Vapor-speak and Vaporware

vaporDoes anyone remember Vaporware?

The nineteen-eighties were like the Wild West in software development. Small companies sprouted like crabgrass, each promising an amazing new product. Many of these startups didn’t last long. Maybe it was because they sold Vaporware.

Vaporware was an idea or a half-developed program that didn’t exist yet. Some entrepreneur scraped together a little capital, formed a software company, and hired a few sales reps. They created ads with pictures of (empty)  5-1/4-inch floppy disks bearing the company logo, next to a computer.

The programmer, often the business owner’s kid, was still trying to figure out how to make the program work. It was not a scam … they just overestimated their own skill and underestimated the development time. But the company boldly sold the product with a promise of “thirty to sixty days” to delivery. Usually, after about ninety days of the same story, the customers wised up, the sales evaporated, and so did the company.

Why would anyone fall for that? It was an unsophisticated time. Interactive processing was new, no one had personal computers yet, and there was no such thing as the Internet. No Microsoft, not even graphical user interfaces. This new thing called software promised small businesses a way to be more modern and efficient. They couldn’t see it, they didn’t understand it, but they wanted it. Sellers learned to talk about their phantom products without committing to specific features or delivery dates.

People today are more savvy and they don’t buy Vaporware anymore, but the techniques we used to sell it are still around. They have just morphed into Sales and Marketing Vapor-speak. It sounds trendy, but if you use Vapor-speak, it can suggest that you’re being dishonest or trying to hide something. Here are some of the major offenders:

It’s all about

With X product, it’s all about delivering customer service and improving your return on investment.

What, exactly, is it? Are we referring to promised benefits here? Are you saying the product delivers them? All about doesn’t promise anything. If I were a potential customer, I’d be all about shopping elsewhere.

Around

Product X addresses issues around security, audit trails, and data storage.

Issues around these items? Does that mean problems inherent in them? Directly concerning them? Peripherally related to them? If you can’t be clearer than that, I wonder if you understand your product.

Ecosystem

Our goal for the coming year is to improve the business process ecosystem.

Unless you’re talking about all the water, air, soil, plants, and living organisms in a defined physical space, you’re hijacking a word and using it where it doesn’t belong. Is it a department, a market, an industry? In a business sense, ecosystem is so vague it means nothing at all.

Retail businesses could not get away with Vapor-speak. Just imagine you were buying tires for your car. You ask the dealer, “Are they safe and do they come with a guarantee?” How would you feel about this response:

In our business, we’re all about the tires. Our tires focus on questions around tread wear and traction, and we guarantee that we’re part of the automobile safety ecosystem.

You might ask if they accept Vapor-cash …

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for About.com, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

Raining on parades

raining on parades2To compliment someone, say that she loves everyone, she never met a stranger, or her smile would light up a room. The world loves cheery, trusting, optimistic people.

Sadly, the Internet provides a vehicle for infinite ways to prey on those day-brighteners. People who always see the best in others. Who always believe the sun will come out tomorrow. If you’re one of those, I’m going to drop some precipitation on your parade.

Often, no harm will come to you if you believe a scammer. Well, unless you count snickering from your friends and family. But some tricksters draw you in and then they go after your money or information.

Examples:

  • I saw the most heartwarming/scary/simply AMAZING video clip!

Some are true, but many are staged. Did you ever wonder how someone just happened to be there with a camera to capture it? (Especially if it’s shot inside a car?) Harmless, unless you’re invited to contribute to some “cause.” Clicking or sharing can place you on a targeted list for other scams.

  • Statistics show that my new blog/music video/website has views from all over the world!

Most likely spiders, bots, and web crawlers used for indexing. Or cybercriminals after your identity or credit card information. Your web stats just record total hits, not necessarily instant worldwide fame. Do you honestly think Russia and Eastern Europe constitute your fan base?

  • Congratulations! You’ve been named one of the Top Hundred Excellent [fill in the profession] in your state!

For $19.95, you can purchase a plaque with your name on it, and for $39.95 you can buy a book listing the Top Hundreds for every state in the country. Buy one for each of your children! Who nominated you? What is the “organization” conferring this honor?

If you point out that the emperor has no clothes, you risk being perceived as negative and pessimistic. But if you have any sort of Internet presence that tracks comments, you know how much spam and other deceptive communication is out there.

Most (spam) comments I receive involve cheap knock-off sunglasses, fake designer handbags, and SEO services. The subject line is eye-catching, but the message is gibberish. Some are unintentionally, but genuinely, hilarious. The goal is simply to get you to open the message.

So enjoy your parade, but take an umbrella. And remember that this message, like many others I deleted, appeared in the stats for this blog:

This system helps cat owners understand their cats better by discussing reasons why cats urinate outside their litter box.

I don’t even have a cat.

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe last weekly post to this blog will be July 3, 2016. After that, see TextCPR on Facebook for occasional new posts. Thanks for nearly four years of readership and engaging comments.

The spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for About.com, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

Insulting with pronouns

bridesmaidsPronouns (he, she, it, they, his, her, its, that, them, this, for example) are useful shortcuts. They allow us to avoid saying:

Sir William Willingham Shropshire has assumed leadership of The International Institute for Global Peace, and the annual meeting of the International Institute for Global Peace was held at the estate of Sir William Willingham Shropshire.

Instead, we can say:

Sir William Willingham Shropshire has assumed leadership of The International Institute for Global Peace and hosted its annual meeting at his estate.

The handy pronouns its and his enabled us to avoid repeating two long and clumsy phrases. But writers, tossing around pronouns with no concern for where they land, often confuse us with unclear pronoun references. Sometimes the ambiguity even results in an unintended insult. Watch for these errors the next time you read a newspaper, magazine, or online article.

Examples

  • Because the representative is less committed to saving money than drafting legislation, she sometimes overlooks it.

What does it mean? Does she overlook drafting legislation or saving money? Here’s how the sentence might have been clearer:

The representative sometimes overlooks saving money because she is committed to drafting legislation.

  • Stewart has a great vocabulary. That is how he is able to convince people he is smart.

Pronouns have to refer to something. That suggests an action, but it has no referent in the first sentence. Simply having a good vocabulary does nothing to convince anyone of anything. Here’s a clearer version:

Stewart uses his great vocabulary to convince people he is smart.

  • The bride told the maid of honor she hated her dress because it made her look fat.

Is the bride referring to her own dress or to the bridesmaid’s dress? This is either an insecure bride or a snarky bridezilla who doesn’t deserve an honor attendant. Let’s hope it was this one:

The bride told the maid of honor, “I hate my dress. It makes me look fat.” […followed by reassurances that she is beautiful and this is her special day …]

My friend’s dad told me his pet peeve was a guy who confuses pronouns, just like he does. But, as he always says, he’s an idiot and his opinion has never mattered much to him.

Insulting with pronouns. See how easy that is?

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe last weekly post to this blog will be July 3, 2016. After that, see TextCPR on Facebook for occasional new posts. Thanks for nearly four years of readership and engaging comments.

The spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for About.com, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

That hidden fat

pinch fatIn this age of body-shaming, no one wants to use words like bony, scrawny, chubby, pudgy, or fat. We say slim, willowy, curvy, big-boned … euphemisms to avoid making people feel awkward about their physiques. But when it comes to writing, almost everyone needs a wakeup call, even if it hurts.

Your writing is probably fat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. We all use meaningless clichés without even realizing it. They’re part of our conversational vocabularies, and they creep into our writing like midnight refrigerator raids. You ask, “Why should I care? I’m not a swimsuit model – I mean – professional writer!” Perhaps not. But you might write emails, business reports, letters to the editor, announcements, notices, or bulletins for the Cub Scouts.

The trouble with fat writing is that the extra words dilute your message and subtract from its meaning. Readers get bored and stop paying attention.

To guard against releasing fat writing into the world, self-edit before you publish or send. These examples of voluminous verbiage show what to look out for, and what you could say instead:

  • so on and so forth (so on)
  • first and foremost (first)
  • last but not least (last)
  • over and over and over again (repeatedly)
  • far and away (clearly)
  • in some form or fashion (somehow)

And you can usually leave these out altogether:

  • as a matter of fact
  • as I said before
  • at the end of the day
  • it goes without saying that
  • for all intents and purposes
  • to tell you the truth

I know you’re not shallow and it’s not for vanity’s sake. I’m concerned about your health and want you to have a long and successful (writing) life.

So cut out the F-word, fat, and flex those nouns and verbs. Your writing might even make it to the Sports Illustrated cover.

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for About.com, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

Because or despite?

long scary nails2Ah, 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 and effect. The idea that the presence of two factors assumes one to be the result of the other.

For example:

“I’m CEO of a bussiness. I’m richer than you cuz I don’t waist time on writing and that kind of nonsence.”

The CEO’s success might be well earned, a result of good business instincts, wise decisions, great support staff, favorable economic conditions, a niche product, or inherited wealth—despite the poor communication skills. If success were the result of ignorant writing and speech, we would be a country of zillionaires. Just in case, I recommend being aware of (and always trying to improve) your communication skills. It might not be a guarantee of success, but it won’t hurt.

Remember an NBA player, back in the eighties and nineties, named Spud Webb? At five feet seven (that’s right – five, not six), he had a staggering 42-inch vertical leap. In 1986 he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Webb’s accomplishments were impressive despite his height, not because of it. Coaches did not immediately start to recruit the shortest players they could find, because no one else was Spud Webb.

My favorite real-life example of because vs. despite confusion comes from a small company where I once worked. We needed a new receptionist/typist. Our know-it-all business owner had previously worked with a secretary who had long fingernails. They extended perhaps a quarter-inch beyond her fingertips. She was also professional, personable, intelligent, and she somehow typed accurately despite the long-ish nails. But she was so good at her job that Mr. Big inexplicably equated her success with having long fingernails. Apparently the longer, the better—like Samson’s hair. And how clever of him to discover it!

When the interviews for our receptionist/typist position began, one candidate stood out from the rest. Not because of her skills, but because of her nails. They were at least two inches beyond her fingertips. They curved downward and were painted in neon colors. One nail sported multicolored stripes, two glued-on googly eyes, and a tuft of fur. It was, she explained, “Toucan Sam from the cereal commercial.” The office was abuzz with whispered questions: How does she button a coat? Eat French fries? Brush her teeth? How does she … oh dear.

But The Boss was so enchanted that he hired her – on the spot – without a typing test, a spelling test, or any other objective measure of her suitability for the job. Because he alone knew the secret to finding a good receptionist/typist.

Guess how that worked out.

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Endorse me, you sweet endorsable you

endorsements2Sometimes 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 new job or a better one, you probably need contacts, networking possibilities, sales prospects, and endorsements wherever you can find them.

Although you can set your profile preferences to ignore them, you probably get requests to endorse people you know. The requests can seem outrageous. A co-worker, for example, has less-than-zero skill in the area claimed in the request. When the question window pops up and asks, “Does ____ know about ____?” I’ve been known to say aloud, “Oh HELL no!” She appears to claim skill in what is, in fact, a major deficiency. But wait—there’s another possibility.

Business sites, like other social media (and that includes Facebook and online dating sites) make money by increasing participation. They send messages that hint, or outright claim, that you’re reaching out to someone or claiming a skill – without your knowledge. When a reply or the endorsement hits your Inbox, it seems unsolicited. You think, “Hmmm. Nice.” So you reply or endorse them in return, and so on and so on. More clicks, more ad exposure, more membership signups.

A key word in your profile can trigger an unsolicited endorsement request. You might have designed the cover for a book on Java, but would never seek endorsement as an expert programmer. How do you protect yourself from the appearance of unjustifiable boasting?

  1. Don’t list skills in your profile or resume that you don’t have.
  2. Go to your profile and turn off endorsement requests.
  3. If you don’t want to turn them off completely, see if your profile allows you to control the skills you claim.

Finally, don’t judge people too harshly for endorsement requests that seem out of line. It’s entirely possible the person in the request has no knowledge of it and never claimed that skill.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m warning everyone. Even if you receive a notification, you may consider bogus any request to endorse me for:

  • Cooking
  • Sense of direction
  • Anything remotely athletic

Trust me – the software did it.

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A special kind of dyslexia

dyslexiaWords 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 might be surprised to learn their correct spellings and pronunciations.

How often have you heard someone say this:

  • I need to get my perscription refilled. (prescription)
  • This course has some perequisites. (prerequisites)
  • Do whatever you like – it’s your perogative. (prerogative)
  • Who can perdict the winner? (predict)
  • There’s a perponderance of corruption in the city council. (preponderance)
  • I just love blackberry perserves. (preserves)

And the reverse, in writing as well as in speaking:

  • The group will preform a Beethoven symphony. (perform)
  • The runners were covered with prespiration. (perspiration)
  • Line A must be prependicular to Line B. (perpendicular)
  • If you presist in this behavior, you will be punished. (persist)
  • I can’t help it – I’m so preturbed about the situation! (perturbed)
  • What are you – a prevert? (pervert)

More of these reversals happen in pronunciation than in writing, but I’ve seen several of them written. By people who should know better. Some could be typos, and a few will not trigger a Spellchecker alert because they are legitimate words. Preform, for example, is a word. It just doesn’t mean the same thing as perform. If you’re the least bit uncertain about a pre- or per- word, you might want to look it up before using it in a business presentation, a document, or even an email or Facebook post.

If you perfer to be preceived as percise, prehaps I can presuade you to take percautions before you become a prepetrator of this less-than-prefect practice, placing you in a percarious position … premanently.

But if you’re determined to insult someone, I must admit that “PREE-vert” has a deliciously nasty ring to it.

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Sight, site, cite

oversiteYes, 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 – the ability to see or something that is seen
    [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sight].
  • Site – a physical or Internet location
    [http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/site].
  • Cite – to quote a source as proof or confirmation (notice anything about this post?)
    [https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=cite+definition].

A person with the power of sight can see a sight, perhaps a building site or a website, then cite a published picture to verify its existence.

Some of these variations have nothing to do with the root words:

  • Insight – an intuitive understanding of a person or thing [http://www.dictionary.com/browse/insight].
  • In-site (note hyphen) – within a particular Internet location
    [https://www.wordnik.com/words/in-site].
  • Incite – to encourage violent or unlawful behavior
    [https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=incite+definition].

If a programmer does not have insight into the peculiarities of in-site software navigation, the resulting frustration could incite users to write nasty reviews.

Other variations have distant ties to the original root meanings:

  • Oversight – watchful or responsible care. Also a failure to notice something [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/oversight].
  • Oversite – (construction) a layer of concrete on the ground, below a slab of flooring [http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/oversite].
  • Overcite – to excessively quote footnotes, sources, or links to outside articles (what kind of moron would do that?)
    [http://www.yourdictionary.com/overcite].

Despite careful oversight of the construction process, an oversight can occur, allowing a flaw in the oversite and leading to a lawsuit in which the attorney will inevitably overcite the case.

If you’re not talking about a layer of concrete on the ground under the subflooring, oversite is the wrong word. (See newspaper headline illustration. It should have said oversight.)

If you’re still reading, congratulations!

By now you’re also painfully aware of the single correct usage of the word overcite. The user-hostile1 practice of overciting infuriates and annoys the reader2. It reduces readability to almost zero3.

1 User-hostile is the opposite of user-friendly.
2 That would be you.
3 Well, not absolutely zero because you are still reading

But unless you react to them by repeatedly pounding your head on a slab of concrete under the floor, neither oversite nor overcite has anything to do with concussions.

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Pet peeves and sticky wickets

pet peeveMany of us have grammar or English usage pet peeves. One of mine is just between you and I. Having a pet peeve is fine. If you plan to go around ranting about it though, you might want to make sure it’s wrong.

I once knew a man who was skilled at flying airplanes, but his pet peeve was the construction, “I gave her a present.” He proudly insisted it was incorrect grammar and should always be, “I gave a present to her.” Apparently they don’t teach you about indirect objects in Airline Captain School.

Paul, a former co-worker of mine, disliked the superfluous of, as in “He’s so good of an editor that we should hire him.” He cleverly worked one into every email as a joke.

The superfluous of goof occurs in a noun phrase when you compare something using as, too, how, or so. The word of follows the adjective in the phrase. But of is a preposition, and it has no function in a noun phrase. Although it sounds awkward, most of us aren’t sure why it’s wrong—or worse yet—what to do about it. That’s the sticky wicket part. In most cases, you just leave out the word of. But that creates a sentence that, while correct, sounds uppity or pretentious to some people:

He’s so good an editor that we should hire him.
How do you express the same thought correctly without sounding pompous? Here are some problematic sentences and a few ways to improve them:

She’s as good of a dancer as any of the others.
She’s as good as any of the other dancers.
She dances as well as any of the others.

How great of a quarterback is he?
How great is he as a quarterback?
As quarterbacks go, how great is he?

You have too negative of an attitude.
Your attitude is too negative.
Try to be more positive.

We had so good of a time at the concert!
We had such a good time at the concert!
What a good time we had at the concert!

The superfluous of is one of the easiest sticky wickets to write around. Don’t get stuck in an imaginary corner when the way out is so simple.

This one’s for you, Paul. So funny of a guy!

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Are we getting dumber?

synonym rollsStatistics 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 doomed.

Really?

As adults, we’d like to think our generations were smarter. If that’s true, why do we seek help from eight-year-olds to program our iPhones and DVRs? Perhaps children are becoming smart in different ways.

People have always poked fun at village idiots. But Facebook, Twitter, and online comment boxes provide access to millions of them with a single click, swipe, or tap. It’s possible that Autocorrect was responsible for some of these, but Twitter has given us:

  • I can never pay attention when I do my homework I must have 80HD….
  • Every year we learn about the hollow cost in school….
  • Rosetta Stone did not sit on that bus for you to be….
  • Ima give em a minute then I tell em good writtens….

OK, so these comments demonstrate a shocking lack of spelling, grammar, history, and common sense. Maybe it was always out there, but we just couldn’t see it. The Internet is a super-magnifying reflective surface. You think you look pretty good, ready to walk out the door. Then you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror with every enlarged wrinkle, spot, and imperfection, and want to go back to bed.

Maybe our memories are a little airbrushed because we saw what we wanted to see. Schools emphasized math, spelling, and other basic skills. No calculators, spelling checkers, or instant encyclopedias for us! We learned to work square roots by hand and compose paragraphs of more than 140 characters. Then again, we didn’t need instant mental recall of invisible decision trees involving the nested processes and hierarchical operations for hundreds of apps, steps, and key sequences.

Still, it would be nice if every child learned to spell and construct a decent sentence. It might not make them smarter, but it would help with their selfie steam.

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