Category Archives: commentary

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

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

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/

Demonyms: Citizens’ Arrest

Back in October, I asked what one called residents of Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Atlantic City, etc. This is because Reader Eddie suggested they should be Citizens, as in Oklahoma Citizens, and so on. As is typical of my readership, I got a lot of smart-alecky responses to my serious inquiry (“Okies, Mormons, vagrants”) but no sober, informed data.

That’s because I didn’t consult Wikipedia (the ever-reliable font of sober, informed data!). Turns out there is an entire article called List of adjectivals and demonyms for citiesHuzzah!

Rummaging through the list, you’ll find someone from Carson City is a Carsonite (since the city was founded on silver mines, I find the mineral-oriented “ite” suffix appropriate). A Kansas City resident is a Kansas Citian (blech). Oklahoma City is home to Oklahoma Cityans (double blech), and SLC supports its population of Salt Lakers. Atlantic City is not relevant enough to be on this list, apparently.

A couple of interesting demonyms show their colors here. I did not know people from Buenos Aires are Porteños. Ho Chi Minh City dwellers still call themselves Saigoners or Saigonese, and if you hail from Mexico City, you are thankfully not a Mexico Cityan, but a Capitalino.

And sorry, Eddie. The uniform demonym for ville (Nashville, Louisville, even Seville) is villian, not villain.

Eames chairs

Retro (a retrospective on retrograde)

RETRO: “Imitative of a style or fashion from the recent past.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Reader David Elliot commented on last month’s article:

I understood the term ‘retro’ as we use it in English coming to us from the French adjective ‘rétrograde’ originally, used as a shortened bit of slang in the 60s.

I believe that’s the earliest use in English vernacular and commercial copy to mean throwback or vintage (not its academic or scientific use).

So, that makes the Mossberg mark that much more precise.

D.E. is right on the time frame. Almost all authorities date retro to 1960s France, with common usage in English booming in the early 1970s. But here sources diverge as to whether retro derives from rétrograde, as he cites, or rétrospectif. Merriam-Webster favors rétrospectif whereas the OED (Lexicide’s go-to source) throws its beret in with rétrograde. Two French dictionaries cite rétrospectif as the source.

Rétrospectif is directly equivalent to the English retrospective (“looking back”), so that etymology makes sense. I wondered, however, if rétrograde carries the same negative color as its English counterpart. Here’s where I consulted with French teacher Erin, who in turn contacted one of her French amis. She replied: “C’est négatif et obscurantiste.”

There aren’t many words we don’t know at Lexicide, but obscurantist (in English) definitely drove us to the dictionary. (Obscurantism is “the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known,” according to Oxford.) So oui, rétrograde is just as much of an insult in the francosphere as it is the anglosphere.

Reader Andy also commented on retrograde and retro:

It’s funny how “retro” has become a word unto itself. It’s not merely a descriptive prefix, or an abbreviation for “retrograde,” but it seems to specifically refer to style or design, and it carries a positive (or at least nostalgic) connotation.

It’s also oddly specific. Nobody would refer to Conestoga wagons or Gregorian chant as “retro,” though they come from earlier times. It seems to me that “retro” refers to the zeitgeist of Americana in the 1950s through perhaps the 1980s, though I expect this will expand as the population ages. “Retro” needs to have occurred within living memory and needs to have been part of a pop-culture movement that has definitely ended, AND has since been re-imagined or mythologized.

Having studied philosophy in college, we’re not surprise Andy latched on to this. Of course, retro is not pinned to a specific era, but to nostalgia, and one can’t be nostalgic over things one didn’t live through. The Wikipedia article offers a good summary on retro’s origins and future.

– Otto E. Mezzo

At -ese (A diversion on demonyms)

I always wondered why people and things from China and Japan are Chinese and Japanese, and not, say, Chinan and Japanian. As someone with Chinese ancestry, the word in English always had an exotic ring – a foreign ring. Growing up, none of my contemporaries in Virginia were an -ese. They were French, British, Irish, German, Swedish, Italian, Mexican, or African. Chinese and Japanese stood out, and when you’re a kid, that’s bad.

The suffix -ese still has an alien ring to my ears, which may be why the writers of Star Trek chose Klingonese as the demonym as opposed to Klingonian or Klingonite. Even Portuguese has an otherworldly air, even though it’s a kissing cousin to Spanish. Certainly Togolese and Congolese, which follow no orthographic logic in their formation, describe to me dense, inscrutable people.

But the origins of the suffix ­-ese are not so exotic to European folk. They come to English (as so many words do) from the French ­­-aise. Examples: Lyonnaise, hollandaise, and mayonnaise. No American is going to call mayonnaise exotic.

Thinking of demonyms for people from China brings up a suffix I didn’t cover last time: –man. Chinaman once carried the same neutral color as Englishman or Frenchman, only to gain its offensive tone the more it was spat instead of spoken. As you can see, what’s interesting about Chinaman is that it adds the ­-man suffix to an unmodified place name instead of the descriptor demonym. Chineseman would be more consistent. Of course, this is all before we get to the possible controversies of using “man” to describe both men and women. So a man from Man (the Isle) is a Manxman. But so is a woman from Man.

 Otto E. Mezzo

From StraightNorth.com: 150 Business Jargon Fixes

When business writers resort to business jargon, it’s because they lack the time, creative energy or subject mastery to find a more exact word or phrase. 

No truer words have ever been spoken. While Lexicide has explored the far reaches of English language word usage, we started off decrying lazy, jargony, incorrect business writing. This article sums up 150 of the most common clichés in the workplace. We’ve covered awesome, bleeding edge, epic, evangelist, (most) unique, incentivize, leverage, utilize, and out of pocket. But what made me laugh in this piece was how many of these hoary expressions we use at my workplace. Not a meeting goes by without a deep dive and a granular drill down to mission critical action items at the end of the day.

Enjoy. https://www.straightnorth.com/company/marketing-resources/150-business-jargon-fixes/

On Demonyms (Part II)

In July, we started down the path to demonyms, beginning with your comments. But your comments, they’re only the beginning.

One question a number of commenters asked is “how are demonyms formed?” Why do some place names get -ian, others ­-ese, and still others ­-ish? That’s a good question, and like so many other orthographic oddities in English, the answer is unsatisfying. Basically, because English.

For example, Gary asked where the demonyms Mancunian and Glaswegian (for, respectively, Manchester and Glasgow) came from. Manchester is simple. Its old Roman name was Mancunium. That name was (supposedly) adapted from the native Celtic name for the locale, which was then further Latinized by adding ­-chester, which means “fort.” The suffix ­-chester is sometimes Anglicized -caster, as in place names like Doncaster or Lancaster – there one can see where our word castle derives.

And that’s Latin for you. In fact, this dead language probably has more influence on demonyms than any other. The suffixes –an­ and -ian are Latin. Wait, let’s list as many suffixes as we can:

-an/ian/anian/onion
-ard
-asque/esque
-ene
-egian
-eño
-er
-ese/-aise
-i
-ic
-ish
-ite

Notice something? With two exceptions, every one of those suffixed is Latin-derived. ­­-An and its variants was the most common Roman designator. –I designated tribes (for example, the Helvetii in Switzerland). All the others come from French or Spanish. Except or ­-er and -ite, from German and Greek, respectively.

That brings us back to Glaswegian. The etymology of Glasgow is pretty murky (because Scottish). The best anyone can say is that Glasgow roughly means “the green place.” If that’s the case (and we’re not saying it is), it correlates to Norway (the North place) and Galway (the place those crazy residents call Gaillimhe, because Irish), whose residents are – ready? Norwegians and Galwegians.

Wait, Otto, that makes no sense. For your analog to mean anything, Glasgow should be Glasway. It’s not.

Did I mention they were Scottish?

 Otto E. Mezzo

P.S. Yes, I will wrap this up next month.

 

 

Hey Girl

Fact: 90% of those who use “cognitive” guilty of 0% cognition

Big news broke today: Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong film deliberately omits the planting of the US flag on the Sea of Tranquility. But that fact itself is not the news. It’s Gosling’s quotation:

“So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero… I’m Canadian, so might have cognitive bias.” 

Unlike Gosling, I am not a psychologist. No, I don’t know if the former Mouseketeer is one either, but he must be, because not many outside the psychology field have occasion to speak of cognitive biases, which, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, are defined as:

Systematic pattern[s] of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.

Whatever that means. Here’s a better definition from Chegg.com (an online textbook site):

Mistake[s] in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

What a cognitive bias is not is a preference, affinity, or plain old bias based on your nationality. But why admit bias when cognitive bias sounds so much more high-minded?

Lex, who works in bioinformatics (and who studied artifical intelligence and neuroscience) also complained to me about the way his colleagues use cognitive dissonance. No, his colleagues are not brain scientists or behavioral therapists. They’re programmers. And no, they don’t mean the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. (That’s a little better, Wikipedia.) Here’s what they mean:

Want to experience cognitive dissonance? Try reading George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” while visiting Catalonia. (Macomb Daily)

However, when a heuristic fails and the player’s character dies, they experience cognitive dissonance between what they thought was going to happen and what actually happened. For a Fortnite player, this may be because they were hit by a sniper in what they thought was a secret hiding spot. (The Guardian)

Hey, that one’s relevant and all. Look, kids!

Or this one, from Jezebel, titled My Pussy Is on a Journey of Self-Discovery (yes, it’s SFW):

The cognitive dissonance created by her freshly shorn bod supporting an Elizabethan neck ruff made of soft fur is gone. 

So just as cognitive bias is just a fancy word for biascognitive dissonance is a high-falutin’ way of saying dissonance, or to put it in even more prosaic terms, Whoa! Didn’t expect that!

But you should. Studies show 90% of people you meet think their vocabulary is more learned than it really is. And that’s a fact.

See also: Impedance mismatch

 Otto E. Mezzo, suggested by Lex

P.S.: Yes, I know I promised to elaborate on demonyms this month. Enjoy the cognitive dissonance.

References (lots of ’em!):

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2018/08/29/first-man-neil-armstrong-film-fails-fly-flag-us-patriotism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias

https://www.chegg.com/homework-help/definitions/cognitive-bias-13

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

https://www.macombdaily.com/opinion/sleepwalking-into-nationalism/article_cecfa7e8-292a-5989-8089-000b32226519.html

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/aug/29/why-cant-people-stop-playing-fortnite

https://jezebel.com/my-pussy-is-on-a-journey-of-self-discovery-1828703930

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect