Tag Archives: speech

Speaking from the heart

It seems that lately, Mondays are difficult days on which to blog. I imagine they’re also difficult days on which to read blogs. So perhaps I’ve done us all a favor.

My excuse this week? I got in from a trip in the wee hours of Monday morning, after missing a connecting flight and being fortunate to have secured the last standby slot in the last flight back to Washington late Sunday. It was a grueling day following a lovely business-with-pleasure trip, so I tried to keep my spirits high.

Sure, I shot dirty looks to a young mother who smacked her infant for squealing in a gate area. I sighed audibly and walked away when I overheard a couple engaging in senseless political rants. I even snapped just a bit at a gate agent, but later thanked her warmly when she found me that last seat on the plane back home.

That last seat happened to be beside a woman whose husband was in another row. When she asked if I might be willing trade my aisle seat for her husband’s middle seat so they could sit together, I obliged.

I was glad I did. The conversation I had with a gentleman in my row turned out to be so enjoyable that it made nearly three hours pass in a flash. We discovered much in common, including that we both think a lot about words.

He shared that he is making a concerted effort to avoid beginning sentences with “but;” not so much as a matter of grammar, but as a matter of harmony. “But” can erect a wall in a conversation. It can minimize someone else’s point. I found that interesting.

Then he shared a challenge that had been on his mind. I am not sure if he’ll ever read this and, if so, I hope he won’t mind my putting his dilemma out for discussion.

 His stepdaughter is getting married soon and has asked him to give her away, in place of her late father. This man will undoubtedly be called upon, formally or informally, to speak about his role at this occasion, and he wants to have just the right words at hand.

My fellow passenger never met his stepdaughter’s father, but thinks that, based on what he knows of the man, that they might have been good friends. There were even some interesting coincidences. I got the sense he is honored to be asked to step into the role.

I told him about How to Say It, a book that suggests the right words for almost any occasion. I suggested that he simply speak from his heart, express his affection for his stepdaughter and go from there.  I had told him that I have a wide circle of creative and sensitive readers, from whom I learn much nearly every day. While we didn’t exchange contact information, I did give him my blog address.

Based on knowing him for three hours, I have no doubt that John Q. Passenger could speak from his heart quite beautifully on this occasion. Still, I’d love to help him out.

So, on the off chance he finds his way here (and provided he didn’t give up after seeing no post yesterday), may I ask you to share your advice about what he might say, in conversation or perhaps in a toast during the wedding festivities—again, as the stepfather of the bride, who has the honor of walking her down the aisle?

I know you’ll have some good ideas.  Thanks!

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Travel

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.

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Date night

If you haven’t been following the lead up to tonight’s State of the Union address, or “SOTU” as inside-the-Beltway rags call it, something remarkable and history-making is about to happen.

Rather than being separated into sections, Republicans and Democrats have been encouraged to spread out and sit with each other. This could have all kinds of ramifications.

From the perspective of the television audience, it’ll be a bit harder to discern audience reactions than in previous years, with one side of the room in standing ovation and the other a sea of arms folded across chests at key points in the speech. In an effort to engender bonding and stimulate civil communication between red and blue, members of Congress have spent time this week choosing whom from the opposite side they’ll sit with during the address.

When I heard this, I became concerned for members whom no one asks to the dance. Just like senior prom, there are always a few who are passed over by classmates looking to score the most popular dates.

Yesterday, Vanity Fair came out with an initial report of who’s going with whom, along with suggestions of topics these duos should avoid, lest all Hades break loose in the chamber, as it did last year, if I recall correctly. This morning, The Washington Post‘s Style section suggests how bipartisan cliques might form around common interests and habits.

I haven’t heard how this intermingling is supposed to take place in practicality. Does one member go and save a seat for his or her buddy? Or will duos make it a true date—maybe a double date—and get a bite to eat together before the speech? A nightcap afterward, perhaps? Will they share a box of Jujubes? Or will they end up elbowing or kicking each other beneath the seats like young siblings, when the uncomfortable subject of spending priorities comes around?

What about those who refuse to cross the aisle and remain amongst their like-minded colleagues? Perhaps they are already practicing the Wave or synchronized heckles.

I rested up during the AFC and NFC playoffs so I can be nice and alert for SOTU. Call me a wonk if you will; perhaps this comes from many years in a job in which I had to take detailed notes and write a report the next morning. Tonight I’ll just pop some corn and watch the show. Okay, so I may take a few notes. Old habits die hard.

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Filed under News, Politics

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.”

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So…what’s your grievance?

It was reassuring to read comments on yesterday’s Word Nymph post about “so” versus “as,” showing that I am not enacting grammatical laws in my sleep.

One comment in particular conjured up another peeve of mine. In this season of Festivus, during which we air our grievances, I thought it might be apt to share it.

 The commenter said: “Where ‘so’ so annoys is its use as a filler word to begin a conversation, as if the subject were already under discussion. This dandy device is headed for trouble. It’s the next ‘like.’”

I agree. I can also relate. My husband often begins a conversation with “But.”

This got me thinking of an emerging pattern of speech I’ve noticed in recent years, stemming from what I’d call stopaphobia, or fear of ending a sentence definitively. Whereas the commenter notices “so” in the beginning of a conversation, I notice “so” at the end of a sentence. I haven’t seen this in written form, but it’s becoming common in spoken sentences. People just don’t want to finish a sentence with a firm period, opting to end instead with an ellipsis. Here’s an example:  “I work as a manager at IBM, so…” 

The trailing  “so” seems to go hand in hand with the trailing “or” at the end of a question. Listen for it and I swear you’ll hear it everywhere. “Are you staying in town for the holidays or…?” Meredith Vieira does this in interviews a lot. It’s not just the teeny-boppers.

Let me know if you notice this, but don’t hate me if it then drives you crazy. It’s just the plight of the wordie.

Finally, in the spirit of Festivus, and because this time of year might have us tied up in knots with excess fury to burn, feel free to lay your peeves here. Get them off your hyperventilating chests. It’s safe, so…

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Holidays

Empty phrases

Last spring, I wrote a couple of blog posts on useless words. One was on phrases that mean nothing in which I referenced a list of 10 Annoying Phrases That Serve No Purpose. The other was on verbal pauses, you know, words like, “you know” and “like.” Based on comments I received, I learned that some people have emotional or habitual attachments to certain phrases or verbal patterns and don’t share my opinion that, while some expressions may be clever upon their arrival on the language scene, it eventually becomes time to move on from them.

At the risk stepping out on another flimsy limb, I’d like to add two more to the list.

The first happens to occupy second place on the list of 10 Annoying Phrases That Serve No Purpose: “at the end of the day.”

I first took notice of “at the end of the day” in 1991. I was working with a Harvard-educated consultant who used it in just the perfect context:  when all is said and done, when everything else has been taken into consideration. I noted how descriptive—and original—it sounded. I may have even picked it up and used it a few times. Not too long after that, I heard about an industry executive from the Gulf Coast region who, when testifying on Capitol Hill, used the phrase to sum up his testimony. He had the creativity to follow it up with something even more descriptive:  “At the end of the day, when the gumbo boils down . . .”

Almost 20 years later, I believe “at the end of the day” has become stale and overused. It has lost its punch. Unless, of course, it is followed by a clever colloquialism.

The second phrase, while innocuous enough, has come to be spoken without thought. Still, it precedes a great preponderance of sentences these days. “You know what?” Pay attention and you will really begin to notice. Again, there’s technically nothing wrong with it, but it is way overused. “You know what? I am going to have eggs over easy.”

These two sayings hit me in the face yesterday morning as I watched former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater being interviewed on the major morning news programs—NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America and CBS’ The Early Show

As a refresher, Slater was the airline employee who had a colossal meltdown on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, cursed out a plane full of passengers over the intercom and, when the plane landed at JFK, grabbed two beers, popped open the emergency exit door and slid down the escape ramp. He parted ways with JetBlue and pled guilty to two criminal charges.

In three network interviews, he told his side of the story, using “at the end of the day” and “you know what?” collectively at least 10 times. My favorite, though, was on GMA, when he was asked how his notoriety has affected him. He said, “At the end of the day, I still put my pants on one leg at a time.”

Don’t people usually take their pants off at the end of the day? Maybe he was referring to his PJs, in which he probably spends a lot of time these days.

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Validation at last

I cracked open the new issue of Vanity Fair, which was fresh from the mailbox. I got as far as page 96, the October 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll, and found a teensy ray of sunshine. Which, by the way, I needed after reading Graydon Carter’s unusually grim editor’s letter.

If you’re a regular VF reader, then you know it shows how Americans weigh in on the poll’s 10 or so issues each month.

This time, 847 people answered questions on topics ranging from the war in Afghanistan to the likelihood that Sarah Palin would make an effective president; whether tanning salon services should be taxed and the extent to which Mel Gibson’s bad behavior would influence moviegoers’ seeing his latest movie.

Only 37 percent of those responding to the poll said they knew who Emily Post was and what she was known for. As sad as I am about the downward spiraling of etiquette awareness, I am not going to dwell on that here.

Why? Because I am so darned encouraged by the answers to another poll question.

The third question of the poll asked participants, “Of the following, which one do you think is the most overused word in the English language today?” The choices were “like,” “awesome,” “tweet,” “organic” and “hope.”

The top choice was [drumroll] “like.” Finally, it’s not just I being critical and whiny. Others’ ears are aching too.

As if I were not pleased enough to see acknowledgement that this nothingness word has run amok, here’s the cherry on top. Among those who said “like” is the most overused word in the English language, more than twice as many respondents were ages 18 to 44 as were 45 or older. Way to go, young people. Awesome. There is hope. Organic hope. Like, I’m so going to tweet it from the rooftops.

I’ll be optimistic that all of us who believe “like” is overused will stand up and take immediate steps to curb it. Let’s begin with not using “I’m like” in lieu of “I said,” shall we? Then maybe we can aim for good stats from the under 18 crowd.

Now please don’t go and burst my bubble by telling me that 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up.

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