Monday, March 27, 2006

A page you might even find fun

Here is a page you really MUST visit. It’s called “10 More Words You Simply Must Know,” and it’s by the editors of Encarta’s Continuing Education section.

Go on, don’t let an ostentatious title like this keep you from immersing yourself in our language! You might even find it fun.

Anytime we can advance our vocabulary, it’s an investment in our future. Even if we can’t use it in a sentence right away, we can know it if someone else uses it, and it broadens our awareness of our language and our culture. Of course, we appear pretentious if we try to use it without really understanding it – so beware simply learning new words to make you look smarter.

My favorite of the 10 is “sternutatory.” Can you imagine what it means? Here’s a hint: “

If these are “10 More Words…”, what were the original 10? Find out by reading “
10 Words You Simply Must Know.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Word discovery: microinequities

Citation: “Why your boss may start sweating the small stuff,” Time magazine, p. 80, Mar. 20, 2006. Online version.

Usage: Article subhead explains: “New sensitivity training at the office focuses on all the little ways a tone-dear manager can demoralize a staff.”

Meaning: “…puts a name on all the indirect offenses that can demoralize a talented employee.”

Examples: A team or meeting leader who becomes less and less interested in what someone is saying… someone important who keeps glancing at his watch during a meeting… someone who interrupts a colleague to answer the phone.

Comments: This can cut both into productivity and general employee attitudes, which can even affect customer relations. Working in a large corporation, I’ve seen it in action. It isn't an intentional slight, but it sends an unmistakable message, often a non-verbal statement that others can read as easily as the person who is slighted.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Word discovery: Celebutantes

Citation: Encarta “10 More Words You Simply Must Know” by the editors of Encarta’s Continuing Education section.

Usage: In an example of using the word “paradigm”: The heiress who has become famous for being infamous is the paradigm of celebutantes.

Meaning: According to
The Gazette*, “…celebutantes are daughters from rich families who receive media attention for the fortunes they are to inherit and for the escapades they embark on until the money is in their hands.”

*Note: the article I link to includes a photo at the top some may find provocative. Educators and parents may want to visit the page first to make sure they are okay with their students or children viewing the page. The article itself is informative on a current aspect of pop culture.

Examples: Some examples of celebutantes are Paris Hilton, Ally Hilfiger (daughter of Tommy Hilfiger), Margherita Missoni (Italian fashion heir) and Nicole Ritchie (who appeared with Hilton in the Simple Life television program of a few years ago).

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A useless feature by any other name is still useless

Word discovery: feature fatigue
Citation: Interview with Dr. Roland D. Rust on 3.11.06 edition of NPR’s Weekend Edition. He explains the concept in his article, “
Feature Fatigue: When Product Capabilities Become Too Much of a Good Thing” in Journal of Marketing Research, 42, November 2005, 431-442. Co-authors are Deborah Viana Thompson and Rebecca W. Hamilton.
Usage: NPR interviewer explained the concept in terms of the ubiquitous cell phone with dozens of features that manufacturers hype to sell the item, but which consumers realize after buying that they will never use. Also in terms of the Mercedes automobile, whose manufacturer has removed a lot of features from its dashboard to simplify its use.
Meaning: The realization after buying and using a product that you don’t really need or want all the features hyped to sell you the product. Here is how Dr. Rust and his colleagues lead into their article:

As technology advances, it becomes more feasible to load products with a large number of features, each of which individually might be perceived as useful. However, too many features can make a product overwhelming for consumers and difficult to use.

Comment: I'm glad to see someone has a name for this. Often, as I'm watching television I see an ad for something and I wonder why on earth I'd want to buy something with all those unnecessary features. Do we really need a phone with a camera and games and silly sounding ringtones? Am I going to actually text message someone if I can call them? What I really want is a phone I can take with me away from home or office. Those other features are really needless toys.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No “bull” in this china shop

I just ran into two excellent recasts of a couple of timeless clichés. See if you can tell who said them (both from the same guy):

● “There but for the grace of God goes God.”

● “He is the only bull I know who carries his china closet with him.”

And do you know the originals from which these spring?

They were uttered by
Winston Churchill, prime minister of England, member of British Parliament, journalist, author, and bane of both Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. Churchill, in fact, coined the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the Soviet Union’s choke-hold on Eastern Europe in the last century.

The first recast was a reference to an insufferable political rival and the second referred to a tough-talking U.S. Secretary of State.

The originals are:

● "There but for the grace of God go I."
attributions including John Bradford and John Bunyan

● "He is a bull in a china cabinet."
First use
unknown but first recorded in Frederick Marryat’s Jacob Faithful

I found these in a speech given by seasoned political journalist
Chris Matthews at the Westminster College in Missouri commemorating the 60th anniversary of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946. Titled “The ten lessons of Winston Churchill,” it’s a great talk and a great retrospective on one of human’s greatest orators and writers.

Note: Although using clichés is frowned upon by every professional writer and editor with any experience, recasting clichés can be good form. Churchill’s recasting of these two are excellent examples of turning a phrase to good use.

I maintain a weblog about clichés and how to recast them, using a cliché-a-day format to highlight a cliché every day of the week and show how to rewrite or recast it. Visit
Cliché-a-Day to see what it’s all about.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Permanent trailers -- what are they when they aren't permanent?

This morning while driving my wife to work, as I moved into the center left-turn lane, I came to rest briefly behind a large transportation truck -- sometimes called a "semi" or "semi truck and trailer." The beast had a sticker near the license plate that said: "Permanent Trailer."

Being a man of words, this phrase hit me as very odd. What, I wondered, is a "permanent" trailer? What would it be if it weren't permanent -- temporary? Are there "occasional" trailers, like there are occasional tables? If one is occasional, what is it when it isn't a "trailer"?
  • a "parker"?
  • a "get in your way-er"?
  • a "take up space-r"?
  • a "stage on wheels"?
  • a "mobile aircraft-lander", perhaps for very small planes, helicopters, or Harriers?
The list of alternatives could be huge. Anything come to mind to you?

I'm sure this phrase makes sense to those in the transportation industry, and perhaps someone from that group could let me in on the secret. Or maybe you have some good guesses.