Because or despite?

Ah, the power of ego. It can make people do (and think) outrageous things in business. Consider the blowhard who brags about his success, attributing it to some off-the-wall notion that runs contrary to conventional wisdom … precisely because it runs contrary to conventional wisdom. It’s not an expression of creativity, but rather a misguided assignment of cause […]

Endorse me, you sweet endorsable you

Sometimes it’s hard to find the line between social media for business and social media for personal interaction. Business sites take a dim view of users stalking each other or commenting, “I like your smile.” Unless you’re casting models for a toothpaste ad, that message is inappropriate in business communication. But if you’re looking for […]

A special kind of dyslexia

Words beginning with per- or pre- can tempt you to reverse letters, even if you don’t have dyslexia. Some cases seem related to regional pronunciations, and others are just laziness. A few of them are funny and, of course, you would never say them. But others are probably lurking in your vocabulary somewhere and you […]

Wheelbarrels and rollycoasters

I’ve never been a fan of baby talk, even when babies do it. It’s bad enough that parents (and grandparents) encourage it by laughing at the adorable tot’s consonant substitutions, but when they do it themselves, it sets a confusing example. Surely a child’s language development is seriously delayed every time he hears an adult […]

Sight, site, cite

Yes, that’s a real headline. What’s wrong with it? Sight, site, and cite—two nouns and a verb, all with identical pronunciations but different meanings. They’re called homophones [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophone]. A quirk of English that people who write newspaper headlines are supposed to know about. [http://www.columbia.edu/itc/journalism/isaacs/client_edit/Headlines.html]. To set the record straight, here are some definitions: Sight – […]

Case of the missing zh

I get it. French words are mysterious and unpronounceable. Half the letters are silent, and often it’s hard to tell which ones they are. We Americanize some French words, but not others. The most thankless job must be teaching French pronunciation to teenagers in the Midwest. “Shape your mouth as if you were saying oooh, […]

Are we getting dumber?

Statistics show that American children are falling behind their counterparts in other countries. Math scores, language skills, knowledge of science and history … our future would seem to be in the hands of the ill-prepared and under-educated. “They” say our youngsters’ minds have been so numbed by video games and junk food that we’re all […]

English-to-English translation

Let’s pretend for a minute that everyone in your company speaks the same kind of flawless English. No one is from a different part of the country, no one is from England or Canada or Australia. You take great care to write clearly, in a way that everyone understands. News flash: Someone is going to […]

The decimate debate

Grammar and usage purists like to argue about what is correct and what isn’t. But unlike simple computational math, English embraces shades of gray between black and white. Accepted usage constantly changes, as do the sources cited as final authority. That’s why we can program a calculator to find a multiply-by-zero error buried in a […]