Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Service of a Word

Monday, February 5th, 2024

I’ve written 27 other posts in the “word” category in 16 years. Forgive me if I already ranted about this one way back when.

It came up again the other day when a friend who owns a jewel box like antique shop in New England almost moaned as she told me that a recent visitor entered and said about her boutique, “How cute.” Why not say “charming,” or “delightful,” or “attractive?”

I think cute is almost insulting when used for anything other than a little child or pet, their clothing, photos, hairstyle and toys. I have a vintage Teddy bear. Some might call him “cute.” I think he’s handsome. But he wouldn’t mind the cute word given his origins as a toy.

I once owned a landscape in oil painted by the daughter of my mother’s friend. Its vibrant colors and composition drew me in and every time I passed it, I enjoyed the scene. When a guest—the boss of my then husband—pronounced it “cute,” I smiled, thanked and cringed quietly. He had good intentions and wanted to be nice. It may have been many things but cute wasn’t one. This happened decades ago but when I hear “cute,” I think of that exchange and my sinking heart.

No doubt 98 percent of the English-speaking world has no negative feelings about the word cute, or why it would rile anyone. I suspect that words matter little to most who are oblivious to their potential impact when uttered without malice or anger during benign conversation. Am I too sensitive about words spoken by well-meaning people?

Service of Word Fat: Unnecessary Words

Thursday, December 14th, 2023

Scott Simon, host of NPRs Morning Edition Saturday, recently interviewed Benjamin Dreyer, author of “Dreyer’s English,” and also just-retired VP, executive managing editor and copy chief of Random House.

Dreyer explained to Simon what a copy editor does—which is far more than spell checking surmised Simon. Dreyer said “copy editors do certainly attend to spelling. That’s a very important function of the job – and to punctuation. But there are so many other things that you do. And the longer you do it, the more you sort of accumulate this massive bag of tricks that you apply to every manuscript, including, for instance, pointing out to an author that, oh, you know, you’ve used the word irrevocably five times in the last 20 pages. So let’s maybe switch that up a little bit. And if you’re working on a novel, you’re going to be keeping very close track of the chronology to make sure that all the days run in the proper order and that people are aging at the same rate as the other. You’re there to do what an author might have done had an author not already looked at their manuscript 175 times.”

And, in my opinion, just as important is what Dreyer added “you are always, as a copy editor, looking for unnecessary fat that isn’t really helpful and suggesting, urging the author to consider disposing of that fat. To say that somebody is very smart almost sounds like pleading. If you want to say that somebody’s very smart, why not reach for a jazzier adjective like brilliant?”

Which brings me to a pet peeve.

Why do people insist on qualifying a greeting with “FOR THOSE WHO CELEBRATE?” When we wish someone Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Happy Passover, Happy Easter, as some examples [to which, on July 15th, my husband would have added, Happy Saint Swithin’s Day], we only wish cheer to the recipient of the salutation. No harm is meant, only good cheer and the sharing of joy. So bring it on!

Is this qualification only a NYC thing?

I welcome all and every well-meant wish. Do you? What examples of word fat in both expression and writing drive you nuts?

Service of Watch Your Menu & Words

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

When meal planning for guests we’ve learned to deal with gluten free, vegetarian and vegan requirements as well as allergies to citrus, a range of vegetables [for those with diverticulitis], and avoidance of garlic, onions or cilantro, on top of countless other foods distasteful to some.

Over the last few decades if you didn’t ask a first time dinner guest if there were things they didn’t eat it was at your peril if you wanted to be a considerate host. The focus on special food needs has exploded to the point at which it is a chore to mix friends. Some eat no meat; others only eat meat and dislike fish. Still others won’t eat plant-based concoctions or cheese and eggs and I haven’t touched on victuals on the NO list due to religious rulings. Yikes.

Now that we’ve learned to cope with food issues–meet at a restaurant might be easiest–words are today’s hottest minefield. We must filter them to get along. Here’s what I mean: I referred to another person’s son. You mean “child” I was corrected. The offspring in question is a they. And around atheists, watch yourself if you hear a sneeze. It has nothing to do with Covid-19. Never say “God bless you.” You’ll offend.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m so old fashioned or some would say without spine or principles because I welcome any greeting that’s said to please.

I wrote in March 2021 about the private NYC school whose guidelines admonished parents to use grown-ups, folks, family or guardians instead of mom and dad and caregiver instead of babysitter or nanny. That was just the start of their list of alternative words so as not to upset others.

A freshman dorm, “Big Haus,” at SUNY Purchase, a college in Westchester, N.Y., will change its name to “Central” because the original moniker, voted on by students in 1989, reminded some of prison.

I recently heard of an employee who quit after two days because she claimed those training her were disrespectful. She felt that in showing her the ropes they were speaking down to her. She said, “I am a college grad.” So are the two who were training her. Her leaving was a good move for all concerned as she wasn’t in a business that welcomed overly sensitive employees who expected to be able to do their own thing without direction.

How, when entertaining at home, do you handle menus when you’ve invited people with a range of food preferences? Have you learned to watch your words? Do you feel sometimes that you’ve lost phrases that represent your tradition? Do these requirements or demands to be super sensitive to others have the opposite effect and rather than bringing us together do they feed and/or set the stage for our seemingly insurmountable political divides?

Service of Watch What You Say: Deep Six “Diet” and “Old”

Thursday, December 16th, 2021


Image by Skica911 from Pixabay 

I’m surprised that there are only 24 entries in the “words” category on this blog. Two recent articles in media report that marketers are avoiding “diet” and anything to do with “old.”

“‘Zero sugar’ has replaced ‘diet’ for many no-calorie soft drinks,” wrote Danielle Wiener-Bronner on cnn.com. “Canada Dry and Schweppes ginger ales, 7Up, A&W and Sunkist, made by Keurig Dr Pepper, now label their diet drinks ‘zero sugar.’ (One exception is the namesake Dr Pepper brand, which will still come in ‘diet’ packaging in addition to a different zero sugar version.) The reason for the overhaul: The word ‘diet’ has fallen out of fashion — especially for Millennials and Gen Z-ers.” Millennials are 25-40 years old and Gen Z-ers 9-24.


Image by Vesa Minkkinen from Pixabay

Wiener-Bronner reported that Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, said that the offended are bothered by both the word and the concept–Gen Zers don’t want to follow diets–“But distaste for the word diet doesn’t signal an aversion to no-calorie beverages.” These sodas “hit the mainstream in the 1960s.” The market reached $11.2 billion in 2020 and is growing faster than the standard sodas with sales of $28.2 billion that year, up 19.5% and 8.4% respectively.

The Key to Marketing to Older People? Don’t Say ‘Old.,'” was The New York Times headline for Corinne Purtill’s article. “According to company lore, the idea for Nike’s CruzrOne sneaker — a well-cushioned, thick-soled running shoe that debuted in 2019 — originated with a conversation between a Nike designer, Tinker Hatfield, and the company’s co-founder Phil Knight”. Knight, in his 80s, slow runs 8 miles a day.

“By positioning the CruzrOne as a shoe with excellent support for runners who — for whatever reason — go at an extremely slow pace, Nike can offer a product designed for the older athlete to the general market. It’s a perfect example of what Rob Chess, a Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer, calls ‘stealth design’: a product that addresses specific needs of older consumers in a form that doesn’t scream, well, ‘old.'”

“You basically put all these elements in that make it much more usable by an older customer, but you don’t necessarily advertise and play up those elements,” Mr. Chess said. “Or if you do, you certainly don’t position them as, you know, ‘Gee, we’re doing this for older people.’ (A Nike spokesperson declined requests for interviews.)”

Have you noticed other words marketers avoid?


Service of the Best Way to Say ……

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

You don’t have good news to share and you want to say something positive but the bottom line is that there’s nothing upbeat or cheerful about the conversation. How do you best construct your words?

For example:

You accept a job with a dream position in the wings that finally comes through after a few weeks. How do you word your exit?

A longtime advisor at a prestigious company moves to a tiny unknown firm and you have solid reasons not to follow. What do you say to her/him?

The chef comes over to your table and asks “how is dinner?” and it’s barely OK. You smile and respond what?

A tech person at a doctor’s office is nice but subpar. How do you tell the doctor so that the person doesn’t retaliate the next time you go?

Can you add other scenarios in which you want to carefully choose you words? How would you address some of the ones in this post?


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Service of Replacing Words: Deep-Six Mom and Dad

Monday, March 15th, 2021

At risk of sounding like a broken record, having recently written “Service of What’s Next in Whitewashing the Past?” I couldn’t let this story go by without piping up.

A NYC private school for children in junior kindergarten through 12th grade–Grace Church School–published in September a language guide/glossary of acceptable words. News only recently spilled beyond the school community.

Here are some of the guide’s recommendations:

  • Rather than mom and dad use grown-ups, folks, family or guardians and caregiver, not nanny/babysitter.
  • Say people, folks or friends instead of boys and girls or ladies and gentlemen.
  • Replace “What are you? Where are you from?” with “What is your cultural/ethnic background? Where are your ancestors/is your family from?”
  • Don’t ask a classmate where they’ve been on vacation because they may not have gone anywhere and don’t say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
  • Use physically disabled, not handicapped.

I read several sources and I post quotes and the word suggestions above from all. So as not to weigh down the copy with each attribution, I here credit nbcnews.com, cbslocal.com, foxnews.com, dailymail.co.uk and nypost.com for the compilation. The NY Post published a longer list of preferred words from the 12-page “Grace Inclusive Language Guide,” developed to reflect the school’s mission. (Tuition at the school is $57,330 a year.)

According to the guide, “families are formed and structured in many ways. At Grace Church School, we use inclusive language that reflects this diversity. It’s important to refrain from making assumptions about who kids live with, who cares for them, whether they sleep in the same place every night, whether they see their parents, etc.

“While we recognize hateful language that promotes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are already addressed in our school handbooks, we also recognize that we can do more than ban hateful language; we can use language to create welcoming and inclusive spaces.”

School head George P. Davison wrote: “We understand the power of language both to include and to cause alienation. We also know that it is our job to give community members resources to allow them to make informed and generous choices. If the boorish ‘cancel culture’ press wants to condemn us a newly dubbed ‘Woke Noho’ school of politeness, dignity and respect, then I embrace it, and I hope you will too.”

And he said: “We’re not telling people not to call their parents mom and dad. That’s the silliest thing anybody ever came up with. And its not even a word police. It is rather a guide to inclusive language, if you want to use it.”

Which of the recommendations do you agree with? Have you changed your word choices to be more sensitive to others? Should other schools publish similar guidelines? Is specificity lost with these word change suggestions?

Service of Because I Say So: When is a Hope a Lie?

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

I ordered something on the Internet and tracked its whereabouts a day after receiving an email stating “your order has shipped.” Someone had printed a label. Would you call that “shipped?”

I’ve largely represented consumer products, organizations and events in my  career–no politicians or controversial issues. I’ve counseled clients when I thought they might word a description in a different way–a pattern featuring a green leaf is not “unique”–or suggested they drop an unsuitable element from their special event. Sometimes clients agree, sometimes not. I resigned one account run by a person whose inappropriate behavior and demands would have rubbed off on my reputation.

Nobody can counsel the president. I wonder if any try. He discourages me when he raises false hope and makes inaccurate declarations. The headline on Berkeley Lovelace’s article on cnbc.com, “Trump says U.S. may have coronavirus vaccine ‘far in advance’ of end of the year,” quotes the president from his August 3rd news briefing. He didn’t soften it with “I wish,” or “I hope” –which we all do. He declared it.

We want to believe it. Maybe he knows something we don’t know. But it doesn’t seem that way.

Vaccinologist and physician Gregory Poland, MD, of the Mayo Clinic predicted in an interview on WOR 710 Radio yesterday morning that the soonest we can expect a vaccine approved for emergency use would be early in 2021 though March/April for full use would be more likely. Even then, there wouldn’t be enough vaccine for everybody and essential workers would be inoculated first.

Is false hope a successful strategy if expectations are consistently dashed? Should a leader treat citizens as some adults do children declaring regardless of what it’s about–audience size,  state of the economy, vaccine readiness– “it’s true because I say so”?

Service of Patching Up a Bad First Impression

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

 

I once thought I had an infallible instinct where first impressions are concerned but I’ve been wrong too many times in both directions—thinking that someone’s great or creepy when they’re not. Regardless, first impressions are a fact of life.

Some can’t be salvaged. There was the college freshman dressed for the beach at an interview for a scholarship where the judges and all other candidates wore business attire. Her mother tried to rescue the faux pas by claiming the wardrobe choice had been hers. It didn’t work: Competition for the generous scholarships was too keen.

In this regard, Sue Shellenbarger, who wrote “The Next Step After a Bad First Impression at Work,” in The Wall Street Journal, shared an opposite situation from which there was also no return. A job candidate wore a tailored black suit and heels to a job interview at a fashion house where all the employees dressed in casual hippie-style attire. [My opinion: She was vying for a job requiring digital skills and should have taken 10 seconds to look at the company’s website before the interview which might have given her a tip.]

Nevertheless, wrote Shellenbarger, “It’s possible to recover from a bad first impression. But it takes time, effort and some nuanced skills.”

According to the reporter, quoting the author of “No One Understands You and What To Do About it,” Heidi Grant Halvorson, there’s a “tendency for the first few things people notice about someone to influence how they interpret information later.” Grant Halvorson also mentioned confirmation bias that “causes people to notice only details that confirm what they already believe. ‘People see what they expect to see,’ she says.”

If you learn that someone who has a bad impression of you is to be your new boss Grant Halvorson suggests you try to “build familiarity with a casual greeting or wave” at the gym or cafeteria—be seen frequently, but don’t stalk.

Other suggestions from experts Shellenbarger quoted follow. I don’t agree with them all:

  • Be early for meetings for a long time if you were late to one
  • Subtly inform a senior executive of your experience, if their impression is that you have little, by emailing the person via LinkedIn and weaving in examples that prove otherwise the next time you speak with them
  • Root for the same sports team to “dispel bias”
  • Make fun of your blunder to ease tension
  • Follow up a job interview where coverage of your accomplishments was weak, by sending strong work samples to dispel the notion
  • A job applicant who admitted to prison time for dealing meth came to the interview with a list of “self-improvement efforts” illustrating that he was no longer a criminal and the names of solid references, “prepared to answer the tough questions.” He was hired and became one of the best employees.

Have you salvaged a bad first impression or helped a colleague or friend do so? Do you think it’s an impossible, useless task and you’d best lick your wounds and move on? Do any of the tips translate to personal relationships?

Service of What Happened to the Word FROM and Other Omissions

Monday, March 13th, 2017

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.

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?

 

 

 

 

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

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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.”

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.

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?

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