writing

Best, Mike

Best-of-the-best

I get a kick when I see the in-vogue e-mail closer Best, (as in, “Dear So-and-So, Thanks for the info. Best, Mike.“)

Because this one-word phrase is used so readily, I’ve learned to tune it out. But I sometimes wonder what precise message it’s intended to convey to its recipient.

Here are a few possible meanings for “Best,” that are worth considering:

YOU’RE the best. [Of all my friends/family/acquaintances/colleagues, YOU lead the list. Congratulations. Well done, top-shelf e-mail buddy.]

I’M the best. [Let’s not beat around the bush, I’m pretty awesome. In fact, I believe I’m the penultimate e-pal and want to make sure we’re both clear on that point.]

EVERYONE I meet is the best.” [Because I’m feeling extra generous, I hereby bestow “best” status on all of creation.]

THIS MESSAGE is the best.” [Pay close attention to this virtual document, my fine friend, as it’s chock full of greatness.]

I’m quite hip.” [The actual meaning of this word really doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that you are connected with someone who is downright hip and trendy – and communicates accordingly.]

I wish you the best.” [OK, so this seems like the most likely meaning for the word. But is there a time period it’s intended to cover? Just the exact moment it’s read, or throughout an entire day? Or is it a wish with no expiration whatsoever? Really hard to know.]

I must admit I’m pretty impressed by the efficiency of a sign-off statement boiled down to a single word of four measly letters.

It’s even more efficient than my preferred one-word e-closer: “Thanks,” (or if I’m feeling extra cheeky, “Thx,“)

Now I’m starting to wonder what I’m thanking everyone for: Reading the message? Staying awake? Not bashing me with a snarky reply? Breathing?

Guess a little ambiguity never hurt anyone.

Regards,

Mike

Nouns with a Nasty Case of Verb Envy

Grammar_police

Call me a grammar purist, but I was taught that nouns should act like nouns and verbs like verbs. 

Apparently, that’s far too limiting a concept, as nouns are increasingly encouraged to masquerade as full-fledged verbs.

I suppose life as a mere person, place or thing isn’t nearly as dynamic as that of a carefree action word like “jump” or “sashay.”

I’ll be first to acknowledge that it’s far more efficient to “Google” something than to “conduct a Google search.” And it’s way cooler to “Skype” with a friend than to “engage in a video conference call.”

But it’s a slippery slope, folks. If we’re not careful, we just might find ourselves facing a full-on syntax free-for-all.

Case in point:  a recent press release whose headline stated that the company wanted to “obsolete” cash registers. Now why in the world is this once-proud adjective stepping out of its zone to demand some action of its own?

Think it may be time to call in the Grammar Police, before we slip into complete word anarchy.

So who wants to join me in restoring some order to our lexicon?

Oh, by the way, don’t forget to friend me on Facebook.

Some old-school preaching from Schoolhouse Rock.

See Spot run. Help Spot help.

Seespotrun5

See Spot run. Run Spot run.

These simple statements helped teach several generations of American children to read, as part of the reader series that featured the legendary Dick and Jane.

Two sentences. Six words. Six syllables. Twenty letters.

Contrast that clarity with the opening two sentences of this representative press release:

“Mavenir Systems, the leading innovator of mobile infrastructure solutions for LTE operators, today announced the VoLTE Edition of its mOne™ Convergence Platform. Available now, the Mavenir mOne Convergence Platform – VoLTE Edition provides operators with three options for quickly and cost-effectively deploying voice and messaging services over LTE.”

Huh?

I’d say we’ve lost our way, trading simplicity and clarity for cumbersome prose laden with jargon, hyperbole and empty-calorie phrases.

This is progress?

As our world becomes increasingly polluted with bulky, incomprehensible writing, there’s a simple way to reverse the trend and stand out from the fray.

By returning to Spot-like simplicity.

That’s one of the reasons I am such a fan of Twitter. It imposes discipline. Each thought is limited to a tidy 140 characters.

But I’m dismayed by the recent introduction of services like TwitLonger, which touts its service as “a way to let you post to Twitter when 140 characters just isn’t enough.”

Rather than forcing you to edit and synthesize your ideas into a shorter, more cohesive thought, it just facilitates your chronic lack of discipline.

In the words of Mark Twain and/or Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have time.”

I’m reminded of the majority of my classroom teachers, whose essay assignments carried with them a required minimum number of words (or more commonly, pages). At the time, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable guideline for defining the assignment and establishing a consistent expectation for students.

Now, I think it’s a lazy technique that teaches students to value volume over substance.

Who among us hasn’t done some creative stretching to achieve page minimums – only to be rewarded with an exceptional grade? Not only did we learn that filling space is valued more than economy of thought, but also that length is one of the most significant arbiters of writing success.

It isn’t.

I’ve discovered that limits are much more effective than quotas in forging writers. I have become a much stronger writer and editor from having to shave down an article to fit a precariously tight word count. Painful as the process may be, the resulting piece is immeasurably stronger and more readable.

Do you think Hemingway would use TwitLonger?

Spot thinks not.

Seespotrun3

 

This is the Story of Philip the Fly

Fly

When I was a little boy, my favorite stories centered around a clever insect named Philip.

Our Philip the Fly anthology included dozens of tales of adventure, heroism and just a little bit of mischief.

I think the coolest thing about Philip was that I always felt as if he knew me personally.

And in a sense, he did. You see, Philip the Fly came from the mind of my dad.

I’m not entirely sure when Phil made his debut, or from where he came (dad wasn’t exactly known for his creativity), but this winged protagonist was always available to star in a new story – seemingly on cue (also not an innate skill of dad’s). Nothing could comfort or satisfy this 3- to 7-year-old kid quite like a zippy fly with a personalized tale to tell.

Philip the Fly taught me about the power of a story.

Dad may not have been trained in English literature or creative writing, but he did possess that innate human longing for a good yarn.

Since the beginning of time, every culture on Earth has shared lore from generation to generation. Stories have been used to amuse, to entertain, to educate, to inspire, to provoke, to titillate.

And although the form factors have evolved from oral histories to cave drawings to snarky blogs, the core elements of captivating stories are remarkably constant. They inform us by engaging us – through our emotions and our innate desire to connect with others.

It’s sad to admit that I can’t remember many details of Philip’s escapades – and since my dad is deceased, they’re locked away for at least a while.

What I will always remember, however, are the feelings of anticipation, excitement and satisfaction that those encounters brought to my life.

Thanks, Philip. Thanks, Dad.

 

My Exclamation Point

Exclamation

I’d stop short of calling it a full-blown crusade. It isn’t like I want to banish them completely. It’s just that I think there are far too many untamed exclamations.

Can’t we just agree to scale them back a bit? (OK, in some cases, A LOT…)

Don’t mean to come off as some punctuation buzz-kill, but my journalistic training taught me to use extreme restraint when ending a sentence.

I liken it to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded auditorium, when you merely noticed a pocket flashlight. You definitely gain attention, to be sure, but the next time you emit that panicked declaration, it’s not likely to have the same effect. (I illuminated this principle further in my recent post on the overuse of “amazing.”)

Of course, my formal schooling took place before the dawning of the digital age, when so many grammar ground rules would be stretched, ignored or ripped off their hinges.

Nowadays, exclamation points are doled out like Tic Tacs® after a spicy meal. 

E-mail is particularly ripe for these symbols of enthusiasm. Although I’m willing to loosen my collar for this more casual medium, something’s wrong when the exclamations outnumber the periods (or perhaps the sender should be dialing 911 instead of crafting breezy e-mails to work colleagues).

So, let’s get practical…

I believe it’s appropriate to use exclamation points when expressing:

– joy (“That’s terrific!”)

pain (“Ouch!”)

excitement (“Hooray for Jimmy!”)

– surprise (“That’s a real shocker!”)

– indignation (“How dare you!”)

Conversely, I believe it’s inappropriate to use exclamation points to convey:

– simple declarative statements (“The company store is closed Thursday!”)

– false fun (“Get ready for the United Way kick-off!”)

– recognition (“Betty Sue completed the task in record time!”)

– reminders (“Don’t forget to vote today!”)

– general commands (“Please wipe your feet before entering the building!”)

Thanks for reading!!! Sorry, couldn’t resist…

If Everything is Amazing, then Nothing’s Amazing

Word_amazing

Behold the fading power of “amazing.” Seems wherever you turn, the word is being carelessly flung, describing everything from charming individuals to musical performances to restaurant entrees.

Clearly, the same forces that ruined “awesome” many years ago are at play once again to dilute yet another once-mighty adjective.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite childhood TV shows – That’s Incredible! – which featured all sorts of stuff deemed “too extraordinary and improbable to be believed” (though some of it was absolutely more deserving of the label than others). The show was a smash during its first few seasons, but when the incredibleness started running dry, so did the ratings.

Given the estimated 100,000+ available adjectives in the English language, why must we obsess over a select few?

We really need to preserve and protect our words, or risk diluting their meaning and forever zapping their punch.

If EVERYTHING is amazing, then NOTHING’s amazing.

In fact, it’s downright humdrum. 

 

Plodding Through a Cranker-Friendly World

Over the course of my 20-plus years practicing PR, I’ve observed two primary classes of professional writers: those who crank and those who plod.

I fit squarely into the latter camp. And it can be a real bitch.

Let me explain the distinction.

“Crankers” turn out quick, passable copy in a smooth and efficient manner. They ease into any assignment and can write seemingly on cue. I’m insanely jealous of these individuals.

“Plodders,” on the other hand, obsess. Obsessively. And we daydream. And trudge through even the simplest of projects. Some of us may even concoct some sort of ridiculous ritual or try connecting to an imaginary muse to unleash inherent writing talent.

Make no mistake, both writers get the job done. But the crankers do it with aplomb (and dignity), while the plodders finish said task in a puddle of sweat, tears, sometimes blood.

And the reality is, we’re living in an increasingly cranker-friendly world, where speed trumps just about everything else (including attention to detail and nuance).

So what’s an old-line plodder to do – besides beat his weary head against his desk? Although I haven’t completely decided whether crankers are born or made, I do know that I’ve failed in my ongoing attempts to morph into a fully-functioning one.

Hence I continue to plod. One. Labored. Word. At. A. Time.

Writers-block5

 

 

 

When Typos Taunt…

Typo2

I’m one of those annoying people who feels compelled to locate and publicly disclose every typo that crosses my path. If I’m being honest, I get a certain smug satisfaction in pointing out someone else’s foible. 

Seems the lexicon gods have sought revenge.

Now I’m forced to confront a big honkin’ typo every day as I pass the mail bin that bears the name of my department. Corp Communitcations” it reads  (the first “t” is silent, of course).

Here’s hoping it never loses its sting. I’m keeping this handy, just to make sure.