Posts Tagged ‘Language’

I realize language changes over time and new words come into being and general acceptance after repeated usage.  Still, there are some language habits developed that just should never happen.  One that gets under my skin faster than yesterday’s flu shot did is the use of verbs as nouns.

Case in point: using the word “ask” as a noun.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone (actually multiple people) at work for the past few years say phrases like “What’s the ask?” or “That’s a good ask.”  Arrrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!  I can’t stand that!

Ask is a verb!  Know the difference!  Don’t say “What’s the ask?”  Say “What’s the question?” or “What’s the request?”  Don’t say “That’s a good ask.”  Say “That’s a good question.”  It really is simple.  You should’ve learned that in grade school.  Just because someone higher than you in the org chart uses the word incorrectly doesn’t mean you have to follow along with their butchering of the language.  Be the adult with grammar skills.

Recently I’ve had to endure presentations by a contractor that almost always begin with an early slide titled “The Ask.”  No… the title should be “The Request” or “The Agreement” or “The Contract.”  The rebellious side of me just wants to carry an air horn into meetings and blast it out every time someone refers to “the ask” or commits some similar trendy misuse of language.

Even the graphic above comes dangerously close to crossing the line.  In its attempt to clearly distinguish between nouns and verbs, it labels the crossover as heinous “business speak.”  Fortunately, it is common to add “speak” to make a compound word or phrase such as “adspeak” or “business speak,” although in this case it’s really a violation of the very practice it labels as heinous.

I know my rant won’t change business culture, but I can at least make a few people aware of the matter.  I let my team at work know my disdain for “ask” as a noun, so now they only do it to irritate me which is fair.

Leap year lesson #319 is Avoid heinous business speak.  There.  I feel better.  Carry on.

It is with amazement and dismay that I watch many in our culture attempt to redefine common terms to suit themselves.  Two words now frequently abused are “hate” and “tolerance.”

It sickens me to see people label any idea that disagrees with their opinion as “hate speech.”  They either are unable to intelligently distinguish a legitimate disagreement with another person from what can reasonably be called “hate,” or they are very intentionally trying to redefine the meaning of the word by constant association of it with ideas that vary from what their political agenda demands.

Merriam-Webster defines hate as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.”  It defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.”  Having a different opinion on a subject – even a subject of utmost importance to you – does not meet the definition of hate, no matter how loudly the accusers yell it.  As for tolerance, if you want others to tolerate your views, then you’d jolly well better tolerate their views.

The allowance of “hate crimes” has only worsened the situation because of the injustice of punishing some people more than others for the same act based on the motive for carrying out the crime.  If someone breaks a law and there is a punishment on the books for breaking that law, then the perpetrator deserves the punishment regardless of motive.  Is murdering someone of the same race or sexual orientation any less hate-filled than murdering another?  No!  It’s murder (or assault or vandalism or whatever) and deserves the same punishment regardless of motive.

It is critical for the sake of language and rational discourse that we challenge every misuse of language that attempts to redefine common words to suit the fancy of some vocal group.  If I disagree with your position on something, you can know that my position is thought out, reasoned, and may well have far more history behind it than your latest attempt to change culture.  I do not hate, but I may well disagree.  Be an adult.  Be tolerant.  Learn the difference.

Leap year lesson #215 is Do not redefine language to suit yourself.

While walking my dog in our neighborhood earlier tonight, I walked past a young family with three little girls.  As I was walking by, one of the girls looked up on the roof of the house in front of us and, upon seeing the skylight, said “Oh, is that an iPad?”  The dad chuckled and said, “No, it isn’t an iPad.  It’s a skylight.”  I smiled as I walked by them and pulled ahead at the faster pace my dog and I prefer.

The girl’s confusion is completely understandable.  She hadn’t seen (or noticed) skylights before, but she is well aware of iPads.  She spoke from the context of her experience.  As children, we all do that, for example, by learning broad categories like “dog” that apply to many things before we develop the ability to distinguish between German Shepherd, Collie and St. Bernard.  The girl saw a rectangular object (albeit it very large and on a roof) that had the shape and glass color of what she knew – an iPad.  That was her frame of reference.

I think we need to remember that the same is true for people of all ages.  Too often we expect people to see and understand things exactly as we do.  But nobody else on earth has exactly the same background, education, language and experience that you do.  What should be “common knowledge” in your estimation may not be an option for someone with a different background, education, language or experience.

Being aware of those differences may help us be a little more understanding and kinder toward others.

Leap year lesson #209 is We only know what we know.

One of the fascinating experiences of my recent China trip was speaking through an interpreter.  That was a first for me.  Once we were past the basic greetings, I was out of my element due to my limited Mandarin.  When asked to speak to a Chinese church congregation a couple of times, the talks were, of course, more than mere greetings.  I am grateful to our interpreter, Jim (pictured on the left here), for the exceptional job he does.

Being from China but being PhD educated and living in the U.S. for many years, Jim is fluent in both Mandarin and English.  What he brings to the table is the ability to go beyond mere word-for-word translating.  Instead, he captures the meaning of what we say in English and expresses that as needed to convey the same thought in Mandarin.  He is the ideal travel companion when people around him speak either English or Mandarin, but not both.

Jim’s interpreting skills are not needed in a room full of people speaking English, nor in a room of people speaking only Mandarin.  At least they should not be.

How many times, though, in a business or other setting have you experienced failed communication between people who technically speak the same language?  It happens all the time, right?  Of course it does.  Why is that, and what can be done about it?

When we are concerned only with saying what we want to say and are not equally concerned with how well it is understood, we risk failed communication.  I see it all the time in business and personal conversations.  We need to remember that just because we say something, that doesn’t mean others understand it as we mean it.  We need to ask questions to assure clarity, hear people repeat back what they heard, and take time to actually make communication a two-way thing rather than a monologue.

That seems so basic, but it is too often ignored.  If people have to interpret what you say to others who speak the same language, then you need to work harder at clearly communicating.

Leap year lesson #115 is You shouldn’t need an interpreter when you speak the same language.

After periodic perusing of a Mandarin-English dictionary/reference the last couple of weeks, I had an “ah-ha” moment today while reading more about Mandarin.  In spite of the thousands of characters in the language, there are still some common aspects of the English language not included in Mandarin.  For example, there are no definite articles like “a,” “an” and “the.”  There are not as many varieties of pronouns as we use in English.  Some English words have no Mandarin equivalent.  What do you do then?

The “ah-ha” moment was in realizing that the broken English I have often heard from others for whom English is not their first language is not because they are doing a poor job necessarily of speaking English.  They are likely doing an excellent job of translating what they would say in their native language, just without the English additions and constructions our complicated language uses.  That realization made me immediately appreciate more the efforts of others to learn my language just as I hope some people this week appreciate my feeble attempts to learn a few basics in their language.

This realization causes me to want to hold off passing judgment on the efforts of others regarding learning my language.  It is no small task to learn an entirely different language than what you grew up with, especially one that is different in characters, sentence constructions, parts of speech, the significance of tones in bringing meaning to words, and more.

It’s a good thing to know more than one language, so whether you are interested in doing so for the fun of it or due to a business or geographical need, go for it.  If you only know one language, I suggest you dabble a little in learning another one.  You might just find it fascinating and enlightening.  If you have young children, start them at the task now.  No age is too young.

Leap year lesson #111 is Learning another language is good for you.