Word Crimes

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I cannot put into words how much I love this Word Crimes video (click here for YouTube or watch below). Amazing that such a nerdy topic has 2 million views. I guess it hits a certain nerve with people. I’m holding a writing workshop next week, and I’m going to open with this.


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It’s, there, literally and other workplace words that should make you cringe

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So…I planned to write a piece on annoying workplace words and grammar errors, and I thought it would be fun to supplement my opinions with some input from Facebook and Twitter. It turns out that folks in my social network have a lot of opinions. A whole lot.

First, some resources. If you’re having a grammar crisis, check out the grammarist or Grammar Girl. But most of the examples people sent me are not ones that the users really think about before using. They just use them.

My (and my friends’) favorites fall into some basic categories: The first is blatant grammar errors, which is what I was thinking about when I asked the masses for opinions. These are things we learned in middle school English class and that Americans have no excuse to get wrong. (We only have to know one language to graduate from high school. C’mon people).

It’s/its and there/their/they’re. It’s is short for it is. There are no exceptions. If people think otherwise, they’re incorrect. Their opinion is wrong. (See what I did there?”)

Myself. Words like myself, yourself and himself are reflexive pronouns. The subject of the sentence and the direct object need to be the same, and the -self word would be the object. Bob hit himself. Sara hates herself. Did you hurt yourself? Telling people “if you have any questions, please call Jeff or myself” is wrong. Only you can call yourself. Also, “myself” cannot be present on a conference call (“On the call are Matt, Jim and myself”). Can you tell I feel strongly about this one?

Bad apostrophes. This is another personal pet-peeve. Our local dry cleaner is open on “Saturday’s.” It drives me nuts every time I see the sign. If you’re making something plural, add an “s.” If you’re making a contraction, add an apostrophe. And if you’re showing ownership (Bob’s truck), add an apostrophe – s (its is an important exception). Some entities break this rule on purpose. The New York Times uses ’s to make abbreviations plural. “Ford unveils two new S.U.V.’s.” I don’t care if they are the New York Times. It’s wrong.

Basic verb/noun agreement and sentence structure. If the subject is singular, the verb needs to be singular. If the dependent clause has a singular subject, the pronoun in the independent clause must be singular. For example:

  • “If a donor wants to make an immediate impact, he can contribute to our capital fund.”
  • “If donors want to make an immediate impact, they can contribute to our capital fund.”

People often get this wrong because they are trying to avoid the he/she dilemma. I suggest going plural. Enough, grammar. I am boring myself. The second category is basic verbal crutches. These are things we say (or type) to sound formal or smart. But they are usually unnecessary and often flatly incorrect, so we sound informal and dumb.

My favorites:

Literally. “That meeting was so boring that my head literally exploded.” I hope not.

At the end of the day. “At the end of the day, we are a business and we need to make money.” Really? At the end of the day, I go to bed. Why not use “ultimately” or just say “We are a business and we need to make money.”

Currently/At this point in time. “Now” will suffice.

In my opinion. Use “I think.” But if you insist on the former, please don’t use “in my personal opinion.” All of your opinions are personal.

Finally, general corporate BS-speak. This is the category that lit up my Facebook request. In most cases, these are words we would NEVER use in casual conversations with our friends — even really smart friends. And in most cases, I do not think they mean what people think they mean.

Net-net (or triple net). Commercial real estate brokers often use this to explain leases. Are you a commercial real estate broker? Then don’t use it.

Level-set. I think this is a noun. It means update, but I suppose level-set sounds smarter.

Downstream/upstream value and ROI. We are impressed by your MBA.

Value add. Do you mean “value?” Invite (as a noun). Calendar (as a verb). Revenue (as a verb). I prefer invitation, schedule and make money because those are real words. Chances are there is a word out there to express your thoughts. There is rarely a need to invent a new one.

Liaise. It’s a verb and is technically correct. But you should know that people roll their eyes when you use it.

And my favorite…the entry that made the whole Facebook query worthwhile: “I don’t want to constipate the process.” I’m glad that this person doesn’t want to slow things down. But he/she just grossed out everyone on the email chain.

I can’t wait to see the comments on this one. Any others? Want to defend anything listed here?

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