Tag Archives: speaking

A zip of the lip

A very wise man—my late father-in-law—was known to say, “He who talks often is seldom heard.”

He also used to ask, “Is all that talking really necessary?”

For someone to whom words are a profession, a hobby, a love, even half a moniker, this Word Nymph has been thinking a lot about silence.

Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the signs appearing before me in recent days. The Sounds of Silence playing on the radio. References to the evils of loquaciousness in my daily horoscope. A favorite hymn in church yesterday, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, stirred me to wordlessness. Message from the universe: Shut yer yap.

In my faith tradition, the upcoming season of Advent is much ado about silence. Many kick off the season with a silent retreat, followed by three weeks of quiet reflection, listening, expectation, focus outside oneself. Regardless of our traditions, this isn’t a bad discipline to follow.

Modern humans have spurred a society that abhors dead air and assaults it with voices. While others speak we are already thinking of what we will say next—and, ever impatient, we interrupt them mid-sentence with our treasured views. As a child whose report cards often reported that “Monica talks too much in class,” I plead talkative as charged.

Modern media have ignited an explosion of expression. Talk radio, talking heads, talk-talk-talk. Tap-tap-tap a 2,500-word Christmas letter and a 750-word status update.

Enough already.

It seems a good time to undertake a new social discipline. While word count is a key metric in my work as an editor, it never occurred to me that I could put it to use elsewhere. What if I followed the Twitter theory and kept my utterances to fewer than 140 characters?

As an experiment, I pledge to do my best for the rest of this year to use my words more judiciously. To the best of my ability I will:

  • Listen first, speak second. After all, there’s a reason we were given two ears and only one mouth.
  • Not feel compelled to fill silence with talking. Silence can create an opening to ideas, energy and more thoughtful words–while excessive talking can suck the energy out of the room and everyone in it.
  • Not overestimate others’ interest in what I have to say. That story, that memory, that dream I find so fascinating? Others, not so much.
  • Not consume more than my share of the airwaves, leaving plenty open for others.
  • Begin fewer sentences with I and My.

Join me, won’t you?

One final comment: Some of the most stirring renditions of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence are the ones without lyrics.

Word Count: 439 (still too many)


Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Music

Grammar grab bag

Throughout the week, bits of sloppy speaking have caught my ear. I thought maybe we’d have a little Friday review to set ourselves straight. We all could use a refresher now and then, right?

The examples that got my attention this week have to do mostly with words or phrases that many believe are interchangeable.

“Imply” versus “infer” – To imply something is to mean something or put a suggestion into a message. To infer is derive a suggestion from a message, often by reasoning or interpretation. A simple way to remember: The speaker implies; the listener infers.

“Due to” versus “because of” – “Due to” means “caused by.” For example, “The snow was due to a cold front moving eastward.” It is not interchangeable with “because of,” which means “by reason of.” For example, “Schools were cancelled because of snow.” It’s not “cancelled due to snow.” Use of “due to” as an introductory clause, such as “Due to circumstances beyond our control,” or “Due to inclement weather,” is also incorrect. The difference is subtle but distinct.

“More than” versus “over” – “More than” refers to a countable number of something. For example, “There are more than 30 children in the class.” McDonald’s should claim “More than 100 billion hamburgers sold” not “Over 100 billion.” “Over” pertains to spatial amounts or volumes. For example, “Over a gallon of water was in the jug.”

“United States” versus “U.S.”  “United States” should always be spelled out or pronounced, except when used as an adjective. When used as a noun, it is always “the United States,” not “the U.S.” The abbreviation is used only when preceding a noun, such as “U.S. residents,” U.S. Secretary of State,” or “U.S. exports.”  “I live in the U.S.” is incorrect. And when we are writing within the United States, periods are used. This differs from how it is done outside our borders, where United States is abbreviated US.

If you’d like to share your own tricks for remembering the rules, or if your stylebook differs, or if you have ideas for future grab bags, the door is always open. 

Otherwise, class dismissed. Thanks for being here.


Filed under All Things Wordish

Off and on

Over the weekend, while watching television news, I heard two different people, in unrelated stories, describing realization processes. One said, “Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head.” (At least he didn’t say the light bulb literally went off in his head.) The other said, “All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb went off.”

Am I wrong or, when one has idea—or when something comes to light—the light bulb goes on?

This morning, I set out to research this. What I found upon searching “light bulb went off” were one or two blogs addressing this very subject, and a long list of entries comprising serious text in which the expression is used incorrectly.

There’s no mistaking the imagery. A light goes on, things become clear. One has an idea or, appropriate for the season, epiphany. This makes perfect sense, so why are light bulbs going off in so many heads?

Maybe we can remember it this way: Lights go on and sounds go off.

Sirens go off, alarms go off, firecrackers and explosives go off.

Or maybe it’s not so simple. When my alarm goes off in the morning, doesn’t it really go on?

Either way, if any of us is ever interviewed about a brilliant idea—and if we choose to use the light bulb image—let’s  remember how to use it in such a way that our audience still thinks we’re brilliant. And let’s remember that also means not saying “literally.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News, Technology and Social Media

Hefty and handy

I don’t know how many will share my enthusiasm, but I just found something to really sink my teeth into—though if it were a sandwich, I’d have trouble getting my teeth around it. It’s that big.

It practically jumped right out of the Border’s bargain bin into my welcoming arms. Nearly three pounds and 890 pages of meat. It’s called The Big Book of How to Say It. You may already know it; it’s been out for 12 years.

Of course, the title caught my eye. At first, I took it for another tome for word geeks. Actually, it’s two tomes, How to Say It by Rosalie Maggio and How to Say It At Work by Jack Griffin.

Cringe not; this book has little to do with grammar and everything to do with writing and speaking one’s mind in the most thoughtful, personal and effective way—under almost any practical social or business scenario.

The Big Book is also not an etiquette book. While offering suggestions on the most appropriate way to express one’s thoughts, the focus is on choosing the right words and tone for the occasion, customized for the addresser and addressee alike.

I immediately bought it for a special someone for Christmas. Now I’m reluctant to give it up. There are more than 60 chapters dealing with everything from expressing (and accepting) a simple condolence to applying for a job, and 58 topics in between. Each chapter includes several options for “How to Say It” as well as “What Not to Say.”  There’s also a mini-thesaurus in each chapter, along with handy writing tips to suit the situation.

Apologies. Holiday letters. Complaints. Job terminations. Negotiating a promotion. Renegotiating a deadline. Accepting a compliment. Taking criticism. Handling a snafu. Agreeing to a drug test. Announcing the cancellation of a wedding. It’s all there.

As a bonus , in one of the chapters dealing with getting a job, there’s a whole section on How to Say it with Clothes, including 28 tips for men and 23 for women. Just remember, the book was written in 1998.

If you’re looking for just the right gift for everyone on your shopping list this holiday season–word nerd, etiquette geek or lay person–then grab a forklift and head on over to Borders. You could order online but the shipping might cost more than the book.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Reading