usingtherightwords

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She Makes Me Laugh


As a writer, words matter to me. That’s why I go far and wide to find people who care as much about words as I do.

Comedians seem to be one group of people where words matter, so I listen to many, and I take special interest in those who make fun of words and the way we use them. 

George Carlin is my hero and always will be. From his routines about dirty words, including seven (now five) words you can never say on TV, to euphemistic language, Carlin did more to spotlight language than anyone.

Another who impressed me was Gallagher. Sure, he’s more famous for smashing watermelons, but in the 1980s, he came out with some Showtime specials in which he made fun of language: “Why are they called cowboys when cows are girls? Why is it called a building when it’s already done? Why is it called a TV set when you only get one?”

Last weekend, I saw another who understands language: Vanessa Hollingshead. True, she isn’t as well known as the other two, but she’s been around, as her various YouTube clips told me. And she impressed me with these little bits:

“You’re an hour late.” “No, I’m the last person on time.”

“Did you lie? No, I spread misinformation. Did you steal that? No, I misowned it from you. Did you murder someone? No, I unlifed him.” 

“I’m not single, I’m learning to be there for myself on a daily basis.” 

“Staycation is a word to describe that you don’t have enough money to have a vacation.”

In times like these, we need to laugh. I encourage you to find ways to laugh.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 20, 2020 Posted by | Communication, Humor, langauge, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Presidents You Didn’t Know We Had


In a free moment last week, I got on YouTube and saw a video that piqued my interest: “What US President Voices Sound Like.”

As it was only 5 minutes, 24 seconds long, I wondered how they were going to describe voices of long-dead presidents in which nobody is still alive to have heard their voices.

The video didn’t. It was simply a recording of every president from Benjamin Harrison to Donald Trump. OK, I thought, this could be interesting. I’ve never heard Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman. 

And it was. But then I saw that whoever wrote the presidents’ names had no idea how to spell them. Watch the video and see for yourself.

Did you know we had a president named Theodore Rossevlet? Neither did I? We also had a Calvin Collidge, Dwigth D. Eisenhower and John Franklin Kennedy.

A basic tenet of writing: Spell the names right. My college newspaper professor gave everyone a D if a proper name was misspelled. I once got a D because I spelled an Arizona city as “Tuscon.” 

I never misspelled a proper noun again. Neither should you.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 19, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, malapropisms, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Making Distinctions (Election Edition)


As we get closer to the election –- the one called “the most important election in U.S. history” by no less an authority than Donald J. Trump and “the most important election of our lifetimes” by no less an authority than Bernie Sanders – I am finding more people willing to talk politics.

This also gives me more opportunities to hear people misspeak.

Last week, a woman told me that on Election Day 2016, “I voted for the first woman president,” and she was optimistic that Hillary Clinton would win.

Trump’s victory pained her so much, she cried for much of the day after. Four years later, she’s still pained. 

Trump’s victory also prevented her from voting for the first woman president. She voted for a woman for president for the first time. It’s significant, historical and a nice sentiment. But the distinction must be made.

In communication, distinctions must be made when necessary. You must say what you mean. I often encounter clients who want me to write something catchy, creative, flashy, inspirational or convincing, but they give me very little direction or specifics.

Without direction or specifics, catchy, creative, flashy, inspirational and convincing are just words.

Make sure you don’t just use words. Make the distinction, and say what you mean.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 12, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, malapropisms, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jargon Bad, Clarity Good


Do you know what “symptomatology” means? How about “due diligence?” “Collateral damage?”

These are examples of jargon, words that people in the know use as shortcuts, code words or tools to disguise, euphemize or editorialize.

Maybe doctors know that symptomatology is a patient’s set of symptoms. A businessperson probably knows that due diligence refers to putting in the required research to make the right decision. Military officers likely know that collateral damage means innocent people are/have been/will be killed.

But not everybody knows these terms, and that’s the danger of using jargon: You won’t be understood. As William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White wrote in  “The Elements of Style,” be clear. Two opposites of jargon are standard and sense. One synonym of standard is specification, and that relates toclarity. Similarly, a synonym of sense is understanding, and that relates to clarity.

It’s better to use no BS and clearly describe, thereby avoiding jargon: “The patient’s symptoms include difficulty breathing, loss of smell and taste, fever, cough and sore throat.” “The company did a thorough background check before hiring the employee.” “The Joint Chiefs advised against the attack for fear that millions of civilians would die.”

Jargon is lazy writing. Don’t be lazy when communicating.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 7, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Censor the Censer. Censure It!


I am running for a seat on my homeowner association board. There are many reasons, but one of them stems from a meeting I attended last year, and it deals with censure.

Board Member A asked me to attend a meeting because he had heard that Board Member B had said disparaging things to me about Board Member A. At the appointed time, A asked B if he had been said things. B replied, “no.” A asked me. I said, “Yes,” and detailed when and where.

A asked the other board members to censure B. Board Member C asked what that meant. A responded that it was just a warning.

I spoke up, “No, it’s a formal reprimand.”

The board voted against censure.

Censure, in fact, is an act of condemnation. It might carry only symbolic weight, but it is an action all the same. This is not to be confused with censor, which is to prohibit or restrict the use of something; or censer, which is a container to burn incense.

Meanwhile, I’m running to keep A and B honest.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 5, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homicide, Murder, Manslaughter — Use Legally


There’s been a great deal of violence in our country these days. People shooting people, people protesting and violence breaking out, people refusing to bring charges.

Today, I decided to talk about correctly using the words homicide, murder and manslaughter. These are often legal terms, so just willfully using them because someone feels wronged might be incorrect communication. Just using murder to describe someone killing someone else might feel right, but it also might be a misuse of the word.

Every state has its own definition, but generally speaking, homicide is a legal term for slaying or killing. If you engage in this act, you commit homicide. If you do it with an automobile, that might be vehicular homicide, if your state has that term on its books.

Murder is malicious, premeditated homicide. Some states define certain homicides as murder if the killing happens during a rape or armed robbery or some other activity defined as a crime. Some states define the differences between degrees of killing that would be called murder (first degree, second degree, etc.).

Manslaughter (not to be confused with man’s laughter, because this isn’t funny) is generally homicide without the malice or premeditation. Like with murder, some states further define degrees of manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary) or types of manslaughter (vehicular manslaughter, for example).

This is important: Since murder is a legal term, you shouldn’t use it until a person has been convicted of the charge, so you shouldn’t communicate that a person has been charged with murdering someone. Instead, use killed/killing or slain/slaying. It’s also better to describe how the victim was killed: shot, stabbed, beaten, poisoned, drowned, etc.

Example: “John Smith, 29, was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend.” “The killings occurred between 1979 and 1981. Prosecutors say Adams raped, tortured and robbed his victims before stabbing them with a serrated knife.”

I did, however, find one exception: murder-suicide. In that case, suicide prevents the person from being tried for murder, but it’s still better to attribute the term “murder-suicide” to some law enforcement agency or legal official: “Sheriff Ken Johnson said the shooting that left a man and woman dead appears to be a murder-suicide.”

This is heavy stuff, I know. Take care when communicating with these words.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

October 1, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fast Fast Ended Fast


Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. To show the seriousness of the day, Jews around the world refrain from eating. They fast.

They also hope that the day goes fast so their fast ends fast.

I noticed that fast is a word with three different meanings: a verb meaning “to abstain from all food,” an adjective meaning “able to move quickly” and an adverb meaning “rapidly.”

That made me go looking for other words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. Thanks to insider.com, I found some.

Bat – a noun meaning a winged, nocturnal animal, a noun meaning the stick used to hit a baseball, and a verb to step in and face the pitcher in baseball.

Clip – a verb meaning “to cut,” a verb meaning “to attach,” a noun describing the item at attaches, and a noun describing a short moving-picture sequence.

Discount – a noun referring to a price reduction, a synonym for “on sale,” and a verb meaning “to underestimate.”

Fair – an adjective signaling sort of agreeable, an adjective describing someone’s skin tone, and a noun referring to a carnival.

Fine – an adjective describing something of high quality, an adjective referring to something very thin, a verb meaning to “to punish by ordering to pay a financial penalty, and a noun describing that financial penalty.

Lie – a noun meaning an untruth, a verb meaning to tell an untruth, and a verb meaning “to lay down.”

Second – a noun describing one-sixtieth of a minute, an adjective describing the placement after first, and a verb meaning “to support.”

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

September 28, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Going to the “Well?” “Good!”


Well, well, well. What have we here? 

Or, if it’s all well and good, what are we doing here?

People often confuse well and good. One is an adjective, the other an adverb. The adjective good modifies a noun: Something can seem good. The adverb well modifies a verb: An action can be done well.

And yet …

You can do good and also do well. If you do good, you are performing some action that society judges as good, such as cleaning up trash or helping a lady across the street (there’s that Boy Scout in me coming out!). If you do well, you are judging your action positively. If you feel well, you’re probably talking about your health.

Furthermore, well can be part of a compound modifier, so you generally hyphenate: a sharp-dressed man, a well-to-do family. The well-to-do, well-fed well-wishers said they hoped the well-informed gentleman looked out for his well-being.

And yet …

Some stylebooks have done away with the hyphen if the compound modifier comes after a noun: She is well aware of the consequences. 

Finally, if there are too many hyphens, maybe rewrite the sentence: The wealthy and healthy well-wishers said they hoped the gentleman was well informed and was looking out for his well-being.

I hope you still feel well after this. Now, go do good!

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

September 23, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To “Reschedule” or to “Cancel?” That is the Question


I have a standing therapy appointment every two weeks, usually on Fridays. This past Friday, my therapist called me about an hour before my scheduled appointment.

“I have an emergency and I need to reschedule our appointment,” she said. “I can do the fourth (Oct. 4).”

Since that’s two weeks from Friday, I said, “That’s not a reschedule; that’s a cancellation.”

Some might argue that, since reschedule means “to schedule for another or later time,” my therapist is correct. I say there’s a subtle distinction at play. Since I will have an appointment on Oct. 4 regardless of whether I had an appointment on Friday, Friday’s appointment was cancelled; it won’t happen.

In the past, I have had appointments on the next Tuesday or Wednesday; that is a reschedule. She tried to do that this time, but our schedules didn’t match.

The appointments are 50 minutes long. If she scheduled two 50-minute sessions on Oct. 4, I would say Friday’s appointment had been rescheduled. Instead, I’ll go four weeks between appointments.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

September 21, 2020 Posted by | Communication, Uncategorized, usage | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Systematic Racism vs. Systemic Racism


I often encounter the term “systemic racism” as I watch and read the news. The other day, as I edited a blog post, I came across another term: “systematic racism.”


Surely, I thought, this was a typo. The author really meant “systemic racism.” But the editor in me went to Google and searched “systemic racism vs. systematic racism” expecting to find that they are either synonyms or that one doesn’t exist.


Imagine my surprise to find Josh Bernoff’s site, withoutbullshit.com. Not only does he convincingly declare they’re two different things, he has a full explanation of the differences, which I will paraphrase here.


Systematic refers to a method of doing things, while systemic refers to an inherent system. Bernoff uses hiring as an example “because I think we can all agree that racial bias in hiring is wrong.”


His examples of systematic racism in hiring include managers rejecting applicants because their surnames sounds non-white or because their voices sound no-white, rejecting resumes from historically Black colleges and universities (HCBUs), and interviewing white candidates longer than non-white candidates and only calling back or hiring the white ones.


His examples of systemic racism in hiring include all-white HR departments hiring people they’re most comfortable with, an AI program used to screen resumes inheriting past hiring biases and not recommending non-white resumes, recruiters recommending candidates based on how articulate they are, a company website has only white people in the photos, a hiring manager draws only from his or her university, using a credit report in the screening process, and soliciting referrals from the all-white staff.


Bernoff says that to change systematic racism, one must change the steps. To change systemic racism, however, one must change the system.


I wholeheartedly agree, but you have to know the words first to know what you want to change.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com 

September 17, 2020 Posted by | Communication, langauge, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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