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Cliché of the Day: Stick to Your Guns

March 18, 2018

Today’s advocates and opponents of gun control are likely to “stick to their guns” and continue believing what they believe.

We don’t know where this expression originated, but the idea of sticking to guns is a pretty odd concept. Are you sticking with Velcro? Gorilla Glue? Fly paper? It’s also not clear whether you can stick if you have only one gun. And what if you accidentally stick to a rifle or a crossbow?

Let’s bite the bullet and do away with gunstickingtoitiveness.

The Ecosystem of Environmental Metaphors

February 26, 2018

The hot air produced by eco-babbling consultants, activists and corporate executives has likely depleted more carbon than all of Chinese industry.

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable, but, as the Paris Accord demonstrated, talking about the environment without actually doing anything can boost your image.

Remember Enron? The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

Among the most-abused environmental terms are “ecosystem,” “ecology” and the term “environment” itself. Blame these environmental metaphors on consultant James F. Moore, who won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

If you consider the workplace to be part of an ecosystem of living organisms, formerly known as employees, you should find work as a consultant. Who else would consider your cubicle to be part of an ecosystem?

Environmentalism has also the latest generation of efficiency experts, as businesses have stopped trying to be efficient and are instead seeking to be “sustainable.”

“Sustainable” business practices may be beneficial, reducing both waste and environmental damage, but the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

Let’s continue to make businesses more efficient while reducing their impact on the environment, but the environmental metaphors are no longer sustainable.

Abused Words of the Day: Change Agent

February 23, 2018

A change agent, unlike a real estate agent, insurance agent or secret agent, exists because nothing can ever stay the same. 

A “change agent” must have “vision” and be a “thought leader.” You wouldn’t want a blind change agent or one who is a thought follower. 

If your company needs a change agent, be certain to find one who doesn’t change whatever is working in your business, but who instead focuses on areas where change is needed. Be certain, too, that you have a change-for-the-better agent, not a change-for-the-sake-of-change agent.

If you hire the wrong change agent, you may have to change change agents.

Writing Tips

February 20, 2018

Surveys consistently show that the ability to communicate well is the skill employers value most. Today, most communication is written, so time spent improving your writing is time spent well. 

In this podcast for the Engineering Management Institute with founder Anthony Fasano, I share a few tips that should help. http://bit.ly/TECCEp169

The End of Mankind

July 29, 2019

The first words spoken on the moon 50 years ago couldn’t have been more inclusive: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

“Mankind,” at the time, meant everyone. The entire human race. No one questioned its meaning.

But Neil Armstrong might be reluctant to say those inspiring words today, given their maleness. Almost anything with the word “man” in it is unacceptable to today’s champions of gender-neutral language. Emasculating the oppressive English language, they believe, will make the world a better, more accepting place.

The Free Dictionary identifies 6,525 words that include “man” and 1,642 words that begin with “man,” such as “management,” “manicurist,” “manipulate” and “manufacture.” The gender police have not eliminated all of them yet, but they’re making progress.

Just a week before the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to emasculate the city’s municipal code. A “manhole” is now a “maintenance hole,” a “craftsman” is an “artisan” and anything that was “manmade” is now “human-made.”

The only surprise is that the Berkley City Council took so long, as colleges, companies and organizations have been neutering our language for decades, seeking to make “mankind” extinct. The net result does nothing to move gender equality forward, but it creates the perception of progress.

In some cases, gender-neutral language works – “firefighter” instead of “fireman” or “police officer” instead of “policeman,” for example. In most cases, though, it sounds forced and inelegant. Does “That’s one small step for humans, one giant leap for humankind” inspire you?

The descent of man is bad enough, but in Berkley and elsewhere, writers are now required to use “they” to accompany a singular subject. Pronouns “he” and “she” are unacceptable. Apparently, it’s more important to be sensitive to those who are offended by the use of singular pronouns than it is to be sensitive to those who are offended by grammatical atrocities.

Alas, “he” has been castrated and “they” is the people’s choice. Yes, “they” is, not “they” are. “They” can even be a gender choice today.

Given that there are now 62 genders to choose from, the logical next step is gender-free language.  Just as the American Civil Liberties Union helped us achieve true religious freedom by removing religion from everything, the only way to achieve true gender freedom is to make the English language genderless. Is using “it” any worse than using “they” whenever a pronoun is needed?

Some may argue that gender-neutral language is a small step forward for gender equality, but it’s a giant leap backward for the English language.

 

Abused Word of the Day: Actionable.

July 23, 2019

In the action-packed world of business, the word “actionable” has become ubiquitous, but unnecessary. Can you think of anything that is “inactionable?”

“Action” is “the fact or process of doing something,” so anything is “actionable,” whether it’s advisable to take action or not. Among the synonyms for “actionable,” Merriam-Webster lists “practicable,” “serviceable,” “usable” and “workable,” each of which is almost as horrible as “actionable.”

Like many words that shouldn’t be used by people who want to communicate clearly, “actionable” also has a definition used by lawyers. If circumstances provide sufficient reason to take legal action, they are “actionable.”

The word also means “having practical value,” but the word itself has none.

Abused Word of the Day: Narrative

May 3, 2019

Back in the days when people used to read, journalists would use the “reverse pyramid” style of writing, in which the most important information went first. Who, what, why, when, where and how had to be in the lead (or lede, for some unknown reason).

Copywriters, likewise, would typically try to grab a reader’s attention with a catchy opening or headline.

Today, apparently no one wants news, facts or anything else that’s boring. They want a story. They want a “narrative.” At least that’s what people believe if they are in marketing or other corporate functions in which the use of clichés is a requirement.

Today, it’s the “narrative” that’s important. A narrative tells a story. As a reader, you’re obligated to read it all so you can catch the writer’s – or should we say narrator’s – deep meaning.

Public relations professionals and other morally challenged beings seek to “control” the narrative, skewing the plot toward their employer’s or client’s perspective.

It’s as if we’re all toddlers. You need a “narrative” today if you want to hold our interest. As the narrator, you need to tell us a good story. One with a narrative. A good narrative, because you shall be judged by your narrative.

Yet “narrative” implies a length and depth of discourse that’s beyond the attention span of the typical reader. Most people are not readers, anyway. If your narrative takes too long to unwind, good luck.

Stories that evolve out of narratives tend to be fiction. Often bad fiction.

Abused Word of the Day: Hack.

April 22, 2019

“Hack” used to be a simple word. As a verb, it was what your cat did when coughing up a fur ball. If you had a tree with dead branches, you might hack them off. As a noun, it was someone who was not especially good at a chosen profession. It especially applied to writers.

As the Internet developed, “hack” evolved into someone with proficient computing skills and exceptionally warped morals who would “hack” into your computer with malicious intent.

Today, though, a “hack” is something else. Writers and editors, who are in the business of writing for a living, have adopted the word and given it a new, more positive meaning. Today, a hack can be a clever tip.

Writers who favor this usage of “hack” come off as old people trying to sound like millennials. Remember that if caught “hacking,” imprisonment may result. Only a hack would use the word “hack” to describe clever tips; this new use for “hack” has already become hackneyed.

“Beautiful” Elevator Pitch Fails

March 10, 2019

As we emerged from a Boston parking garage last week, a panhandler attempted to catch my interest with an elevator pitch.

“Sir, you have a beautiful daughter.”

It was too cold to pay much attention and I wasn’t sure I heard what he said, but Chriss -- my wife, not my daughter -- confirmed it.

OK, she’s petite and it was dark out, but using a line that brings out my age insecurity in expectation of payment resulted in said panhandler being as destitute as he was before we passed him.

It struck me as a poor elevator pitch, unless he meant Chriss to be his target. She’s less than a year younger than me!

“He must be high,” I told her.

Abused Phrase of the Day: At the End of the Day

December 19, 2018

Is there something special about 11:59 p.m.?

I get it. The end of the day is supposed to be when you reflect on everything that came before it. But the phrase “at the end of the day” seems like it’s been repeated from the beginning to the end of every day, every month and every year.

At the end of the day, it’s an overused expression that sounds as quasi-profound and vapid as, “It is what it is.”

Why do people say “at the end of the day” and not “at the beginning of the day,” when most of us are wide awake and fully functioning? Or, if you’re a light sleeper, why not “at the end of the night?”

Maybe it’s because “the end of the day” calls to mind the apocalypse, e.g., the end of days. At my age, I want no reminders of my mortality, let alone the end of civilization.

Variations such as “when all is said and done” are almost as annoying. If all were said, you would have stopped talking.

So at the end of the day, and even at the beginning of the night, when all is said and done, this needless waste of words should be removed from your written and verbal language. End its use today.