Being helpful

We word nerds all have our pet hates when it comes to grammar, spelling, punctuation and, well, (the misuse of) words. For what it’s worth, we can’t help it. My mother-­in­-law is an artist, paints lovely water colours. I was admiring some of her recent paintings and browsing the attached captions, helpfully pointing out spelling mistakes and that the 1900s do not have an apostrophe. Helpfully, I swear. I’ve worked as an editor in the past and reviewing documents can also be a minefield of very cautious, every-word-is-sacred (hi CJ!) diplomacy. Others are not so diplomatic such as the hilarious Miss L from transcyberia (interesting place!). Anywho, to keep being helpful, here’s a great Top 10 list of things to do to write good (an oldie but a goodie!).

HOW TO WRITE GOOD

1.  Avoid alliteration. Always.

2.  Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3.  Avoid clichés like the plague. They are old hat.

4.  Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

5.  Be quite specific.

6.  Writers should never generalise.

Seven. Be consistent.

8.  Don’t be redundant. Don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

9.  Who needs rhetorical questions?

10. Exaggeration is a million times worse than understatement.

Scrabbled

Scrabble

I love playing Scrabble, old school and on a board at that. I like crosswords too but Scrabble is better. I’m really hopeless at cryptic crosswords, I must be far too literally minded as I can usually only get a couple of the clues. But Scrabble is fun. I was wondering when Scrabble had been invented and it was back in 1938 though it didn’t take off till 1948. It was even on TV once!

A small group of my friends and I get together to play Scrabble regularly which is always fun. There’s dinner, wine and then the Super Scrabble board is brought out. Two of us are really competitive and two of us aren’t at all. Always fun watching the serious ones having conniptions about using the dictionary to look up two-letter words. I don’t have a problem with using ‘hi’, ‘um’ or ‘ut’. There are also the great charades when someone is taking too long to have their go. Setting the alarm on the stove, a phone and a watch to go off simultaneously or getting a pillow and snoring loudly at the table – oh so subtle. Serves them right for not letting us use the dictionary!

But using the dictionary (on-line or old school) when playing Scrabble can be enlightening. I never knew there was such a thing as an axone (from cell biology, it’s the appendage of the neuron that transmits impulses away from the cell body). Or that ‘ut’ was the beginning of the scale before ‘do’ (as in do, re, mi, fa etc).

My hubby doesn’t seem to have a Scrabble brain so he’s free to use a scrabble cheat site if it’s just us playing. That’s where he found axone. But I still won.

Life in the silo

It’s been a busy week at work. Meetings, workshops, a stage gate interview (it’s a project management thing). Stakeholders were engaged, we scrummed, we sought synergies, touch points and leverage points. Artefacts were, sadly, insufficiently socialised and issues were parked. The operationalisation of frameworks and strategies was discussed. So too was nomenclature and the merits of definitional taxonomy. Fertile ground indeed for this instalment of Corporate Speak.

Flick (v)

Corporate definition: To email; virtually hand a document to someone else.

Use when: Time is of the essence, and things are so urgent that the multi-syllabic word ‘email’ will simply take too long.

Used in a sentence: ‘I’ll need you to flick me that project business case before sundown if there’s to be any chance of mutual outcomes’.

Silo (n, adj)

Corporate definition: A metaphorical fortress of non‑collaboration.

Use when: You’re well and truly fed up with people not seeing the light.

Used in a sentence: ‘For a more robust understanding of these paradigm shifts, we all need to get out of the silo.’

‘Siloed thinking of that sort will get us nowhere.’

Traction (n)

Corporate definition: Stakeholder interest or buy-in. Support for an idea or proposal.

Use when: Describing how you gained stakeholder interest, support for an idea or swayed someone’s opinion.

Used in a sentence: ‘In order to realise her plan for a more Google-like office environment, Bianca sought traction from her director to install a sandpit.’

Any other Corporate Speak clangers you’d like to share?

Listless

List

I’m not really a list person. I vaguely think of things I need to do or get. I sometimes compile a list of DVDs I’d like to watch but throw it out when I’m cleaning up the lounge room. I save lists of ‘books you must read before you die’ when I see one. But in my heart of hearts I’m not a list person. Some people are: they have shopping lists, to do lists, Christmas presents lists. They get an endorphin rush from crossing things off their list.

My friend CJ loves lists. CJ is also a very organised person so this fits. Amongst her lists is her Top 5 list of words she’d like to see removed from the English language. Her top 5 (in no particular order, I checked) are: cookies, panties, c**t, fries (though ‘French fries’ is OK) and moist (but moisturise is OK). The reasons are: it’s a biscuit; it’s a silly word; it’s an obnoxious word; American (unless prefaced with French) and just yuck. This got me thinking about my Top 5 list of words that I would like removed. As I pondered I realised I didn’t have five, only four (which is more instagramish at least) and I’d rather they weren’t removed – I object to censorship. So, in no particular order, I detest the words c**t, tits, yo (but I quite like yo-yo) and bloody. My reasons being: it’s obnoxious; it’s an ugly expression; sounds so dopey and sounds ugly (plus the connotation is too).

Any other words that need a smack out there? Or how about words being misused or abused?

Image used with permission from Microsoft.

Mangled metaphors

Metaphors are a figure of speech with a comparison between one thing and another to convey meaning. Usually a metaphor is comparing an actual thing with a figurative thing to explain a figurative concept. For example, ‘she was broken hearted’ doesn’t mean her heart was broken or she had cardiomyopathy but rather that she was hurt, sad and miserable.

Metaphors also have relatives: the simile (cute as a kitten, happy as a clam, fly like an eagle), the hyperbole (you could have knocked me over with a feather, as old as the hills) and the antithesis (Charles Dickens really liked them: ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…’).

All are used to convey meaning and illustrate a point.

Metaphors can be effective, poetic, beautiful and illustrative – here are some great examples. They can also be mangled. Which is of course where the fun starts. My darling husband is a very smart man – he has a masters degree, he has studied physics, he gets the History of Time, he can fix things around the house. He is a great mangler of metaphors. Many moons ago when we were still ‘dating’ and getting to know one another, he accepted my invitation to a BBQ enthusiastically emailing that he’ll be there ‘with boot on!!!’. He came to the BBQ with shoes, no boot, boots or bells either but with said enthusiasm. It’s remained a family joke for years now – the whole clan goes to things with ‘boot on’.

Another, more recent mangling was his reply to ‘what’s taking you so long in there [the bathroom]?’. ‘I’m pimping and pruning!’ Surely not. I would expect more noise. Rather ‘primping and preening’, aka ‘shaving’. Still, a good giggle to start the day.

Please share any mangled metaphors that you’ve come across. We’ll have more fun than a barrel of monkeys or a tornado in a trailer park.

What’s a big word for ‘begin’?

I’ve long been fascinated with language and words, with writing and meaning and with the wider realm of all things communication. I’m multi‑lingual (but rusty!) and love how sounds can be unlocked and become meaningful language. I also remain utterly convinced that there is a word for anything and everything in some language, somewhere.

Wordy Goodness is, as you’d expect, a blog about words. I will be posting about individual words – there will be a series of regular segments such as Corporate Speak and Top 5 – but I will also post about groups of words. Maybe a turn of phrase I like (or not), a powerful metaphor, a funny sentence, a paragraph that made me laugh or cringe or reflect. Something that struck a chord with me.

I’m not a linguist and certainly not an academic but will always try to make things informative or, failing that, thought provoking and open to discussion.

And so to begin (or initiate, commence, inaugurate or launch), here is my first installment of Corporate Speak. All Corporate Speak entries are true stories from my project management day job in a big (Dilbertesque – is that a word?!) corporation:

Learnings (noun)

Corporate definition: Something learned; knowledge gained from something; the outcomes of learning. Rather like a ‘lesson’ but better.

Use when: Describing the outcomes of acquiring new knowledge or information when the words ‘lessons’ or ‘insight’ don’t exude enough character.

Used in a sentence: ‘To ameliorate our core competencies, we must reflect upon the key learnings from the conference.’