English: Cover of The Country Gentleman magazine, April 20, 1918 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Gentleman” is not a synonym for just any man or male. It specifically refers to a noble or at least an honorable man, not just any human with XY chromosomes. And yet a day rarely passes that I don’t hear this word misused:
“The driver was clocked at 80 mph in the residential neighborhood and finally came to a stop when he crashed into a brick wall. The gentleman exited the vehicle and was placed under arrest.”
“The gentleman exited the vehicle.” (How about “The driver/man got out of the car”?) Chances are someone who endangers people by driving recklessly is no gentleman.
Similarly, “lady” is also misused in a parallel way, although not as frequently. There is a difference between “lady,” “woman” and “female.” Words have connotations that directly affect your writing.
As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Aim for lightning.
To hold your readers’ attention, you want variety in the length of your sentences: some short, some medium, and even the occasional long one. But the more complicated your content is, the shorter your sentences should be. Instead of one long sentence explaining a difficult point, break it down into two or even more sentences.
Big blocks of gray print put people off. Look at a newspaper (quick, while they still exist) and notice how short each paragraph is. If several of those were combined, readers would likely give up before starting to read the articles, merely because of the way the print looks on the page. White space invites your readers in; those big gray chunks of print turn them off.
“The dealership is holding a sales event over Memorial Day weekend.”
“Yesterday’s rain event in Oklahoma caused widespread flooding. However, tomorrow should bring only minimal shower activity.”
“The defense attorney cited acts of an inflammatory nature.”
“The drought condition has many farmers concerned.”
“The police responded to an emergency situation at the rest stop.”
Events, situations, conditions, and activities are almost always fillers used to make something sound more impressive (but not very effectively). Whenever you use one of those words, see if you can’t reword your sentence more concisely:
That dealership is holding a sale. The report was about yesterday’s rain in Oklahoma. The prospect for tomorrow is merely showers. Those farmers are worried about the drought, and the police officers responded to an emergency.
I hope and trust you realize and understand the subject line above is a kidding joke. So many phrases we hear and read daily are redundant, but we rarely have the awareness to eliminate them; we have gotten used to them. Are any of these your favorites?
The end result
A contributing factor
Face up to the problem
Suffocated to death
Modest about himself
Own her own home
Shrug her shoulders, nod her head
A friend in the business world who shares my distain of overstuffed language sent me this beauty today. Someone in his company actually wrote, “…please let me know if you find errors as you massage the data as I will be happy to harmonize that with [Jason].”
I am always impressed by the creativity evidenced in business communications, even though the writers of these goodies don’t seem particularly creative in the rest of their lives. Do they speak like this when they leave the office?
May you find harmony in your day—and perhaps sneak in a massage while you’re at it.
Immigrate means to come to a country: Ricardo immigrated to the United States.
Emigrate means to leave a country: Ricardo emigrated from Nicaragua.
Migrate means to change location: Some species of birds migrate thousands of miles every winter.
On May 10 the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page article about the most pervasive buzzword in the corporate world these days: “delight” and other forms of this word.
The article quoted Steve Jobs as the apparent originator of this word in a business context:
We love our users, we love them. We try to surprise and delight them…and we work our asses off.
I remember the first time I came across this word while I was leading business writing seminars—it was at least 10 years ago. I won’t embarrass the company because many employees there still get my tips. But this corporation was energetically promoting the idea of “customer delight” in its correspondence with people and other companies it dealt with.
Did I spew my coffee when I first saw this phrase? Indeed I did. To me it sounded like a specialty concocted by Baskin-Robbins:
Try our “Customer Delight!” Luscious scoops of any FIVE flavors of ice cream of your choosing! Swimming in your favorite sauce! Topped with a mountain of snowy whipped cream! Surmounted by generous sprinklings of nuts! And capped with a glistening red cherry! It’s our “Customer Delight” and we guarantee you will be DELIGHTED!
To me the word sounds forced, contrived and insincere. Yes, we all want our customers to be happy, satisfied, gratified, and pleased. Doesn’t one of those words do the trick?