Sunday, September 21, 2008

Word of the Week: venerable

I can't help wonder if everyone's as tired as I am of hearing about the venerable financial institutions that are crumbling around us.The first few times I heard the term used to describe Lehman Brothers (or was it Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac? I can't remember), though I thought I knew what venerable meant, I decided to look it up. Here's how
defines it:

1: deserving to be venerated – used as a title for an Anglican archdeacon or for a Roman Catholic who has been accorded the lowest of three degrees of recognition for sanctity 2: made sacred especially by religious or historical association 3 a: calling forth respect through age, character, and attainments (a venerable jazz musician); broadly: conveying an impression of aged goodness and benevolence (encouraged by the venerable doctor’s head-nodding) b: impressive by reason of age(under venerable pines)

I think it's likely that most people have meant the third definition for venerable when they're using it to describe financial institutions. On the other hand, maybe the nod to religion in the first and second definitions is more apropos. After all, I think there's a good argument that much of the financial mess we're in was caused by the misplaced reverence people have had for these institutions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Word of the Week: posh

As is often the case, this week's Word of the Week was something I came across in the newspaper. Those up on pop culture will probably know why I saw the word in the paper this week. Those not up on pop culture might think I was reading about some new high-end restaurant or store. (After all, defines posh as "elegant, fashionable".)

Well, in truth, it wasn't really the word that was in the news -- it was the person who goes by the name "Posh" (or Posh Spice, to be more accurate).

Actually, as I write this, I realize maybe Word of the Week should have been "news" -- as clearly the definition of what constitutes news is changing from when I was in journalism school. Who would have guessed that someone getting a new hairstyle would be news!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Word of the Week: submit

Some words just bug me -- submit is one. Actually, it’s not the word that drives me crazy -- it’s when people use it to sound like a lawyer. (Actually, their version of a lawyer, which is pretty much Perry Mason saying something like: "I submit, your honour, that my client -- Colonel Mustard -- could not have killed Miss Peacock in the library using the candelabra!) I know using submit is perfectly proper, it's just overly formal and smacks of legalese.

Submit came up not too long ago when I had a client who was invited to give its opinion on a public policy issue. The client's legal department wrote an opinion paper on the issue and the paper truly was a “submission”, in that the client was submitting it in response to a specific request for input. Even so, I urged them to resist using “submit” with regard to the separate points or opinions they were expressing.

For example, rather than say, “We submit that treating the matter this way would harm…", I encouraged them to say, “We believe treating the matter this way would harm …” or, “It’s our opinion that treating the matter this way would harm…”.

Often, when I press a client and to say “it’s our opinion”, instead of “we submit”, the client resists. When I ask why, the answer almost always has something to do with them feeling somehow self-conscious asserting their opinion. But that’s nonsense, I point out, since to submit something is to put forth an opinion.

So, I say -- don’t hide behind “submit” -- if you have an opinion, state it in plain language and stand by it!