Friday, January 20, 2012

Another language reminder; nothing sounds more stoopid than close-but-wrong words in a cliche!

You know you've heard them before.  "He was armed to the tea."  "That guy drownded" (Dr. Phil still says "drownded") or "It's a mute point."  Let me help you, my friends.  People HATE when you do this.  There are a host of reasons, and I'll share a few.

First, the worst possible scenario for the close-but-wrong word is when it's being used in a statement of wisdom from a younger person to a necessarily older and wiser person (picture an 15-year-old correcting or preaching to a 70-year-old judge in a court room).  There is an old and accurate quote: "It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims (--Aristotle)."  It is.  So to have a young (presumably inexperienced) person giving advice or orders to an older (presumably experienced) person WHILE also getting a quote/cliche wrong is to commit a social suicide in front of everybody you are speaking within hearing range of.

Second problem is that people already hate cliches.  Granted, something like Dr. Phil's "drownded" isn't used in a cliche, but it's equally deplorable and one would never expect a man with PhD. behind his name to not know that "drownded" is not the past tense of the word, "drown,." or that it isn't even a word.  Not even a slang word.  So as soon as they hear you say, "Treat others as you..." bang!  Their open mind slams shut and you are front-and-center in their mental murder room.  They have already given you the lethal injection.  They roll their eyes, mentally at least because there is something fully unsatisfying and repetitive about taking a wise/old/true statement and repeating it incessantly or, worse, pretending you have an elevated understanding of it or others do not (and there are my personal favorites; people that act like maybe you've never heard it at all and then can glow in the light of the witty display, quite knowingly, as if it was their own).

Why bother worrying about this disaster? We HAVE to avoid it because there is no fixing it once it has happened.  Everybody remembers the guy who says to the employees at the meeting, "Great customer service really is worth its weight in coal."  You just CAN'T make these mistakes the first time, ever.  I'll admit; I could have seriously condensed this message to you today.  My friend, Jasper, just recently changed his Facebook status to "Don't use words you don't know the meaning of,"  and that would about sum it up (Yeah, we both know about ending sentences with prepositions, and we both rebel; know the rules before you break them), but I wanted to use many colors to paint this picture because you don't get a second or third chance to not make this mistake; there is no recovery. 

Here's the thing about correct spelling, speaking, and grammar; people judge you by it.  They can calculate a million different answers about you as a person by only using your words.  You do NOT want those words to be incorrectly used in a major way (minor happens all the time, such as using the term "severe angle," as one of my favorite hockey commentators likes to do instead of using what he should be using: "extreme angle."  He does this when referring to hockey shots that are shot from areas off to the side or behind the net.  But severe?  That's a word that is a measure of intensity.  Angles do not have intensities, they are simply numerical references.  From, here are their pertinent definitions... 1.  extreme: of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average and 2. severe: harsh; unnecessarily extreme).

So we are drawing a distinct difference here between the types of people that use the word "psychopath," where "disturbed" would work much better and those that say, "I always choose the psycho-path less traveled."  You get me?  The latter just makes itself unforgivable and unforgettable.  The former... we'll forget in as early as a few moments. 

To totally avoid this disaster, there are three main things you have to do.  1.  Improve your vocabulary.  Do so by regularly reading definitions of words that you aren't very clear about but hear often or, if you're already a competent wordsmith, purposely seek out words that you're not familiar with.  2.  Impose a set of speaking guidelines upon yourself; promise yourself that, when speaking in front of others, you will avoid cliches altogether and stick to very well known and familiar words and ideas that originate in your own mind, not somebody elses, and don't let others' comments re-direct you into unfamiliar territory or, as my Grandpa used to say, "If you don't know about it, don't talk about it."  3.  Always think for at least one second before speaking.  People will not catch you; they won't be thinking, "Oh, that person is slow to respond so they must be scared of answering for some reason."  They won't even catch a one-second delay and it could save your behind.  One second is more than long enough to say to yourself, "Ok, no cliche, stick to rules, be confident" or, if it goes in a direction you refuse to such as religion or politics, you should be thinking "Steer it away or pass on speaking."  You won't make many new friends talking about religion or politics, no matter your beliefs.  

To sum up: improve your vocabulary, create a small and memorable set of rules for yourself regarding speaking in public, always avoid cliches and think before speaking. (Most of these are good for writing, too, but that's for a whole 'nother post)

EDIT: Also, if you're young, you will help yourself out a great deal by just saying to yourself (and believing), "I don't know anything.  I will respect my elders for their experience and knowledge and never take an elevated posture when speaking to them."

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