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Great use of strike-through to make those examples clear!
American clergyman Abel Stevens said, "Politeness is the art of choosing among one's real thoughts." I've heard this expanded to "Diplomacy is the art of choosing from among everything you believe, which thing you will say." There's a need for that sort of diplomacy in customer service, of course, to defuse problems and find mutually acceptable solutions. But like so much of business writing (and politics) this requires skill and attention. A deft human touch makes all the difference between politeness and diplomacy on the one hand, and sloppy thinking or outright lies on the other.
Great topic! In general, I'd certainly agree that the list of recommended phrases is good. My personal favorite has long been, "My pleasure!" But like Phil, I started thinking about "de nada" and "no problema" or "sin problema." The former, in particular, has a sense of "It was nothing." In many cultures, downplaying one's action is the proper response to praise; and thanks is a form of praise. So I'm beginning to think that just as "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," so too any perceived problem with "No problem."
The Pimsleur language program says there are more than 5,000 languages on earth, only 500 with a written component. This would argue that language is primarily a spoken activity; literacy is a relatively modern development. Similarly, NPR reports in "The (Monkey) Business Of Recognizing Words" - - that speaking and reading use different brain areas. One of my old college professors argued that there are actually four grammars: how people speak, how grammarians describe speech, how people write, and how grammarians describe writing. See "Not Just One but Four Grammars" - and Why That's Good" - - for details. My point is that in topics such as "hopefully," we need to be careful about cart-and-horse issues. While those who "tut, tut" are judging the cart, most people are busy riding the horse bareback. As professional writers, we need to demonstrate that the best transportation employs both cart and horse in proper order.
Hi, Lynn. Here's another delightful article supporting straightforward writing: Jargon To Jabberwocky: 3 Books On Writing Well, NPR, Add to that the U.S. government's own PLAIN Writing initiative, and I'd say the tides are turning. Les
Absolutely agreed. Executives are busy people. They want to scan a document, get its gist, locate key supporting points, and come to a decision--not wade through dense, highfalutin, obfuscatory text. It's best to impress by ideas, not language. My own college experience bore this out. An English Literature major, early on I took a technical writing course, figuring it might help with proofreading. In the end, the course so thoroughly sold the idea of straightforward writing that I began applying it even to literature courses, avoiding "highbrow" language. The result: a BA, magna cum laude, with a couple of other honors distinctions. Turns out that even English Literature professors prefer to read clear, straightforward texts.
Hi, Lynn. I definitely agree with you. The word "triage" is medical jargon. Worse, even if understood, it seems mechanical, not at all good "bedside manner." (I wouldn't have used it even with soldiers during my old days as a National Guard medic.) I suppose the lesson of all this is that good communication should focus on audience need; it isn't just an information dump. Cheers, Les
Toggle Commented Jan 27, 2012 on Have You Been Triaged Yet? at Business Writing
When M*A*S*H was on the air, the word was commonly understood, and I believe it found use even in business settings at the time. Interesting that it hasn't remained with us. I suppose that says something of how faddish even business jargon can be from decade to decade.
Toggle Commented Jan 25, 2012 on Have You Been Triaged Yet? at Business Writing
Thanks for the great post, Lynn! Another English major here. Fortunately I stumbled upon a Technical Writing course early on and experimented with applying that clarity even to papers for literature courses. It worked! Lit professors seemed thrilled to read essays that strove to communicate an idea instead of obscure a lack of one. Of course, all that literary reading still tended to cause longwindedness. Every day remains a new challenge to write concisely. Lester Smith
Great post! I always love your explanations. I only wish that title had been "Premier or Premiere," both for alphabetical reasons and order of preference. For what it's worth, at work we default to Webster's whenever possible, and use the primary entry in cases where variants are listed. So "premier" would also get our vote as preferable. Lester Smith Writer/Technologist
Toggle Commented May 5, 2011 on Premiere or Premier? at Business Writing
The first domino topples. Here's hoping that e-motion accelerates without too much emotion. ;-) Lester Smith Writer/Technologist
Regarding apologies, here's an interesting, if disappointing, article about the subject: "How Powerful is an Apology?" — PsyBlog
At my day job (, I manage to stay up on e-mail pretty well. But in my spare time, as president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (, I often find it difficult to keep up. The most troublesome e-mails are those for which I don't have an immediate answer, or which require a delicate touch. I hate to write back "I'm not sure how to respond," so I flag the message, and too often it gets buried by more pressing matters. Even writing, "I'll get back to you on this" doesn't avoid the problem of buried messages. So I've been practicing the art of apology, "Sorry not to have responded sooner," when I do get back to the message. I'm wondering how effective such apologies are for increasing or reestablishing the trust you mention. Here's hoping other commenters will weigh in on that, as well.
More & more, I'm moving to searchable electronic versions. Just can't stand dusting more shelves. And the last time my family moved, the boxes of books & CDs were back-breaking. If you watched Star Trek: Next Generation, you may have seen Captain Picard once receive a gift of a first-edition print copy of some Dickens novel. Everything else he read on an iPad-like device. My own library (text, music, & video alike) is certainly moving that direction. Only a few old books remain at home; the rest are finding their way to GoodWill. Lester Smith Writer/Technologist
Hi, Lynn. The Teller I mentioned is the silent half of Penn & Teller, a pair of stage magicians, social commentators, and general debunkers. Penn does the huckster spiel during their act, while the cherubic Teller climbs into death traps while maintaining a fatuous smile.
The irony is that automated signs of affection like these end up coming across as false and manipulative as Teller's smile. (Odd fact: He legally changed his name to just "Teller.") A writer who can't personalize a message ending shouldn't pretend that level of warmth. Cheers, Les
My old boss, Frank Chadwick of Game Designers' Workshop, used to describe something similar. He said that as soon as a project was on the schedule, it became a chore, and the next project in line was suddenly fascinating. So he'd labor along at the current project but jot down notes for the next one as they occurred. That way, when the next project hit the schedule and became a chore, the creative notes were there to be pieced together. That approach has also worked pretty well for me since 1985. But I love the "lizard brain" explanation. It adds shades of understanding I'd not seen before. Thanks!
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Interestingly, the U.S. military uses day/month/year like the rest of the world. (They also measure in "klicks" - kilometers.) That's what comes from having to coordinate multinational operations. Perhaps as the European Union and Asian markets continue to grow, U.S. businesses will also take the military's common-sense approach and it will filter down to the rest of us. And, more cynically speaking, as an ever larger part of our unemployed population joins the military, their exposure to the global date and measurement system may help to reinforce its use. In any case, ever since my 1980s stint in the National Guard, I've adopted the "14 Jan. 2010" format for dates in my own correspondence and legal papers, and no one has objected. It saves me a comma, too. :-)
One point I'd raise is that it isn't always possible to determine gender from a name. I've known Jean's and Lynn's and Loren's of both sexes, for example. And the issue is even more troublesome with foreign names: Asa? Li? I suspect that some writers to whom English isn't native are less comfortable with the personal approach of "Dear Lynn Gaertner-Johnston," believing that "Dear Sir or Madam" is more respectful. Which is to say that I don't automatically delete such emails; I usually judge by the first sentence instead. :-)
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