Author Archives: mark

Leverage, revisited

Our partner company leverages outside technical resources to support their initiatives…

The ability to leverage their global retail fulfillment offering…

We believe that a best-of-breed approach that leverages our IT tools will offer the most flexibility to meet long-term global expansion plans.

We leverage our best practices at our partner facilities. 

I am officially over leverage.

I had to edit a document containing the above passages today, and I am less sure than ever what leverage actually means. In 2009, I lamented how people use the word as a flowery substitute for “use.” Now, I’m not sure.

It sounds like something is happening beyond simple use or deployment. But what? How does a best-of-breed approach relate to a technology stack? At some point, I start to wonder if my colleagues are really just stringing buzzwords together.

I did a quick search to see if other writers are as bothered as I am. They are, although seemingly more because leverage is more properly a noun, not a verb:

Plain old lever still has its uses as a verb. As for leverage as a noun, advantage can replace it in most figurative contexts.

All these entries insist the verb form is lever, not leverage.

Are you stupid enough to use leverage as a verb?

The title says it all.

I’ve chosen ‘leverage’ to appear in the title of a blog about clear business communication, its use as a verb being symbolic of the obfuscation, dissembling and cleverly disguised cluelessness that passes for much corporate speak these days.

Wow. A whole blog devoted to exposing the fraud that is leverage.

I don’t care much that leverage crosses the mythical line separating noun from verb. Many words, from Shakespeare’s time and before, have identified first as nouns, then verbs. (More concerning is the illiterate trend of verbs becoming nouns – words like ask and spend.)

What Lexicide cares about are words used carelessly and stupidly. I spend hours each day writing and editing. Why would I want to waste my workday spitting out vapid buzzwords when I could offer sentences that make an impact on readers (or, in modern parlance, impact readers)? Here at Lexicide, we’ve offered a few theories. My new favored hypothesis is just that people are idiots. I think marketing god Seth Godin says it best:

The more you say leverage, the less you’ve probably thought about what you’re saying.

— Otto E. Mezzo

Demonyms, according to the U.S. government

A friend sent me this:

These are the official state demonyms according to the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual. The government has a reputation for being inefficient, wasteful, and obstructionist. But orthographically incompetent?

My first question is why an Alaska resident is Alaskan but an Alabama denizen is Alabamian. Shouldn’t it be Alabaman? Likewise Floridan?

At least they know what Florida residents call themselves (Floridian). That’s more courtesy than Michiganders get, being assigned the clunky Michiganian as an adjective. But the real sin is “Hawaii resident“! Does that even count as a demonym? A million-and-a-half Hawaiians would disagree.

The one upside to this egregious abuse of state pride is it answers an important question, one we posed in our first demonym-themed article: What do you call someone from Connecticut? We’re sorry we asked.

On Demonyms, Part 1
On Demonyms, Part II
On Demonyms, Part C
A Demonym diversion
Demonyms, the final words
Demonyms, one more final word

NPR: Our Language Is Evolving, ‘Because Internet’

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/31/747020219/our-language-is-evolving-because-internet

Friend, reader, and prolific writer Christina shared this article, an interview with linguist Gretchen McCulloch on her new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. It’s well worth reading, and piques my interest in the book. Some takeaways:

On LOL

There’s a difference between how these different groups use “LOL” … the acronym which initially stood for “laughing out loud.” And if you talk to people in some of these older generations who are, you know, have been using the Internet for 20 years but came online in a less social space, they see it: OK, here’s an acronym; they’re told it is an acronym; it must mean “laughing out loud.” … And for the youngest group of people, there’s no literal meaning left to LOL at all.

How the period gains new meaning

… [I]n an informal context, you don’t need the period anymore to distinguish between one sentence or one phrase and the next because you’re just going to hit “send” in a chat context… But the problem is if you say “OK, sounds good.” — and you add that note of seriousness — now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation, and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive aggression.

Who cares about internet grammar?

If we analyze the language on the Internet, we can analyze so many different types of languages, so many different ways of talking and get a bigger picture of what it means to be a person — rather than just what it means to be the type of person who writes a book.

Lexicide has touched on the shifting meaning of LOL and other words, and I find McCulloch’s whole exploration fascinating. I have heard that we learn more about street-level societies from graffiti than from official records. Many ancient (and modern) cultures keep no records of events unflattering to the ruling class, and the volume of words generated by common people (in receipts, letters, and diaries) would provide a richer, fuller picture of, say, the Roman empire — if we could read Vulgar Latin.

The snob in me disdains the devolution of language due to texting and email. But there’s linguistic gold in them thar hills. What does it say about us that we find periods passive aggressive in their finality? Or that we curate mistakes to look more like they came from a typewriter than a phone? It’s these fascinating questions that keep us publishing Lexicide.

Otto E. Mezzo

Iconic

ICONIC: “1. of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon; 2a. widely recognized and well-established (an iconic brand name); 2b. widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence.” – Merriam-Webster.com

According to NPR, this is “one of the most iconic signs in the national memory.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have no memory (national or otherwise) of this sign or phrase. I’d bet if you were born after 1870, neither do you. What NPR probably meant was that this sign was widespread, ubiquitous, or omnipresent at one time. Sure, the writer was proffering the thesis that ethnic prejudice is so ingrained in the American mind that we (Americans) hold signs like this up as national icons. But, sorry, we don’t. And that’s a very good thing.

What makes something iconic? Apropos the 50th Anniversary of the first moon landing, this image (and it must be an image, an icon) qualifies as iconic:

This one, too.

Of course, this one.

And this one.

Don’t think so? Metro disagrees, calling Molly-Mae’s hairstyle from the “Love Island” TV show iconic. Yes, I had to look up the show, and not just because I’m a Yank (well, partly). The show first aired in 2015, and Molly-Mae is a contestant on the current season, so I suppose now thirty days is all that’s required for something to become iconic.

In the world of entertainment, a thing doesn’t have to be widely known to be iconic. I’ve seen Bill Bixby’s ripped shirt from “The Incredible Hulk” TV show, the stiletto heel from Single White Female, and the Glock from John Wick 2 all called iconic. The Ocarina of Time may be a big deal to Zelda fans, but it’s a stretch to call something in a rarefied universe iconic. If gamers want to know how that feels, try imagining your great-aunt Edith’s knitting circle cooing over her iconic Afghan squares.

Everyone just stop. None of these examples are seared into the collective consciousness like the moon landing, V-J Day, or Tiananmen Square. Or the Kaaba or Calvary or the Colossus of Rhodes. Molly-Mae’s hair may be arresting, unusual, or instantly recognizable (please don’t call it unique), but until the image echoes throughout time, it can’t rightly be iconic. Icons outlive their culture – they endure. Which is why “No Irish Need Apply” will never be iconic.

– Otto E. Mezzo

References:

http://www.npr.org/2019/07/16/742000247/with-latest-nativist-rhetoric-trump-takes-america-back-to-where-it-came-from

A stock picture, not necessarily a cicisbeo

Cicisbeo

CICISBEO (plural CICISBEI): “a married woman’s male companion or lover.” — Oxford English Dictionary

Apropos our last few articles, we discovered there is a word for “male mistress.” The word is cicisbeo, from the Italian. It doesn’t appear common in the Anglosphere, and even the multiple Italian language pages I found refer to cicisbei only in historical or artistic contexts (from what I could tell. Then again, my Italian comprehension is limited to tiramisu, pianoforte, and Lamborghini.)

According to the Wikipedia article, cicisbei abided by strict codes of social norms, right down to where they positioned themselves at events. The term seems to no longer be in common use, which may be due to reduced acceptance of adultery, the dissolution of the aristocracy, plain old sexism, or all of the above.

The one English language article I found referencing the cicisbeo concept had as its subject “walkers,” male escorts to society events. Since I’m not a regular at debuts and cotillions, I was only vaguely aware of the concept, but as every article I’ve read on the subject points out, women crave manners, neat appearance, and a listening ear. Husbands, fiancés, and boyfriends, take note.

Otto E. Mezzo

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicisbeo

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/8111966/Every-woman-needs-a-man-or-two-to-make-her-feel-like-a-star.html

https://www.sfgate.com/style/article/I-was-a-walker-an-escort-to-society-women-5720198.php

Apropos Mistresses – Spinster, Bachelor, and other Asymmetries

Back in April, we asked if mistress is an offensive word. And if so, is it only because there’s no equally underhanded word for an adulterous man?

Anne, as usual, had a lot to say on the topic:

“Master,” as a noun, came about in the 12th century, according to Merriam-Webster.com, and “mistress” in the 14th. It took somebody a couple hundred years to figure out that sometimes women are in charge OR to decide that they wanted another word.

My take is that “mistress” was the female equivalent of “master” for a long time (mistress of the house, mistress of ceremonies) before the secondary meaning came along. Perhaps it was originally a euphemism. Perhaps there is no male equivalent (as the plus-one who was not invited by the other spouse) because women, married or single, are often not seen as being distracted by sexual urges.

There’s a lot packed in there, and Anne makes several astute observations. Do women take “boy toys” for diversion less frequently than men run to mistresses for succor? Perhaps, but that doesn’t explain why a male analog for mistress wouldn’t have emerged. We have words to describe much rarer things (like silience).

But enough anomia. On to this month’s topic.

The original Dictionary.com article bore the title Mistress” And Other Words That Have No Male Counterpart, which got me thinking on asymmetries – pairs of words that should convey equivalent meanings, but don’t. The article mentions bachelor/spinster. Another good example: governor/governess. Whereas mistress has described a woman in charge (and still does – headmistress, props mistress, &c.), I’m not sure governess has ever denoted a female head of state. Comment if I’m wrong.

The Dictionary.com article also mentioned bitch. I looked it up, and where a female dog is a bitch, a male dog is a… dog. At least that’s also a put-down, and one that’s mostly directed at men. Is there a generic English animal name derived from the female of the species? Yes: cow.*

Here’s another asymmetrical pair: courtier/courtesan. Both words originally described members of the royal court. But courtesan soon took on its primary meaning of a prostitute with an upscale clientele. Sometimes a courtesan wasn’t in general circulation – in those cases, she would be more like a mistress.

And that brings us full circle. To close out this article, I turn it back over to Anne:

[Mistress] has become pejorative. In related news, I think the word “master” has been touched more by its connection to the time of legal enslavement in this country than “mistress” has. Eventually, as is always true in language, we will devise new terms.

True dat.

– Otto E. Mezzo

*What do you call a female cat – the counterpart to a tom? Answer: a queen.

Post-industrial

POST-INDUSTRIAL: “Relating to or denoting an economy which no longer relies on heavy industry” – Oxford English Dictionary

What’s good for the environment is not necessarily good for language. Take post-industrial. What does it mean? If you ask marketing people, it refers to a class of recycled materials – namely plastics, paper, textiles, wood, or even metals trimmed off during the manufacturing process which are then recycled into post-industrial material.

The first time I saw that term, I did a double take. When I see post-industrial, I think of post-industrial economies or post-industrial societies. The word industrial has always carried an air of global abstraction (industrial strength, industrial nations) rather than referring to specific industry-related things. Because of that, I prefer post-manufacture when writing about cast-offs from the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer is also widely accepted.

Post-industrial waste is a generally accepted term, so I concede it’s a logical hop to post-industrial recycled material. But no standard dictionary I consulted has an entry for it – yet.

 – Otto E. Mezzo

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-industrial_economy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-industrial_society

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/post-consumer-pre-consumer-post-industrial-waste-marcel-van-enckevort/

https://www.buildinggreen.com/primer/defining-recycled-content

Dictionary.com: Is mistress offensive?

https://www.dictionary.com/e/mistress-and-other-words-that-have-no-male-counterpart/

Mistress is a problematic word in so many ways. First is in its abbreviation, Mrs. No, I don’t have a problem with women using the title* (nor if they prefer Ms., as my own wife does). But whereas Mr. is pronounced “mister”, Mrs. carries the elided pronunciation “missus”. If you are writing dialog in a script, the general rule is to spell abbreviations, symbols, and numerals out (Elm Street instead of Elm St., sixty-seven dollars instead of $67). How do you do that with Mrs.? Because “missus” is not a word, the generally accepted solution is to simply write Mrs.

Dictionary.com also asks if the very word mistress is offensive or sexist. The site agrees with Huffington Post and the Associated Press that it is:

Referring to someone as a mistress may seem more acceptable if there were a similar term we could apply to men, but there isn’t quite one.

However, we could apply the same logic to why a writer should use the word mistress – because there really isn’t another good word for the person in question. Adulterer, while technically accurate, is too sanctimonious, homewrecker too judgmental, and lover too literary (as Dictionary.com admits). Mistress is a word we all understand to mean “the woman with whom a man has an affair.” I’m not sure the “kept” implication is still there in 2019. But I get the objection. If a woman takes a male lover who’s not her husband, what is he called? Mister or master obviously don’t work. Gigolo has other connotations. Courtier? Consort?

The AP just chucks out the words and suggests you re-write the sentence. But the beauty of English words is how they pack whole thoughts into a short construction of letters. Bezos’ mistress tells you everything you need to know without resorting to the passive “Sanchez and Bezos were romantically involved.” Likewise, actress reads more smoothly than female actor, or actor (female), as I expect the Oscar will one day be renamed. To be clear, I call all my women thespian friends actors. There is no difference between what they do on stage or in front of the camera and what their male castmates do. Actress belongs in the same dustbin as poetess, huntress, and baxter (a female bake-ster). I do have a special place in my heart for editrix, but have never worked up the nerve to call any of my women editors that, since they could fire me. When I was a teenager, waitress was still in common use. After a brief flirtation with waitron, waiter for both men and women seems to have won the day. Except there is that musical on Broadway.

To be continued.

– Otto E. Mezzo

*No, Mrs. need not be followed by the husband’s name. Emily Post says so:
https://emilypost.com/advice/the-mrs-question/

You Must Pay the Rent! Churls, Boors, Villains, and other malfeasants

Country folk get a bad rap in the English language (indeed, in most languages). Five months ago, we glanced at the word villain. The word once denoted a farmhand, but now universally refers to the antagonist of a story or a situation. Back in October, I puzzled about why we should equate productive men of the soil with calumny and scheming. After all, none of the great villains of Shakespeare or Virgil are peasants.

As it turns out, we can chalk up the journey from rural hired hand to malefactor to garden-variety classism. Workers bound to a villa (plantation) were considered rough and unmannered, especially compared with knights and squires. Indeed, villeins formed an official social class in feudal Europe, much as peóns did in colonial Latin America. Since hayseeds couldn’t tell a dinner fork from an oyster fork, and also since they knew nothing of courtly manners, they must be to blame for crimes most foul, at least in the minds of the nobility. Hence, villain, the bad guy/gal.

Two other English words also make the leap from “country rube” to “disagreeable person,” meaning-wise. Boor means “farmer,” and comes from the same Germanic root that gave us the Dutch boer. And like villain, the word assumes a certain lack of refinement — in fact, that is the very definition of boor in modern English. Churls were one rung above the villeins, being free farmers rather than serfs, but all that means is they got off the hook for murder, theft, and world domination. Instead, their coarse ways gave us the adjective churlish and the noun churl, an ill-tempered, rude person. I’d rather have world domination.

Lest we let the upper classes off the hook too easily, the words bourgeois and bourgeoisie came to describe the middle and upper-middle classes. It acquired its perjorative connotation of vain materialism during the French revolution, when it was well-earned. Karl Marx hammered the final nails in the coffin of bourgeois respectability, at least in common-use English.

Interestingly, both bourgeois (think burgher) and villain are words which etymologically suggest “city dweller.” So I guess the agrarians get their linguistic revenge in the end, proving that an Arkansas toothpick beats an oyster fork any day.

 – Otto E. Mezzo

Two numbers walk into a bar…

220 and 284 walk into a bar. “Hey!” the craft mixologist yells, “we don’t serve your kind here!”

“I thought public houses are open to the public!” the outraged numbers shoot back.

“We recently re-branded as a social club. We only serve sociable numbers.”

“We assure you, we won’t cause trouble,” the still fuming numbers insist. “We’re quite amicable.”

“You don’t look very friendly to me,” sneers the cocktail artisan, refreshing his mustache wax. “Come back when you’re betrothed and we’ll talk.”

“What about me?” asks 496, sitting at the bar typing on a vintage Underwood.

“You can stay. You’re perfect!”