Tag Archives: Gene Weingarten

A reaching offense

Adding to the growing commentary on the steady decline of the English language as we once knew it, The Washington Post Magazine’s Gene Weingarten has written one of the cleverest pieces to date.

Please read “Goodbye, Cruel Words” for yourself because I will most certainly fail to do it justice here. Readers, this figurative obituary of the language is right up our alley with real-life examples of ridiculous errors in grammar, usage and syntax committed by some of the most highly regarded newspapers.

Please note: the piece calls attention to a once-trendy, now overused phrase to which I ashamedly plead “Guilty.”

I probably picked it up 10 years ago in my corporate days; my dealings with corporate clients since that time have etched it ever more deeply into my lexicon. And, truthfully, I’ve always liked it.

As Weingarten introduces it, “[no] development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction ‘reach out to’ as a synonym  for ‘call on the phone,’ or ‘attempt to contact.’” He calls it “a jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion – once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars…”

Bingo.

I wonder if “reach out” started with AT&T’s tear-inducing television commercials of the 1980s, “Reach out and touch someone.” As Weingarten points out, reaching out was a gesture of sensitivity or support. It probably derived from “outreach.”

Looking back on the countless meetings I’ve attended in the last 25 years, I can almost trace the phrase’s road to ubiquity, including a U-turn in its meaning. Reaching out has gone from a gesture of good will to one of asking a favor or, in the extreme, groveling.

Come to think of it, I have “reached out” quite a bit over the years.

“We need to get Sen. Smith on board with this.” “I’ll reach out to him.”

“I’ll reach out to XYZ Corp. for a $50,000 sponsorship.”

“I’ll reach out to Mary to see if she’ll be the closing speaker for the conference.”

Guilty as charged. Not because I’ve spent my career calling people to ask them for things, but because I’ve done so using a vomitous verbal construction.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News

Queen for a day

Do you ever have days when you can’t seem to do anything right?

Or weeks?  Or months?  I go through long periods when I seem unusually prone to mistakes, and they overshadow anything good I might do. 

Lately it seems that every day I find an error in a blog post, about a millisecond after hitting the Publish button.  I am able to go back in and correct it, but the daily e-mails that go out to subscribers are indelible proof of my carelessness.

It makes me think of humor columnist Gene Weingarten, who won the Pulitzer Prize for featuring writing earlier this year.  Weingarten described his first emotion as “abject shame” because the column for which he won the prize contained a redundant phrase, “history of prior neglect,” which “suddenly seemed to sum up my life.”  He went on, “When the prize was announced, I became certain that my obituary in The Washington Post will begin: “Gene Weingarten, who once shamed this newspaper by winning a Pulitzer Prize for an article containing an egregious redundancy…”

While I can by no means relate to such prestigious acclaim, I can most painfully relate to the shame of a public mistake.

Yesterday, following about a week of stupid errors, I managed inadvertently to insert an obscure bit of code that made the entire blog post disappear.  After an hour of sweating and panting, I found and fixed the problem, but knew the mistake was already out there for all to see and ridicule.  Welcome to Loserville, Population 1

Just then I received an e-mail notice from WordPress, my blog host, that Word Nymph was one of 10 blogs featured in Freshly Pressed, its daily display of best blog posts that entertain, enlighten or inspire.

In selecting blogs for Freshly Pressed, WordPress considers among other factors:  unique content that’s “free of bad stuff,” images and other visuals, typo-free content and compelling headlines.

Or, it might just be that they choose at random, to give every blogger his or her chance at a global audience and 24 hours of fame.

Either way, I allowed myself to bask in the attention of thousands of fellow bloggers, many of whom posted playful comments that kept me giggling all day long.  I had the chance to become aware of hundreds of great blogs out there, which I plan to not only read but get to know their writers a little better.  

Yesterday opened up a whole new community of which I felt privileged to be a part.  I enjoyed meeting my new friends from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and other places.

While I won’t break into a chorus of “It’s a Small World,” maybe I will try to beat myself up a little less about errors and typos.  Well, probably not.

When I started Word Nymph, my mental image was of a playground.  My wish was that one day it be full of people, laughing and squealing and ready to play.

Yesterday that wish came true, even if just for a day.

Hey guys, come back tomorrow!

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Foibles and Faux Pas, Technology and Social Media