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Words Words Words

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017


A newish reader called me, mainly, he said, to see if I really did answer my phone (the number and an invitation to call is prominently displayed in the right-hand column). He seemed even more surprised that I would take time to chat.

The conversation covered several topics, but the question I found most appropriate to mention here was, “Do you really think word choice and punctuation make all that much difference or is it just your own personal hang-up?”

Fair question and one I’ve heard before.

Regarding the importance of punctuation I referred him to the lost lawsuit in yesterday’s post, which he hadn’t read, yet.

As to the importance of word choice you need to look no further than the care taken by the shared economy giants, such as the UK’s Deliveroo when referring to their non-employees.

The critical importance of using the correct terms (click the link above for a sample) can be found in Deliveroo’s bend-over-backwards effort to avoid having the government class their non-employees as employees, with all the associated rights and costs.

The six pages of do’s and don’ts are meant to serve as a template for how staff should speak to and about its couriers (though it prefers to call them “independent suppliers”). For example, they want to avoid saying “We pay you every two weeks”, preferring the more obtuse passive phrase, “Rider invoices are processed fortnightly.”

Words are incredibly powerful, as I wrote way back in 2009; more than 50 years ago James Thurber concurred.

Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.

Of course, precision is just as important, if not more so, when intentionally creating false views and misunderstandings as proven beyond doubt by recent elections here and around the globe.

Image credit: DailyExcelsior.com

Quotable Quotes: Words in Use

Sunday, January 27th, 2013


Words can provide encouragement and add value—or do the opposite. Listen carefully beyond the surface of a person’s words and you will know that person’s heart and even their soul.

There is no attribution, but every manager and thinking person knows the truth of this comment, “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.”

Answers aren’t always the best use of words as Naguib Mahfouz reminds us, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

There’s an old saying that goes “open mouth insert foot,” but Lawrence J. Peter says it far more elegantly, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Those who spend (waste?) time trying to refute the myriad of lies found in modern media would do well to remember the words of William McAdoo, “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant person in an argument.”

Listening to the politicians, pundits and corporate titans always reminds me of this old Chinese proverb, “The longer the explanation, the bigger the lie.”

And I think I’ll let the words of Jimi Hendrix round out today’s thoughts; “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Can’t say it more clearly than that.

Image credit: Jon Assink

Expand Your Mind: Words, Phrases and Pictures

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

expand-your-mindAs you know, I have a fascination with words, their meanings, usage and contrariness; phrases, too, because their longevity in a world as transient as ours is surprising.

Both words and phrases can go out of style in days or be lasting—at least enough to make a 2012 list of most the popular, but only time will tell their staying power.

ALL due credit to petroleum and technology, social media and memes, and the humbling power of the weather, for their ability to generate and sustain new words. And the 2012 elections also made for a bountiful harvest of new political expressions.

For staying power, as well as mystery, you’ll have to go a long way to match the phrase the whole nine yards? Did you ever wonder where it came from?

For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins, chased around wild speculative corners by amateur word freaks, with exasperated lexicographers and debunkers of folk etymologies in hot pursuit.

How many words does it take to create a dialog? Try six. A few years ago I introduced you to Smith Magazine, where people sum up their life in 6 words. Michele Norris, the National Public Radio host started a dialog about by asking people for their six-word thoughts on race.

She asked for just six words. (…)Two years later, the cards have become almost a parallel career for Norris, best known for her work on the NPR show All Things Considered. She and an assistant have catalogued more than 12,000 submissions on theracecardproject.com. People now send them via Facebook and Twitter or type them directly into the website, leading to vibrant online discussions.

Society defines many actions through words, but what happens when the actions change and society has no viable words that fit? People have to come up with their own.

…what to call two people who act as if they are married but are not. (…) One might imagine we would be less tongue-tied. The faux spouse is a pretty ho-hum cultural specimen for such a gaping verbal lacuna. But none of the word choices are good.

Finally, for those who prefer pictures, or at least visually enhanced content, there are infographics (and how to make them).

Many people don’t realise that the term information graphic, or ‘infographic’ was first coined over 100 years ago, with the Coxcomb chart by Florence Nightingale in 1857 being one of earliest recognised examples. They have existed in many forms since then, but only in the past few years have infographics developed into the art form we know today.

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

Life In Six Words

Friday, November 6th, 2009

6Can you sum up your life in just 6 words?

Clare Booth Luce, according to columnist Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, once told President John Kennedy that “a great man is one sentence.” Noonan writes that Lincoln’s life could be summed up as “He preserved the Union and freed the slaves.”Bloomberg.com

Smith Magazine just published its second collection of six word memoirs by, as they say, “the famous and obscure.” They also continually collect them on their website.

Forcing yourself to boil down your current situation or a specific aspect of it is a great way to bring clarity to often smoky or downright opaque feelings.

I love this idea and would like to invite all of you to post your six word summation in comments. I’ll then create a permanent page in the right-hand column to make it easy to post updates as often as you choose. I’ll start off.

Option Sanity™ success is my future

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: pshutterbug on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Culture, Work, Life In Six Words

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

You may be a tweeting guru, but can you sum up your life, career or tell a story in just six (real) words?

When challenged to tell a story in six words, Ernest Hemingway came up with “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Starting in 2006, Smith Magazine challenged readers to write their memoirs in six words and the effort is still going strong. Here are three examples from the Smith site,

Ecstatic, elastic, eccentric, electric, ever-changing existence!

Dreams diverted; life proceeds. Embracing detours.

Lesser people would’ve given up already.

I wrote Birth, death, fun and happiness in-between because that’s always what I wanted and got from life—including obstacles and detours.

The great advantage six words have is to force clarity of thought upon the subject.

It’s easy to set up a place on your intranet for people to post their six-word thoughts—not once, but many times.

You can use it to explore your group and company culture, clarify projects and goals and for individual team members.

  • Invite everybody to post their six word description of the culture.
  • A biographical section gives people a place to document their growth professionally and personally along with specific struggles and triumphs.
  • Boil down the essence of each project to six words. You may be surprised at how different the descriptions are reflecting the different visions of the project team—six words helps to get everybody on the same page.
  • Provide a truly anonymous section for complaints. The six word limit forces clarity on descriptions of problems and can often give you a heads up before the molehill becomes a mountain.

Please take a moment to add your six word memoir, thought or description of Leadership Turn here!

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

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