Monthly Archives: April 2010

Help! My train is burning and I can’t egress!

And The Award For Convoluted Legalese Goes To(heard on NPR)

“A new award recognizes the worst in ‘official’ writing — and attempts to shame governments and companies into communicating better. The Center for Plain Language hopes the award will encourage clear and useful writing.” (read the story at NPR.org)

A whole institution devoted to clarity in communication! After the exhaustion of Glitterary Week, this is a ray of sunshine. Let’s all strive for “ClearMark” awards!

Reference: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126224371

Disinterested

DISINTERESTED: “free of bias and self-interest; impartial” — The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

For our ultimate Glitterary Week article, I have dragged out disinterested, which some of you expressed an interest in. I thought it was well-known that disinterested means “impartial,” and that uninterested referred to someone who was blasé. Obviously that is not the case. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present Exhibits A and B:

“The Lakers have either been disinterested or dysfunctional in the final six weeks of the season.” — “NBA Western Conference playoff preview,” The Washington Post, April 17, 2010

“The period ended with the disinterested Devils being booed loudly as they were headed to their third straight opening-round elimination.” — “Flyers beat Devils, 3-0, to take series,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 2010

Lest you chalk those examples up to the Neanderthal language skills of sportswriters, please refer to Exhibit C:

“Both the cinematographer and Nolan are disinterested in digital cinematography and very much prefer to shoot on film. That’s the root of their disinterest in 3D… The appeal of IMAX and the disinterest in 3D both come from that love of shooting on film.” — “Dark Knight Cinematographer Wally Pfister Talks Batman 3 and 3D,” /Film, April 21, 2010

Egad. That’s three misuses of the same word in two paragraphs. What do you expect? It’s a blog.

Now, I would go on and on about how judges are disinterested while teenagers are uninterested, but I won’t, for two reasons: 1) would it matter? 2) even if it mattered, it wouldn’t matter. Misusers would just argue that being unenthusiastic is the same as having no stake (which is not true, anyhow. A defense lawyer might be uninterested in a case, but he is far from disinterested); and 3) the meaning has already begun its shift to legitimacy. AHD4 lists as its second definition “2. a. not interested; indifferent; b. having lost interest” Merriam-Webster Online lists “not interested” as its first definition. ADH4 and NOAD refuse to acknowledge the shift, with 88% of ADH4‘s Usage Panel disdaining it. But Random House and Merriam-Webster claim the “new” definition is not new at all, with M-W citing a letter Jack London wrote in 1914.

As for me, I’ll leave it up to you. After all, I’m disinterested in what you decide.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/16/AR2010041604535.html?hpid=topnews
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/sports/20100423_Flyers_beat_Devils__3-0__to_take_series.html
http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/04/21/dark-knight-cinematographer-wally-pfister-talks-batman-3-and-3d/
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disinterested
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/disinterested (Contains usage note from ADH4)
New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition (2005)

—Ation Nation

As we sift through the stacks of emails, Facebook comments and tweets, we at Lexicide find ourselves filled with a warm glow. And it’s all because of you. Yes, we are the few, the literate few. But it’s nice to know you exist, gritting your teeth at the abuse of our language. That makes us a band of brothers and sisters, and it’s comforting to have allies in this unhappy war.

Lexicide began with a specific mission, which is to hold the line against meaning drift. Meaning drift isn’t always bad, but it’s dismaying these days because we’re losing so many handy words (such as leverage, delta and unique) to duplicate meanings — all due to ignorance and pomposity.

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t read an email, memo or webpage without a ridiculous lexicide. However, what really plagues me are “weasel” words — verbal padding. We must truly be an insecure society if we don’t feel we can say what we mean (nicely, of course). Having worked in marketing, PR and human resources, I’m well aware that American businesspeople walk on pins and needles every day, wary of offending colleagues, customers and bosses. But there must be a better solution than making sentences unintelligible.

Which brings me back to our Glitterary Week user submissions. The majority of them were not lexicides as much as unnecessary puffery, following the axiom that if a five-letter word tells the story, then eight is better and sixteen wins the Pulitzer. Here are some of the weasely constructions Lexicide fans submitted:

conceptualization instead of concept
incentivization instead of incentive
motivation instead of motive
medication instead of medicine

You know you’ve used some of these. You’ve probably also written some of these bad back-formations:

administrate instead of administer
orientate instead of orient
conference instead of confer
conceptualize instead of conceive
commentate instead of comment

There are some differences in nuance — motive seems to have gained a sinister tinge, no doubt propelled by the justice system and the phrase ulterior motive. And medication often refers to a protocol where medicine speaks in the singular voice. But if you can tell me why incentivization trumps incentive, I will give you a gold-plated Underwood.

So thank you again, friends, for taking arms against a sea of troubling corporate-speaking hacks. For they hold their corner offices cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us on Lexicide.com.

Otto E. Mezzo

Schema

SCHEMA: “1. a diagrammatic representation; an outline or model; 2. (Psychology) a pattern imposed on complex reality or experience to assist in explaining it, mediate perception, or guide response.” — The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Glitterary Week is proving to be a challenge. It seems the Lexicide fanbase is quite persnickety, railing, for example, against the interchanging of Use/Usage/Utilize. I should have expected this, as Lexicide.com is no doubt an exercise in futility, preaching only to the caring, literate choir.

A schema is a cognitive framework that assists us in processing information. Think of a schema as your browser cache — it allows you to interpret data faster. A scheme is a plan or system of plans. Chances are, unless you’re a psychologist or philosopher, you will never have occasion to use schema (or its plurals schemas and schemata) correctly. That doesn’t stop hoity-toity lexicidal maniacs from offering marketing schemas or business development schemas. I’ve even had clients refer to color schemas. Come on! Do you want me to start talking about process control documentas or business modelos? No, don’t answer that.

Otto E. Mezzo

Reference: Wikipedia entry on schema according to Kant

Use/Usage/Utilize

USAGE: “1. the action of using something or the fact of being used; 2. the way in which a word or phrase is normally and correctly used; 3. habitual or customary practice” — New Oxford American Dictionary

UTILIZE: “make practical and effective use of: vitamin C helps your body utilize the iron present in your diet.” — Ibid.

Of all the online submissions to Lexicide, usage and utilize seemed to have raised the most hackles. We have avoided addressing these usages because the subtleties are beyond the understanding of most corporate zombies. If that strikes you as a tad supercilious, I remind you that this is the crowd who thinks FYI stands for “just in case.”

But the fans have spoken, so here goes… Usage, according to most sources, refers to standard practices (language usage) or ongoing deployment (water usage). If you speak of singular events (the speech made good use of analogies) or deployments with a beginning and an end (bandwidth use in April was double what it was in March), then use use.

Likewise, utilize is not an all-purpose synonym for use in the verb form. It means “to make practical and effective use of,” as in “we utilize our turnkey technology platform to increase efficiency.” See? I used it in a weasely corporate-speak sentence, but I used it correctly. It is not correct to say an employee should utilize a procedure or best practice, or that a client should utilize his browser to access a website. Even worse to claim your company utilizes effectively or best utilizes something — both are redundant.

When in doubt — and doubt you should — use use. Use use. I’ll say it again: use use. The best thing about simple words is they are usually correct. In all the examples above, use works, even if usage or utilize is also on the money. But use is too direct, too active and too understandable, so it’s out. Which explains why sysadmins now have “clients” instead of “users.”

Otto E. Mezzo

Vaguely related to usage is signage, which refers not to signs but to a system of signs — a store has eye-catching signage, except for some signs that need to be updated. I remember when the suffix age threatened the business world until people came to their senses and realized shrinkage and tonnage sounded okay, but costage and profitage were not going to fly. Still, my colleague received an email once that asked her to reduce her lineage. The department puzzled over why the client was concerned with her ancestry until we realized with horror what the client was requesting — to reduce the number of lines of copy in an ad.

For fun: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2058/whats-the-origin-of-the-suffix-age

Simplistic

SIMPLISTIC: “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are” — New Oxford American Dictionary

Glitterary Week actually began earlier this month when Lexicide published a fan submission so egregious we couldn’t wait to get it out there. We kick off the official event, however, with simplistic, which way too many people use when they mean simple.

As any ape can see from the definition, simplistic and simple are not synonyms. Concrete things, such as machines and people, can only be simple. Ideas, plans and solutions are simple if they are easy to understand and express. They are simplistic if they lack the depth and intricacy needed to address the problem or issue. Putting up a fence to keep out coyotes is a simple solution for a sheep rancher. Putting up a fence to keep out illegal immigrants is a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

As with so many other misused words (too many to list here), simplistic is a negative word, yet consultants crow about their simplistic strategies and sales reps brag about how simplistic their software solution is. If you are one of these people (hands proudly on hips or thumbs hooked smugly in suspenders), then carry on with confidence. For one day, your idiocy will win the day, the word simple will cease to exist, and you will join your products in being called simplistic.

Otto E. Mezzo

Welcome to Glitterary Week

“Glitterary” is office-speak for excessive use of buzzwords, clichés, or catchy phrases in a body of work. Generally, a work is glitterary when these word and phrases are used as fluff in a generally pointless body of work. — Encyclo Online Encyclopedia

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), “The Princess Bride”

A few weeks ago, I asked Lexicide’s online community for commonly used words that don’t mean what the user think it means, but sound similar, are longer and lend an erudite air to the issuer. I got so many responses, I decided to devote this week to publishing them. So stay tuned, and prepare for so much ostentatious glitterature, it will have you uttering “inconceivable!”

Otto E. Mezzo

Reference: http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/Glitterary

Duplicitous

DUPLICITOUS: “deceitful: treacherous, duplicitous behavior” — New Oxford American Dictionary

A friend relates this tale:

I once had a …meeting with someone who used the word “duplicitous” about a million times, when she meant “duplicate.” I couldn’t figure out a nice way to say, “So, you hope the invitations aren’t sneaky and underhanded?”

Why be nice? This is the sort of grandiloquent puffery that keeps Lexicide in business. My goodness, there are so many English words that sound like other English words, yet don’t mean the same. Logically, why would you create two words with the same meaning but vary the spelling by a few letters? That doesn’t make sense at all!

No one uses ironic to refer to laundry pressing. Neither do the police refer to auspicious persons (Dogberry excepted). So everyone, please get real — and use the word you know is right, not the overblown one that’s wrong.

Otto E. Mezzo

Sighting | http://www.gender.org.uk/conf/2002/profs22.htm

The ability of the nurse specialist to think divergently, mapping the process of integration is only acquired through regular supervision, as is learning how to balance a duplicity of roles…

Ideally there should be clear boundaries around duplicitous roles…

From a talk on nursing care for patients confused about their gender identity. The author obviously took confusion seriously, perhaps because one of her roles was scheming against the others.