Monthly Archives: June 2010

The foop-baw World Cup

A FIFA World Cup themed post on phonetics today.

The first unit in the applied linguistics post-grad course I studied through Monash University was an introduction to the basics of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and so on, because the course was designed for people like me who had not necessarily studied any linguistics at undergraduate level.  I really enjoyed it. It’s quite interesting to listen closely to how we really say things – and the difference between how you speak when you are paying attention to it and when you are not. As an example,  most Australians I know will swear blind that they always say ‘advance’ with a long ‘a’ sound like the British pronunciation. But in a quick off the cuff question asking for the name of Australia’s national anthem, at least half said it the Australian way with the vowel sound being /æː/.

In American English, typically football is pronounced with the two syllables /fʊt/ and /bɑl/. It really made me laugh when I read how most Australians say /fʊp/ /boː/ instead – we say a ‘p’ sound instead of the ‘t’ and omit the ‘ll’ on the end. Listen next time you hear the commentators say it on TV. I particularly love how we say ‘international football’ – it’s like ‘innernashunl foop-baw’.

And while we’re on the World Cup, I just read a phonetics blog post about those vuvuzelas and why it might be hard for broadcasters to screen out their noise!

“We have no competitors”

Every time I hear an executive say this, I groan inwardly. Sure, no one else does exactly what you do, how you do it. But are there alternatives competing for the attention and dollars of your potential customers? Of course there are. So you do have competitors. Saying you don’t have any at best shows you to be a little naive. To me it shows that you can’t explain why you are different. Many businesses haven’t given enough thought to what is different about what they offer and why customers should do business with them.

My suggestion is: come up with some statements that position you in relation to two or three of your competitors. Never say anything negative about your competition – that looks worse than saying you have none. Here’s one way of saying it: “Competitor X offers much more/bigger/better X than us [X being something you don’t do], whereas we offer [insert something they cannot offer or don’t do as well as you can].”

I read a blog post on this subject by a young entrepreneur today who agrees that saying you have no competitors causes your audience to roll their eyes, and he suggests some much nicer ways of saying it:

no one is doing this the way we are

there are other companies working on various aspects of this problem

Unfortunately he then goes on to say that his company is doing something incredibly unique and that some entrepreneurs have a vision that is vastly unique. OK, lost me there. A former journalist colleague who I worked with in my first PR job told me never to use the word unique, because it means that there has never been something like it and never will be. This is highly unlikely and causes people to be suspicious. Also it is so overused that it has lost some of its meaning. But then to qualify it as being incredibly or vastly unique? Oh boy.

Weasel Word Wednesday #13 – catalyse

OK, I know… it’s Thursday. However this one is worth a short post.

My other half pointed out an article in an IT publication where a CEO speaking at a conference is reported as saying that:

CEOs then need to push technology group and business together – get out of project and build capabilities and catalyse change in relationship.

Apart from the fact that that sentence just does not make sense, and I’m hoping it’s a case of misquoting, it contains a bad case of turning a noun into a verb that just grates. Like ‘synergise” from ‘synergy’, which I’ve mentioned before.

** Disclaimer: I work for a competitor of the firm that this bloke who was quoted works for. I realise that my own company is just as good a source of corporate speak!

Incidents or incidences?

While I am on the subject of plurals… we have noticed several people on TV recently saying incidences when they are talking about something that has happened. I think they mean to say incidents but get carried away with the importance of the moment. You often hear this kind of overly-formal speech containing made-up long words from emergency services personnel (think the local policeman or fireman) when they are called on to give a report of what happened on TV or radio. Here’s a short excerpt from a book about common errors in English usage by Paul Brians at Washington State University, where he explains the confusion between incident, incidence and instance. However he doesn’t mention this ‘interesting’ (OK, wrong) new plural form. Language change in action?

Communication or communications?

During the week I received my copy of Communication World or CW, the magazine of the International Association of Business Communicators. The back page opinion column was a tongue-in-cheek piece about whether it is correct to use the word communication or communications in relation to my profession.

I laughed when I read it, because my first job in PR 15 years ago was with a consultancy called MACRO Communication, which no longer exists. The directors insisted (and I do agree with them in principle) that communication refers to the process of communicating which is what our jobs are all about, while communications refers to the technology or medium used to convey messages – as in telecommunications. Then I moved to a new company, Howorth Communications, which did include the ‘s’ on the end. I didn’t agree with it but after saying it for a while, I really didn’t care which one was used. That’s how it is with a lot of word usage complaints. Neither is incorrect, language use is flexible and constantly changing, get over it.

That’s really the point that Gerard Braud who wrote the opinion column in CW was making. He notes that academics are actually arguing about this stuff. Proofreaders had vehemently removed the ‘s’ when he’d used it in articles. He was expecting to receive ‘ugly e-mails’ (email or e-mail – there’s another one) from readers about it. But as he says, “In the big picture of our world, we have greater things with which to be concerned.”