Monthly Archives: January 2013


These two words are frequently confused and misused.  I often hear people say they are going to hone in on the answer to a question.  However,

HONE means to sharpen:  You hone your skills or you hone the blade of a knife.

HOME (IN) means to close in on:  You home in on the suspect in a crime. 


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No Problem

Don’t you love it when you thank a person for doing something routine for you (e.g., handing you your change, passing you a piece of paper) and the response you get, if you get one at all, is “No problem”?

I know it’s not a problem; it’s your freaking job.  I am so tempted to say, “I didn’t think it would be a problem, but I’m glad you could handle it.”

It truly is all right to answer oh-so-conventionally and just reply, “You’re welcome.”  Or even “Glad to do it.”  Like all of us, you really do have problems, but handing me my change isn’t one of them.

You’re welcome.

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A Strategic Sunset

My head is reeling.  A friend in the corporate world e-mailed me today with this beauty.  He writes that it is an excerpt from an email saying the Microsoft Live Meeting product [don’t worry if you don’t know what that is—neither do I] is being phased out and replaced with something called Lync. Then he adds, “I’m beginning to think I live in an alternate dimension from the rest of the people I work with.”  He does.

<<Good morning — As you are aware, Microsoft has made a strategic decision to position Lync as the core collaboration solution and to ultimately sunset the Live Meeting Service (LMS).>>

I don’t know where to start.  How about at the beginning?

1. Microsoft made a decision.  ALL decisions are “strategic.”  Lose that overused adjective.  And instead of saying “Microsoft has made a decision,” just use the active verb and write, “Microsoft has decided….”

2. Microsoft isn’t “positioning” Lync; it’s going to use it.

3.  What is a “core collaboration solution”?  I’m guessing it means the primary means of collaborating.  That would probably be too direct and clear.

4. “Sunset”!  As a verb!  Really?  This writer means “to discontinue, cancel, stop.”  What is wrong with simple, direct English?

People think they sound “professional” when they spew verbiage like this.  They don’t sound professional; they sound pompous and full of themselves—and ridiculous.

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It Isn’t What It Isn’t

A saying I am deadly tired of is, “It is what it is.”  Of course it is, whatever the hell “it” is.  If it weren’t what it is, it would be something else. Or perhaps it wouldn’t be anything at all.

This is a meaningless, boring cliché.  It’s the lazy person’s way of saying, “This is the way things are.”

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Minds Will Continue to be Wasted

In fact, I was able to find a way to contact the United Negro College Fund and wrote to them about the fact that their motto contains a somewhat embarrassing misplaced modifier.

I got a very nice answer back from a woman who works there, a former high school English teacher, who said the UNCF has received many comments over the years about their motto and that they have spent a lot of time and resources discussing whether to change it, but because it is so widely recognized and is even in the Slogan Hall of Fame [who knew?], they have decided not to amend it.

So it stands. I will tilt at other windmills.


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Is a Mind a Terrible Thing?

A few posts ago I wrote about misplaced modifiers (remember the groom in the silver Ralph Lauren gown?).  One that has bothered me for many years is the motto of the United Negro College Fund:

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

In fact, a mind is not a terrible thing. Modifiers (words providing more information) need to be put next to the word or words they are modifying.  In this case, the terrible thing is wasting a mind.  Therefore, the motto should read, It is a terrible thing to waste a mind.

I have gone to the UNCF website but cannot find a way to contact them.  I guess I will resort to snail mail while the USPS still exists.

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Using Reply All

If you receive an e-mail that has been sent to others, before you answer, think about whether you want only the sender to get your answer or if everyone needs to read it.

Often, business e-mails go to many people using TO: for one person and CC: for everyone else. When sending out a group e-mail, using BCC: often is preferable.  With BCC: only the sender knows who got the e-mail; each recipient knows others were also on the distribution list, but they don’t see anyone else’s address.

I write a weekly business writing tip to hundreds of my corporate contacts and always send it BCC: because I feel it would be wrong of me to disclose all the e-mail addresses to everyone on my distribution list; it’s a question of their privacy.  Also, recipients frequently write back to me, and I know there is no danger of them clicking REPLY ALL and annoying everyone else on the list.

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