Archive for December, 2008

Words Mean Things – Use The Right Ones

December 30, 2008

US Education might be in the wrong hands.

The newly announced US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, set a tone and maybe a standard for America’s schools with his recent acceptance speech.

He said, “John R. gave my sister and I the opportunity to start a…”

Gave my sister and I…  That’s wrong!!

If he can’t get his grammar right what can we expect from his leadership of America’s schools?

To help him, and any others who might need a refresher, I offer these items for consideration, guidance, and instruction.

“I” vs. “me”   “I” is nominative as in “I did this for you.”

“Me” is objective as in “You did this for me.”


“Me did this for you.”  or

“You did this for I.”

Here are some others for your consideration and mastery, Mr. Duncan.

Words define us today, and even though the “right” word is always expected of us, using the “wrong” word can have lasting negative  consequences.  Let’s look at a few common words and review what is generally considered to be “appropriate” usage.  This isn’t a lesson; it’s just a brief review which might help all of us as we navigate through our days.
There are certain pairs of words that can drive us to distraction, so I’ll start with them, make a few suggestions, and provide a some examples.
Media – Medium How often have you heard newscasters say, “The media is covering every aspect of this story.”?  That’s wrong.  The sentence should be, “The media are covering every aspect of this story.”  The word, “media” is a plural word, and it  always takes a plural verb.
“Medium” is the singular word.  You can talk about the television medium or the medium of radio, but as soon as all the varieties are put together they become the “news media”.
Over –  More I can’t guess how many times I’ve heard people say something like this.  “That will cost you over fifty dollars.”  Wrong!  “Over” is a location not a comparison.  “More” is the word to describe a comparison.  “That will cost you more than fifty dollars.”  is the correct usage.
Fewer – Less You see this misuse almost every time you walk toward the checkout stand in a supermarket.  Signs announce very clearly that specific lanes are for “20 items or less”  Wrong again!
The word “less” refers to quantity like water or grass seed.  “The less grass seed we plant, the less water we will need.”   “Fewer”, on the other hand, is an amount.  It refers to numbers, to things you can count.  “I have fewer boxes than you do, but your entire package weighs less than mine.”
Many – More These are much like fewer and less.  “Many” is a number, more” is a quantity.  “I have a great many dollar bills in my pocket, but you have more money than I do.”  See the difference?
Goes – Says Young people use this frequently, and it drives older people crazy.  Rather than saying, “He said…”, and She said…”  many young people say “He goes…”, and She goes…”  Wrong!  No one went anywhere.  “Goes” refers to traveling, “says” refers to speech.
Can – May This one gets more and more confusing as time passes.  “Can” denotes the ability to perform.  “I think I can do this job.”
On the other hand, “may” refers to permission.  “May I borrow your car?”

Anxious – Eager Both of these words relate to the feelings we have about an event we are expecting to take place in the future.  Although they are both future oriented, one is positive and the other is negative.  “Anxious”  means you are awaiting the event, but you are worried about it.  You have a bad feeling about the event, almost a dread about it.
“Eager”, on the other hand indicates you are looking forward with positive expectations.
For example, if someone were to say,” I’m anxious to see the results of the test you conducted.”, it means the speaker is worried about it and would probably rather not see the results at all.
However, saying, “I’m eager to see this movie” presents a completely different picture.  You’re really looking forward to it.
Between – Among These words have to do with numbers so it’s easy to remember which one to use.  If a person simply counts, the words will never be misused.
The word, “between” is used when there are only two objects.  “The flag was between the two trees.” is a clear example.  “I can’t decide between these two books.”  is another example.  If a speaker were to say, “The flag was between the trees.”,  the listener would know there were only two trees.  It’s that simple.
When there are more than two objects, use the word, “among”.  “My car is somewhere among all of those in the parking lot.”   Here’s another.  “Pick your team mates from among the four of us.”
If you count, you won’t make a mistake.
Bring – Take They are often misused, but it’s easy to select the correct one.  “Bring” indicates movement toward the speaker, but  “Take” indicates movement away from the speaker.
“Bring the papers to my office tomorrow morning for me to sign, and then take them back to your office later in the afternoon.”  These words provide a very clear picture of the action.

Lend – Loan These are easy to remember if you think about what each word communicates.  “Lend” shows action.  It’s a verb.  If you lend something to someone you give them temporary use of that item.  A “loan” on the other hand is the item you are lending.  “Loan” is a noun because it names the item.
An example.  “If you can show me you will be able to repay this loan, the bank will lend you the money you request.” This would have been a valuable concept in recent months.
It’s important to remember that other people judge us by the words we use.  Specific words have specific meanings, and it is in our own best interest to communicate clearly and accurately.
We often hear people say, “What difference does it make if I don’t use exactly the right word?  People know what I mean.”  That might be true, but that kind of thinking requires the listener or the reader to determine your precise meaning.
If you use the wrong word when your listeners know the right word, you are telling them something about yourself that you might not intend.
Is that the message you want to send?  It’s just as easy to be correct as it is to be incorrect.  It just requires – and deserves – a little thought.
It’s your choice.


Values and Ethics and the Holiday Season

December 1, 2008

It’s the Holiday Season, and recently, I was in a video store where I saw a poster for the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Earlier that same day I had read one of the name newspaper accounts about “corporate greed”.

The fiction of the movie and the reality of the newspaper were very different.  I know it’s a stretch to connect the two, but it occurred to me both story lines focus on the same issue: ethical behavior and how we communicate messages to colleagues and customers.

We often hear that art reflects reality, but in this instance the messages of art and reality were in stark contrast.  Ethical behavior is evident in the movie, in fact ethical behavior is the central point of the film.  The newspaper story, on the other hand, detailed very different behavior.

In the movie, George Bailey wanted very much to get away from Bedford Falls in order to develop his career, but circumstances kept getting in the way.  His father’s death, his brother’s college education, and World Way II prevented him from following his dream.  In the face of each obstacle, though, George did what would be of help to someone other than himself.  His messages were consistently positive ones, and he did what would be valuable and helpful those who trusted him.

He wasn’t a martyr about this.  Sometimes he just got plain mad like when Uncle Billy lost the bank deposit.  But he did what had to be done.  He did the “right thing”.

Here’s the connection between the film and the newspaper story.  It’s behavior that counts! What’s important is how someone acts, not how someone feels.

And behavior in business communicates stronger messages than mere words do.

George faced the customers of the Building and Loan Company and stopped a run on the funds that could have ruined the company not just for himself  but for everyone who had invested in it.

Because of Uncle Billy’s mistake, George could have been “ruined”.  The bank examiner was certainly going to file charges, and since George was the CEO he would be the one to go to jail.  He would have “lost everything”.  This would have been the logical consequence to his behavior.

It’s interesting that we don’t hear much any more about anyone being “ruined” after questionable business behavior.  Many perpetrators today receive some short  term punishment but come out all right in the long run.  They aren’t ruined, only inconvenienced. Not so in the time and place of George Bailey.

The newspapers and the air waves have been filled with stories about the ways a few corporate executives have used company funds and methods to serve their own purposes.  In some instances they took money from the very companies they were entrusted to improve.  Even when they admitted guilt though, they weren’t “ruined”.

The primary responsibilities of a corporate executive include growing the company and protecting the financial investments of the stockholders.   Certainly, a CEO is entitled to protect and increase his own financial situation, but that can’t be done at the expense of stockholders.

Open, honest, and consistent communication among executives, Boards, and stockholders is essential for continuous growth.

Some business executives, though have behaved in ways which stockholders and the general public have interpreted as dishonest and disrespectful.  The widespread loss of jobs, pensions, and retirement funds today are what created those attitudes.  What the public sees and hears forms their perceptions.

There have been long debates about business ethics. But, there is no such thing as “business ethics”. There is only “ethics”.

All the debates and all the associated complications about ethics can be reduced to simple yes-no decisions.  Those decisions, and all subsequent actions, communicate the messages to our colleagues and our customers concerning our values and our ethics.

In the end the simple question is, “What is the right thing to do?”

George Bailey did what was right.  Some in business today have not, and their behaviors demonstrate they don’t value the lives and needs of others.

All of us in the business world are constantly sending messages to a wide variety of audiences, and our actions speak loudly.  As children, we were taught that, “Actions speak louder than words.”  That’s still true, and we have a responsibility to send those messages clearly, consistently, and regularly. Our constituencies are entitled to that.

George Bailey didn’t have much money, but his actions as well as his words demonstrated he had high values, strong ethics, and great respect for others.

Near the end of the film he was toasted as “the richest man in town.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if that could be said of each of us?

Have a Happy Holiday Season.