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Mangling the language will cost you

John Heckers //February 15, 2011//

Mangling the language will cost you

John Heckers //February 15, 2011//

An essential part of being an executive is communication, both written and verbal. Unfortunately, many executives fail at this essential function.

The inability to communicate grammatically and concisely can make you look inept, and cost you great career opportunities. Here are a few areas to watch.

1). Inappropriate use of homophones. “Homophones” are groups of words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Some of the most commonly abused ones are “your” and “you’re,” “there,” “they’re” and “their,” and “we’re” and “were.” For example, “your” means “belonging to you.” “You’re” means “you are.” I cannot count how many times I have seen even top executives confuse these terms.

2). Neologisms. A “neologism” is a word that is made up from whole cloth, often by the confusing of two words such as Sarah Palin did when she came up with “refudiate.” Now, Shakespeare also created neologisms, many of which are an essential part of our language today. Were it not for the Bard, we could not castigate the youth of today for overusing the word “excellent.” (Both castigate and excellent are said to have been invented by Shakespeare.) But, let’s face it, neither former half-term governors from our coldest state nor most executives are the immortal Bard. Leave the neologisms to those on the cutting edge or people will just make fun of you…rightly so.

3). Misuse of existing words. More common than the creation of new words is the misuse of existing words. For example, there is the confusion (easy to do) between “accept” and “except.” “Accept” is a verb meaning to “agree with,” “take in” or “receive.” “Except” is a preposition that means “apart from.” “Except” can also be a verb meaning “to exclude.” For more on this and many other commonly confused words, go here .

4). Use of slang. I believe that grown-ups should be allowed the use of the word “awesome” exactly three times before being banished to the children’s table. It is very easy, especially if you have teen-agers, to begin to speak and even write in slang. But grown-ups need to speak and write as grown-ups, not teen-agers. It not only makes you look ridiculous, but it really makes your teens angry. After all, teens speak in “teen-speak” to exclude you. When you show that you are actually bright enough to learn their language, it destroys their fragile egos. It can also destroy your career.

5). Profanity. There is a time and a place for profanity. Business is neither the time nor the place. While profanity is becoming far more common in our society, it should be reserved for private meetings with people you know well, not used in the conduct of business.

6). Blasphemy. The use of the name of a deity or those associated with a deity inappropriately may be highly offensive to some people. While the misuse of the name of the most common deity in America will not get your head cut off, it may well cut off your opportunities. Be respectful of the deities of others, whether or not you, yourself, are a believer in that deity (or any deity).

7). Jargon. I’ve written extensively in the past on the pernicious rise of jargon. Don’t use it. For more on this issue, go here.

8). Use of texting abbreviations in emails. When texting, there are good reasons for the use of abbreviations, such as preservation of one’s thumbs. Do not allow these abbreviations to creep into your business email or written communications.

9). Typos. I see many résumés riddled with typos. This can cost you a job. Your professional documents, such as résumé and cover letter, should be impeccable. Have a couple of different people “proof” these documents before you give them out.

10). Old-fashioned phrasing. Having said all of that, the English language is evolving. Earlier English grammar was based on Latin grammatical rules, as our forebears thought Latin was the perfect language. In the past it made for very convoluted English sentences. “This kind of foolishness is something up with which I will not put.” Technically proper. Sounds stupid. Make sure you know the evolving rules of the language. It is now perfectly OK to “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Not communicating well can dramatically limit your career in business, as well as limiting you socially. Communicating well is not the only key to the executive suite…but it is an essential tool in pursuing your career.
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