal or Japan?  Or even if you went there to live? What do you think of this new ruling?

 Bi lingual signs in Quimper



Service of Language: Yale Alumni Magazine Cover Story Touts “Bad English”

Monday, July 15th, 2013


Homer Byington didn’t sleep well Friday night and it wasn’t due to the heat. My husband was disturbed by the cover story of his college’s alumni magazine, “Why ‘bad’ English isn’t.” The writer, Peggy Edersheim Kalb, ended the article in the July/August issue of the Yale Aulmni Magazine: “But by showing that different kinds of English are used almost everywhere in the United States, [Raffaella] Zanuttini and her team are determined to teach us that variation is the rule, not the exception. And grammatical differences should be celebrated, she says. ‘You don’t have to be ashamed of a local language.’”

Zanuttini is a linguistics professor at the school. The professor and some dozen undergrads and graduate students in the university’s Grammatical Diversity Project study the arrangement of words and phrases i.e. syntax, [not vocabulary]. The team “wants you to let go of your prejudices,” according to the article’s subhead.

East West North SouthKalb again quoted Zanuttini: “ ‘Certain people want to get rid of features that are stigmatized, but that’s certain people,’ says Zanuttini. ‘Some people want to get rid of any linguistic feature that marks them as coming from the South. Other people like to have their own identity’—and those who are proud of being recognized as Southern don’t want to homogenize their language to match other parts of the country.”

Identifying and recognizing colloquial turns of phrase is nothing new but suggesting that twisting the language is acceptable merely because someone might discriminate against the speaker—or the speaker might  feel discriminated against—makes little sense. For those “proud” of being recognized as Southern as Zanuttini said, or from New England, New York, New Jersey, the Midwest, etc., let them rely on their regional accent, but leave the language alone.

Map of the USPhrases such as “ain’t nobody a man,” “We might can go up there next Saturday,” and “You know, if you drank a half a drink, you might oughta go home and sleep it off,” are spoken in New York, Texas and Utah respectively according to one of the illustrations in the article. Could you have recognized the states of origin? I couldn’t. Doesn’t that water down the argument that people enhance their identity via quirky/incorrect turns of phrase that tie them to a region?

What happened to the melting pot concept here in America?

What would the professor say about those who feel pride in their mother country? If those of us first generation Americans mimicked the way our parent or parents spoke English there would be verbal chaos. What would happen to communications?

Shouldn’t we look to places like Yale to set the standard and help us all speak English correctly? Isn’t there enough satisfaction in being an American? There’s so much we can’t change about ourselves–our DNA, color, race, age–and much, such as language, that we can.

lower the barWhat benefits are there for individuals, regions and this country to lowering the linguistics bar? Why not raise the education bar? Are these linguists ashamed of their advantages because they attend or teach at a prestigious university? If you were to move to a foreign country, even if you couldn’t ace the accent, wouldn’t you want to learn to speak the language correctly?


Service of Buzzwords II

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013


After he defined “view at 30,000 ft,” an airplane metaphor for the big picture, Matt Mecs, whose intelligence drove my first buzzwords post almost three years ago, directed me to “30 Days of Buzzwords” on Mashable. I picked just a few to whet your appetite and to leave room for a few others that caught my eye.

A talented writer and original thinker, Mecs is also director of sales at Local Focus Radio and media studies adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York. We share tooth grinding reactions to most buzzwords.

From Mashable:


Stephanie Buck wrote “If you use the web you are a ‘curator’” which she makes clear has nothing to do with the museum kind but refers to “a whole new catalog of professions, brands and tools — and most revolve around the web.” She continued: “A curator ingests, analyzes and contextualizes web content and information of a particular nature onto a platform or into a format we can understand. In other words, a curator is like that person at the beach with the metal detector, surfacing items and relics of perceived value. Only, a web curator shares those gems of content with their online audiences.”


brainstormIn “How About a glass of ideation?” Dani Fankauser explains: “Most often, when people use the term ideation, they’re referring to coming up with ideas, also known as brainstorming.”

Snackable Content

 “In our busy, media-saturated, distraction-rich lives, marketers, brands and media outlets have to work harder and faster to grab our attention, giving rise to the buzzword in question — ‘snackable content’” That’s Amy-Mae Elliott writing in “Are you hungry for ‘snackable content?’” She notes that some studies report average adult attention spans run from 2.8 to 8 seconds [the latter down four from 13 years ago.]

Social Commerce

Then there’s Lauren Indvik who covered social commerce. She quotes a marketing consultant, Heidi Cohen: “ ‘it’s ‘social media meets shopping.’”


Writes Todd Wasserman in an amusing post about the metric that I’m ruining by picking out just the core for this post: “The acronym stands for ‘key performance indicators.’” He continued: “Every industry has its own KPIs. In retail, for instance, same-store sales are a KPI, while in the auto industry they might be inventory turns or manufacturing cycle times.”

Moving away from this wonderful series:

Native Advertising, Snowfalling and Pizza Story

snowfallingJoe Pompeo, wrote “Times Editor Jill Abramson Likes ‘Snowfalling’ A Lot Better Than ‘Native Advertising’” in CapitalNY. Abramson inserted the terms in her public talk at Wired Magazine’s annual business conference.

Pompeo wrote: “‘Snowfall,’ verb: To execute the type of expensive, time-consuming, longform-narrative multimedia storytelling.”

He quoted Abramson who defined native advertising “‘for the conference set … It’s the buzzword of 2013’s business model discussions at conferences.’”

And pizza story? It’s “A massive breaking-news event that keeps reporters and editors holed up in the Times Eighth Avenue newsroom for extended periods of time. Example: the Boston bombing.”

Six More

Last, here are a few I’d saved from David Mielach’s BusinessNewsDaily’s “12 Buzzwords You’ll Need to Know in 2013.” All definitions are Mielach’s:

Advertainment— “Advertising is no longer about interrupting what people are interested in, it’s about being what people are interested in.”

Phablets— A mixture of a smartphone and tablet.

child in officeAlphanista— “Successful women in powerful positions having it all.”

Inventreprenuers— “An entrepreneur-inventor hybrid that markets and/or manufactures their own creation.”

Twinternship— “An internship where the student’s mission is to promote the company and its brands using social media such as Twitter and Facebook.”

Minergy— Someone who uses “minimal energy to get the task accomplished.”

Any buzzwords to share? Do you find them fun, exclusionary, irritating or possibly error-inducing?

 Big  bee


Service of Praise Glut

Thursday, April 21st, 2011


I love complimenting people and try to live by the adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything–but try to look for something legitimate to admire.”

I don’t think compliments happen too often after childhood when caregivers yell out “GOOD JOB” when a child turns a doorknob. I write a boss about an outstanding staffer or speedy response to my inquiry and most often get back a note that says “We appreciate your comments because most customers contact us with complaints.”

My friend Nancie Steinberg sent me Lucy Kellawy’s article, “You might be a total genius, but I wouldn’t tell you so,” in the Financial Times. Kellawy writes from London: “Last week, when a woman in our travel department booked me a flight, I sent her an e-mail: ‘That’s absolutely marvellous – thanks so much.’

congratulations“In congratulating her so warmly for doing her job, I thought I was being charming and gracious, but now I see I was actually doing something rather darker. Not only was I debasing the language, but was pushing a drug that turns people into demotivated, infantile, praise-dependent junkies.”

She goes on to tell about a colleague whose boss at his new job elaborately praised him for each and every utterance in his columns. She added: “When I said that this sounded rather nice, he gave me a scornful look. It made him think his editor stupid, which made him feel stupid by extension. To be considered a total genius for merely delivering his column on time was degrading all round.”

And she pointed out that exaggeration and overstatement is rampant in the workplace in the UK these days [American style] where all staffers are called “talent,” and an ordinary comment is referred to as “insight.”

drugs2She goes on to write: “Congratulation inflation not only damages language, it is bad for us psychologically. Praise is a Class A drug and we crave more and get upset when we don’t get any in sufficiently pure form.” She compared workers to 10 year olds in a Columbia University study where those praised for being clever gave up when given a tough task and those called diligent kept working until they met the challenge.

I disagree with Kellawy. At almost 5 pm on Friday I sent unexpected copy involving a tight deadline to Emily Moses, a junior staffer working on the New York Women in Communications account, asking her to distribute the info to two boards, expecting to see it in my email inbox on Monday. She sent it in minutes. I was elated. I thanked her then and commend her again here. Emily would move on a dime if she thought it important so why be stingy with praise?

How do you take to praise? Does it motivate or impede you? Do you dole it out generously or judiciously? Can there ever be too much?


Service of Overexposure

Monday, January 24th, 2011



Today’s post is related to an earlier one, “Service of Too Much Information,” written a year ago January [must be that time of year]. What inspired me this time was watching “The Third Man,” a 1949 movie [in black and white, natch], on Turner Classic Movies.

It achieved powerful, suspenseful moments without showing me every gory detail. One scene was in a children’s hospital ward and I saw the nurses and bits of beds but not the deathly ill patients who were there because they’d been given ineffective medicine sold to the hospital by a greedy main character. I saw no decayed body that police had freshly dug out from a grave but knew it looked horrific. The director had my imagination do the work. Great actors’ reactions to seeing these human conditions also helped.

In today’s movies, if we hear an explosion we must then see blood and guts.

It’s not just movies that leave little to the imagination: Women’s fashion trends have for several years.

radiomicAnd violent, name-calling vitriol on talk radio, cable TV and in politics are other examples of overexposure. It’s a form of taking the easy way out. It’s effortless. And it’s effective with lazy minds looking for easy answers. It takes research and thought to carry on intelligent, image-inspiring conversation.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with easy, efficient and effective in some instances: It’s what we strive for in our workdays and lives. Take digital photos, email, and social networking vehicles that allow us to communicate with editors and reporters  immediately and at miniscule out of pocket cost; smartphones that keep us in touch with people who need information without tethering us to our desks; lasers instead of knives that permit surgeons to remove cataracts and break down kidney stones while leaving patients far less debilitated.

Do you think imaginations need exercise like muscles? Do we do our brains harm by exposing them to and feeding them digested information and images, or should we chew on, envision, fantasize and process more of it ourselves?


Service of Buzzwords

Monday, September 20th, 2010

buzzwordsMatt Mecs shared some of the buzzwords that drive him crazy these days. He is an excellent writer, uses words precisely and creatively, his copy is never tired, in fact, he invents words and turns of phrases that create buzz. Matt is director of sales at Local Focus Radio and media studies adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York where, along with his strenuous job, he teaches four courses this semester.

Here’s Matt’s list of irritating buzzwords:

Hard Stop: When a person has to take that call at 4 pm s/he might say: “I’ve got a hard stop coming up.”

Bandwidth (synonym for attention span): “I don’t have the bandwidth to talk with you right now, maybe next week?”

Verticals (synonym for categories)





lowhangingfruit1Low hanging fruit

With that said

Do you eat your own dog food? Aka Do you drink your own champagne? {use your own products} Matt noted about the newer, champagne version: “Perhaps people are whistling past the recession graveyard with the talk of grander things.”

And mine [along with low hanging fruit]:

Drilling down

next-levelNext Level: “This initiative will take our marketing efforts to the next level.”

Unique {when it’s not}

Needless to say {then don’t}


Paradigm shift

Low fat

Like every few words {especially if the speaker is over 13}

Matt and I are also allergic to trite, greeting card expressions, especially when said with a straight face, but these overlap this topic. I should cover them in another post.

hipBuzzwords and trite expressions exist for the same reason: They make people feel good as well as cool, hip, connected, with-it and they are easy to use and remember.

Please tell us if any of these buzzwords annoy you and share any that we haven’t listed that have worn thin or never worked in your opinion.


Service of Words

Thursday, August 26th, 2010


A segment of “Language Matters” inspired me to again focus on words, last covered in “Service of a Typo Squad,” [June 30, 2009]. The radio program addressed how foreign languages influence English. I heard it on WHDD, National Public Radio on August 15. It wasn’t a comedy, yet I giggled at the intro. The host referred to an American CEO, whose name he couldn’t remember, who allegedly complained, “The trouble with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

digitalcameraThis program came at about the same time that a blogger, with whom I’d been working on behalf of a client, asked me to add some “app previews” to the information he’d asked for.  I thought, “I wonder if he wants to read reviews about the client’s smartphone application?” We have a ton of great reviews. But that’s not what he meant. All he wanted were digital images. Previews=photos?

I mentioned these examples to a friend who reminisced about a prominent speaker who was sharing his advice and counsel about the economy to a business audience. My friend clearly remembered this speaker’s introduction over 20 years ago. Referring to the 1980s, the guru began: “We have to be afraid of the two F’s: Fear and inflation.”

bagelsNext there is the recent New York bagel brouhaha. Based on coverage in The New York Post, the story was different from the one I heard in a typical New York City conversation with a stranger. Her angle is telling in that it both focuses on our topic and illustrates how news can be interpreted and spread. It suggests a child’s game of “telephone,” where a simple statement starts as “John ate an apple,” and after it’s whispered from one child to the next ends up: “Apple pie for dessert.”

The stranger and I were passing a huge boarded-up window of a national chain sandwich shop that was open for business, on Third Avenue and 44th Street, and she said, “I wonder if that was caused by an angry customer–like the one at Starbucks?” I asked her for the Starbucks story and she said that a woman had a tantrum because the barista asked her if she wanted butter or cheese WITH her bagel rather than ON her bagel.

According to The New York Post, in “Grammar Stickler: Starbucks Booted Me,” in a very brief piece reported on by three people–John Doyle, Rebecca Rosenberg and Annie Karni–an English professor in her 60s was ejected from the coffee shop franchise by the police for becoming enraged when she wouldn’t declare that she wanted nothing on her toasted bagel when the counterperson insisted that she respond to whether she wanted butter or cheese on it.

Some excerpts from the article:

“‘I just wanted a multigrain bagel,’ [Lynne] Rosenthal told The Post. ‘I refused to say ‘without butter or cheese.’ When you go to Burger King, you don’t have to list the six things you don’t want.'”

“Linguistically, it’s stupid, and I’m a stickler for correct English.”

“I yelled, ‘I want my multigrain bagel!’ ” Rosenthal said. “The barista said, ‘You’re not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!’ ”

While this particular post is about words, not service, this example simultaneously taps a “poor service” nerve.

pressagentAnd last, here’s the lead to a press release I just received trying to sell my business something, but I couldn’t tell you what. I don’t bash brands on this blog, so I’ve used _____ where a brand appears in the text. Oh, and this isn’t from a company I’m familiar with, such as Baldwin or Steinway, where I’d know that the service has something to do with pianos.

The lead: “In an effort to help companies around the globe increase operational efficiencies while enhancing the way they communicate with customers,  ______ and _______a leading provider of business communication solutions for document presentment [sic] and personalized customer communications, have agreed to offer _____ leading docu ment [sic] automation solution as a solution extension from ___. Available today, ___ is reselling _____’s solution under the name ‘the ___ Document Presentment application By ________.'”

Have you any amusing, ironic or interesting word stories to share?


Service of the Passive Tense

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

firing1People use the passive tense to address something painful or uncomfortable such as a death or firing: “Joe will be missed.” Those words are removed from the situation and don’t tug at heartstrings. They are impersonal and far less difficult to say than “I or we will miss Joe.” I’ve always felt that this is why people who normally speak clearly revert to an archaic, haughty turn-of-phrase like this.

responsibility1A boss or parent who wants to duck confrontation might say, “Responsibility must be taken,” instead of “Felicia, please make this happen-I’m counting on you.” The first version is so fuzzy that the speaker risks nobody within hearing distance picking up that gauntlet. The effect? I predict inactivity and more increasingly desperate passive pronouncements.

Some think the passive voice is appropriate for formal occasions because it makes them sound elegant, like a proper English butler. “It is expected that our members enjoy the holiday punch,” makes my eyes glaze over and not because I’ve had too much of the spiked potion. So much more, well, punch accompanies “Members crowd the bar from Thanksgiving through New Years for the frisky fisherman’s punch.”

mountrushmore1The passive comes in handy when a writer doesn’t know something or can’t be bothered to look it up. “Likenesses of US Presidents are carved into a South Dakota mountain,” sounds as though there’s a chunk of information somewhere when actually the writer was too lazy to look up that “Gutzon Borglum sculpted the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,  Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln into Mount Rushmore, located in the Keystone, S.D. vicinity.”

Do you use the passive tense? When? Does hearing it spoken annoy you more than reading it?


Service of Speaking the Same Language

Monday, January 4th, 2010

I was looking for my favorite At-A-Glance monthly calendar at Staples when another customer mentioned how expensive all the agendas were, opening the path to conversation. I pointed out that in spite of electronic calendars on various devices I own, for me, there’s nothing like seeing the month on my traditional, lightweight At-A-Glance, where I add birthdays, anniversaries along with meetings and appointments. I noted that friends who depend on the calendars on their handhelds have been known to miss appointments.


The man–who was in his 50s–said he didn’t own a cell phone, a BlackBerry or a computer and on his behalf, I immediately revisited the feeling of panic I had when landing in Turkey for a two year stay speaking not a word of Turkish.

How could he possibly survive today without communications tools? I think you must be tremendously brave to venture into a country where you don’t speak the language, putting yourself in a vulnerable, scary spot. This stranger deliberately and similarly cut himself off.

Which brings me to what Claudia Chow wrote in the New York Times in the column “Complaint Box/And Another Thing,” December 27, 2009:  “As an Asian woman living in various Brooklyn neighborhoods for the last 13 years, I’ve experienced a lot of discriminatory behavior – from a man jumping in front of me yelling ‘Hi-yaa’ with karate hands to being called “chicken fried rice” on a subway platform. But what made me angry enough to write this was what I witnessed while waiting for the F train. It was late on a Sunday night and the F train, as usual, was under some sort of maintenance. If you could read the subway signs, you would follow the arrow pointing to the shuttle buses. But an Asian man could not understand the signs, so he approached an M.T.A. worker for help. Instead of showing him the way, she responded by yelling ‘Speak English, you’re in America!’ then proceeded to make funny sounds to mock his language before pointing the way to the shuttle bus.” Ms Chow continued “New York is an international city; not everyone is proficient in English. I find it disgraceful that a worker representing the city would behave in such a manner toward a non-English speaker. What happened to tolerance?”


Ms. Chow’s anecdote didn’t surprise me but it makes me cringe. I’ve been a tourist in foreign cities much of my life and I don’t recall ever being dismissed in this way.

My Dad came to this country speaking not a word of English at 36 and learned the language well enough to sail through the New York Times crossword puzzle and own and run an importing business here. But when he first arrived he must have stumbled in his attempts at communication until he became proficient in English, like millions of others.

I feel ashamed of Americans who treat people with such a lack of courtesy whether they live in an international city like New York or a tiny town in the Midwest. What part of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” don’t they understand?


What are your thoughts about this kind of behavior?








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