Thursday, April 16, 2015

Unintentional hedging (8)


Here are two more examples of people unintentionally hedging their statements.

A witness in the George Zimmerman trial:

“One guy on top in the black hoodie was pretty much just throwing down blows on the guy kind of MMA [mixed martial arts]-style.” (Boldface added.) (Source)

And a restaurant employee being interviewed by the press:

“They came into the restaurant itself and a lot of customers were kind of scared,” one restaurant employee told Fox 8 news in Cleveland. “They were threatening employees, they were threatening me and some customers.” (Boldface added.) (Source)

The Takeaway: If you intend to hedge, hedge: “I’ll be there about four o’clock.” Otherwise, don’t hedge. Say what you mean, and you will earn more respect.

See disclaimer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Unintentional hedging (7)


Here’s a quick and easy way to write and speak more clearly: Don’t hedge unintentionally. For example, don’t unintentionally use kind of. Unintentional hedging diminishes, undermines or negates your message. Here are three quick examples:

Regarding Linda Ronstadt’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ms. Ronstadt’s producer said:
“When certain people got in, before Linda, I was kind of outraged.” (Source)
Unintentional hedging is not surprising on Tumblr:
“IT'S KIND OF UNBEARABLE” (Source)
But even the Washington Post, whose writers and editors presumably are grown up and literate, sometimes indulges in this nonsense:
“Everything today is kind of horrible, so here are some penguins dressed up as Santa Claus” (Source)
If you think something is horrible, say “It’s horrible,” not “It’s kind of horrible.” If you don’t think something is horrible, don’t use the word horrible at all; use a word that says what you really mean to say. Saying what you really mean to say will create the impression that you are literate, not semi-literate.

Many people use more than one kind of or like per minute. If you hedge that frequently, even obtuse listeners are going to wake up and notice it. When they do, they will receive this unintended message from you: “I’m not really saying anything. I’m just thinking out loud, and I’m not even sure of the thoughts. So, don’t listen to me.” When I hear a public speaker do that, I stand up and walk out. Life is too short to be wasted on reading or listening to semi-literate slobs.

The Takeaway: Say what you mean. If you intend to hedge, hedge: “I’ll be there about four o’clock.” Otherwise, don’t hedge. Say what you mean, and you will earn more respect.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Quotations on thinking, speaking and writing (37)



“You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.”
~C. S. Lewis

“Those who seek for and follow the Tao are strong of body, clear of mind, and sharp of sight and hearing. They do not load their mind with anxieties, and are flexible in their adjustment to external conditions.”
~Zhuang Zhou

“Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects... totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations.”
~Aldous Huxley

“Peace is at once the mother and the nurse of all that is good for man; war, on a sudden and at one stroke, overwhelms, extinguishes, abolishes, whatever is cheerful, whatever is happy and beautiful, and pours a foul torrent of disasters on the life of mortals.”
~Erasmus

“My reputation for writing quickly and effortlessly notwithstanding, I am strongly in favor of intelligent, even fastidious revision, which is, or certainly should be, an art in itself.”
~Joyce Carol Oates

“Work is more fun than fun.”
~Noel Coward

“In a PC world, humor is a capital offense. ”
~Taki

“If you don’t know what else to do, drink beer.”
~Wally Byam

The Takeaway: “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” ~Robert Frost

See disclaimer.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Gobbledygook (7)



Pat Buchanan (pictured) is astute enough to spot gobbledygook, and combative enough to call people on it.

For example, in an article about high school admissions policy, Mr. Buchanan quotes Jeremy Shughart, admissions director at the merit-based Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Fairfax County, Virginia):

“Says Shughart, ‘The committee is looking at a variety of admissions components and making recommendations for possible adjustments to future admissions cycles. … (We) will continue to work on increasing diversity at TJHSST and will continue to pursue outreach efforts to ensure talented underrepresented populations of students with a passion for math and science consider, apply to, and attend… Fairfax County Public Schools believes in the value of diversity.’ ”

Then Mr. Buchanan calls him on his gobbledygook:

“That is bureaucratic gobbledygook for saying they are going to start looking closer at the race and ethnicity of student applicants and begin using this criteria to bring in some — and to reject others.
“Race discrimination, against Asians, is coming to Fairfax County.”

The Takeaway: If you want to win debates and persuade people, strictly avoid gobbledygook – unless all your readers and listeners are stupid. Astute readers and listeners may call you on your gobbledygook. Then you are worse off than before: (1) you’ve made a weak point, and (2) your resort to gobbledygook demonstrates that you knew it was weak – otherwise, you would have stated it clearly and boldly.

You probably noticed that “this criteria” is ungrammatical.

See disclaimer.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

You can say a lot in only 100 words (7)



Another writer who does a lot with 100 words is the former technology columnist and police reporter Fred Reed (pictured). In an article about why so many US citizens (plus legal and illegal immigrants living in the US) are thinking about secession, he begins with a remarkably concise statement of his diagnosis:
“The country is not a happy place. Today it is more consciously and resentfully divided, politically, regionally, racially and by sex and class than perhaps ever before. The rich prosper and the middle class sink. Three major racial blocs eye each other with fear and hostility. The hard left controls the media and government against the desires of much of the country, enforcing social engineering that is deeply disliked. Feminists make war on men, and destroy the schools and universities. Washington is widely loathed. Rules, laws, and regulations never voted on grow ever more burdensome and intrusive. Many quietly want out. The question is how to get there.” (108 words)

Mr. Reed’s grammar here is a little off kilter, but his meaning is clear, hard-hitting and unapologetic. This is the kind of writing that’s so clear and concise that it fools many beginners into thinking it’s easy. It isn’t; I know professors, business consultants and business executives who say less with 500 words,  even 1,000.

The Takeaway:  If you want to make your writing more concise, keep reading writers who are good at writing concisely. To see the earlier pieces in this series, search on “Mr. Clarity” and “You can say a lot in only 100 words.” For even more examples of good concision, search on “Mr. Clarity” and “Concise writing is usually clear writing.”

See disclaimer.