Category Archives: African American News

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11 Nouns That Only Have a Plural Form

Of all the grammar concepts we have, “plural” seems to be one of the most straightforward. You got one thing? It’s singular. Got more than one thing? It’s plural. But alas, language is always less straightforward than we expect. The way we conceptualize something—as one thing or many things—doesn’t always match up with the way our word for it behaves. There are some nouns that only have a plural form, regardless of how we think of them. They are known as pluralia tantum, Latin for “plural only.” Here are 11 of them.


Scissors has a plural verb agreement. We say, “the scissors are over there,” not “the scissorsis over there.” Scissors likes to hang on to its “s.” We can say “give me a pair of scissors,” but not “give me a scissor.” True, there is a sense in which scissors are two objects, two blades, being used as one tool, and many similar tools are also pluralia tantum: pliers, tongs, tweezers, forceps. But not all such tools are plural. A clamp, a bear trap, and a flat iron are also tools made of two joined parts, and they are singular.


Goggles, glasses, and binoculars only show up in the plural. They are also generally conceived of as unitary objects, though they are made up of two connected parts. When new words are coined for things that function in front of the eyes, they will usually inherit the grammatical plurality (Blue Blockers, RayBans), but not always (see View Master, Google Glass).


In the rarefied world of fashion reporting, you may see “pant” show up as a singular noun (“a floral pant is a must-have for spring”), but for the rest of us “pants” is strictly plural. The tendency toward plural forms for clothing that provides separate enclosures for the two legs is strong: shorts, jeans, bloomers, tights, leggings, trousers, chaps, etc. The tendency for new such words to be coined with plurality is also strong: bell bottoms, skinnies, capris. We even say things like, “Levis are popular,” even though the brand name is actually not plural, but possessive—“Levi’s.”


The word “underwear” is a mass noun that takes singular agreement (“your underwear is showing”) but there are a cluster of pluralia tantum underwear words. In addition to panties, we have drawers, boxers, briefs, and tighty whities. Interestingly, the thong is singular (perhaps because leg enclosure has little to do with it?), and so is the bra (though it shares the shape characteristics of glasses and goggles).


Pluralia tantum are often objects that involve some kind of connected pairing of two identical things, but they can also be terms for large collections of dissimilar things. Clothes, for example, can be shirts, pants, skirts, jackets, or underwear. Manners can be ways of talking, eating, or greeting. Pyjamas are the top and bottom taken together.


There are a number of pluralia tantum that refer to possession or ownership. In addition to riches, there are furnishings, belongings, earnings and valuables.


There are also a few pluralia tantum having to do with mood or feelings. You can have the blues or be in the doldrums, but not have a blue or be in a doldrum. Likewise, jitters, willies, and heebie-jeebies always come in groups.


Words for activities that might be individually very different in their specifics but similar in some general aspect will sometimes be pluralia tantum. You may indulge in shenanigans, heroics, or hysterics, or sometimes all three.


There is a small group of pluralia tantum for what’s left after the dust has settled. They may be remains, ruins, or leftovers.


There does happen to be a singular noun “annal.” It means the recorded events of one year. But we almost never see it this way. Most of us use “annals” in the way we use other plurals from set, antiquated phrases, pluralia tantum like alms and amends.

11. SUDS

Suds is a strange one. Usually a word for a mass of stuff made of of teeny, tiny individuated parts will be a mass noun. For example, rice, sand, sugar, and salt are all mass nouns. Mass nouns have singular verb agreement (“the rice is cooked”). Suds is a plural noun and has plural agreement (“the suds are everywhere”). Does this mean we care more about individual soap bubbles than individual grains of rice? Probably not. Is that what a “sud” even is? A bubble? It doesn’t matter anyway, because we can know what suds are without knowing what a sud is. That’s the beauty of pluralia tantum.

Many of these words have an s-less form as attributive nouns, i.e., when they are acting like adjectives (scissor kick, panty raid, pyjama day). This is not the same as having a singular form.

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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in African American News



The Secret Emotional Lives of 5 Punctuation Marks


Punctuation is the homely, workaday cousin to the glamorous word. It works quietly in the background, sweeping up and trying to keep the information flow tidy, while words prance around spilling thought, meaning, and feeling all over the place. Punctuation marks accept their utilitarian roles, but they too carry feelings, and they express them in subtle ways that are sometimes easy to miss. For National Punctuation Day, let’s take a look at the secret emotional lives of 5 punctuation marks.


What could be simpler than period? One little dot that ends a sentence, a few pixels. But lately, the period has become a bit more than that. As Ben Crair noted at The New Republic, when it comes to online chatting and texting, the period has come to mean “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.” Since digital communication is more like an ongoing conversation, people usually leave off final punctuation and just hit send. In that context, a period starts to look a little abrupt and aggressive. A study by Idibon adds support to the idea of the negative period. In an analysis of a corpus of 9 million social media interactions, they found that the appearance of a period is highly correlated with a particular phrase beginning with f and ending with you.


The exclamation point has long been seen as a marker of loudness or excitement, but its emotional range is more complex than that. In digital communication it has become a sincerity marker. In an email, where it might seem a little too informal to just leave off end punctuation, the exclamation point serves as a solution to the problem of the angry period. This comes off dry, cold, and little sarcastic: “I am looking forward to the meeting.” But with the exclamation point—“I am looking forward to the meeting!”—it is warm and sincere. It adds not a shout, but a genuine smile.


The ellipsis, a row of three dots, stands for an omitted section of text. But much can be conveyed by omission. It asks the receiver of the message to fill in the text, and in that way is very coy and potentially flirty. “Pizza…” Is that an invitation? An opinion? It sits there waiting for a response. This brings awkwardness into the equation, and the ellipsis (or even the written words “dot dot dot”) is another way to say “well this is awkward.” The conversation is not over, but someone has to make a move. And the clock ticks uncomfortably on, dot…by dot…by dot…


Asterisks are meant to be noticed. They hold a place in a text for you so you can go match it up with a footnote or comment. But they also have a theatrical bent that goes beyond simple attention holding and crosses over into acting. As discussed by Ben Zimmer in this Language Log post, asterisks (*ahem*) can set off stage directions (*cough*) that tell you (*looks at watch*) about the emotional states (*yawn*) and attitudes (*stares off*)…sorry, (*vigorously blinks eyes*) where was I? Asterisks. They’re little jazz hands that say, “look what I’m doing!”


Commas have no inner emotional lives. In the words of Gertrude Stein, “commas are servile and they have no life of their own.” Not only that, their dullness can rub off on you. A comma “by helping you along holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.” That may sound mean, but the comma really doesn’t care. In order to get out there every day to step between words and generally slow things down, it’s got to have a businesslike attitude.

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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in African American News



Please Stop “Celebrating” Banned Books Week

Grab a copy of Speak or of Catcher in the Rye or of any of Toni Morrison’s books. With the kickoff of Banned Books Week, it’s high time to talk about these books and what it is that makes them scary and worth banning.

This is pretty well-tread territory. The content inside of books scares people and as a reaction and a way to control what it is others have access to — and in most cases, it’s their children and their children’s peers — they seek out ways to censor or ban them.

In every comments section or discussion about book censorship, there’s a variation on the can’t they just get it somewhere else question. In every comments section or discussion about book censorship, there’s a variation from authors or friends of authors who want to see their books censored since it’s a guaranteed way to make some sales.

And in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to Banned Books Week, there’s the reminder that it’s time to “celebrate.”

We “celebrate” Banned Books Week.

While it may seem like it’s a small quibble, it’s not. The way we use and apply language is important, and when it comes to talking about the issue of censorship, the way we focus our attention matters significantly. Celebrating banned books week is a marketing opportunity in many corners of the book world, and not without reason. These books are important. They deserve to be talked about. Talking about these books matters because it’s how we talk about reading, about the sharing of ideas, and about why books and words are tools for growth.

But there’s a fine line between celebrating banned books week and marketing books because they’ve been censored. This isn’t a week about profits or how to sell these banned books.

Judith Krug pioneered Banned Books Week in 1982, with the goal to “to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

Being sponsored by book-advocating organizations including the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and others, it’s natural that banned books would be front and center. Creating displays, offering events, and opening up discourse about these books and why people fear and seek to ban them is important in advocating for them — and it’s important for advocating the most crucial component of Krug’s vision: drawing attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on access and availability of information.

When we “celebrate” banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren’t the purpose. Their being banned isn’t the celebration.

The celebration is intellectual freedom.

When a book is pulled from shelves, it’s not easy for readers to seek the book out. The notion that anyone can hop onto an online retailer and purchase a copy is fraught with privilege and it undermines the implications of what it means when a book is taken away from readers. A book being censored or removed from the hands of readers isn’t about the physical or digital manifestation of the book; it’s about the fact a right has been striped from another individual or a community more broadly.

Authors or readers who rally behind the idea of wanting a book challenged or censored for the purposes of sales fail to understand the implications for readers, too. It’s not about your book or your friend’s book or that book you really, really love. It’s not about the object at all. It’s about the way the freedom to engage with ideas is taken from people who have the Constitutional right to interact with those concepts as they wish. Whenever an author admits to selfishly wanting his or her book challenged or censored, it’s impossible not to see how much s/he misses the point. That’s a disservice to all readers.

“Celebrating” banned books fuels the idea that it’s books we need to be protecting. It also fuels the idea that becoming part of an elite club of banned books is a badge of honor — a merit earned because of something done on author’s part or a means of marketing that book.

Banned books week is about none of these ideas.

The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought. It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.

Pull one of your favorite banned books off the shelf, make a display, do a read out — and enjoy the fact no one is stopping you from doing so. Read those words out loud, make a video about them, write passionately about those books and what they mean.

But don’t do it under the guise of “celebrating” the banned books.

Celebrate the intellectual freedom to do so.


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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in African American News



19 Everyday Expressions That Came from Aesop

Aesop: we’ve all heard the name, and most of us are familiar with at least a few of his fables with the anthropomorphized animals facing extremely unrealistic yet entertaining dilemmas.

There is no concrete evidence that the ancient Greek moralist and former slave we call Aesop ever wrote down any of his stories (in fact, it was several centuries after Aesop’s purported death that the first collection of his fables appeared), nor is there even proof that he actually existed at all. But the wisdom and warnings offered up by the morals of his many popular tales have survived more than two millennia, weaseling their way into the English language as common everyday expressions. Here are a handful of Aesop’s most popular contributions that we still use today, along with a taste of the stories that spawned them:


A mother fox and lioness were boasting to each other about their young when the fox pointed out that where she gave birth to a litter of cubs each time, the lioness had only one. “But that one is a lion,” responded the lioness. Checkmate.


A woodsman lost his axe in a river and Mercury (the one with the wings on his shoes) appeared to retrieve it. Mercury offered the woodsman an axe made of silver and another made of gold before offering the man his own and, since the man admitted that the first two were not his, he was given all three axes as a reward. When a friend heard this story, he dropped his own axe into the same river. Smart. Mercury appeared again but this time the friend claimed the golden axe as his own, which disgusted the god so much that he returned all three tools back to the bottom of the river, leaving the man empty-handed.


Two cocks were fighting for control of a roost. When it was over, the loser of the battle went and hid himself in a dark corner while the winner climbed atop the barn and began to crow where he was promptly snatched up by a hungry eagle. The emo rooster was cock of the walk thereafter despite his excessive use of eyeliner.


A farmer was fed up with a fox prowling his hen house at night and so set out for revenge. He trapped the fox and tied some tinder to his tail which he then set ablaze. In a panic, the fox set off at a run and, making his way through the farmer’s corn field, burned the farmer’s entire harvest to the ground.


It would seem that even Shakespeare gave props to Aesop. In this tale, a mountain was groaning and appeared ready to burst and so attracted a great crowd, all of them anticipating some incredible tragedy. Finally, at the peak of this activity, from out of the mound surfaced a mouse, and for some reason everyone was completely disappointed despite the most likely alternative having been a volcanic eruption.


A fox came across some dogs gnawing on a lion skin and said (paraphrased) “that lion would kill you all if it wasn’t dead already.”


A lion, a fox, and an ass went hunting together and set to divide the spoils of their efforts between them. First, the ass divided the goods into three even piles, at which point the lion attacked and devoured him, then asked the fox to divide the food. The fox, taking a lesson from the ass, gave the lion nearly all of the game and set aside a meager portion for himself, which pleased the lion, who then allowed the fox to live. Another lesson gleaned from this tale? “Happy is the man who learns from the misfortunes of others.”


A farmer’s daughter was musing about the value of the milk she carried in the pail atop her head and began planning to use the profits to buy enough eggs to start a poultry farm. Eventually, her wild mind led her to ponder using the spoils of her poultry farm to buy a fancy gown for the fair. As the girl imagined how the boys would flock to her in her sparkling new duds she tossed her hair, sending the pail of milk and all of her dreams to the dirt below.


A thirsty crow happened upon a tall pitcher, inside of which was a small quantity of water that he could not reach. The crow, apparently a genius bird, gathered a crop of stones and dropped them one by one into the pitcher until the water level had was high enough for him to drink. Ahh.


A fox found himself trapped in a well and so he coaxed a goat down with him into the water below. When the goat reached the bottom of the well the fox climbed on his back and out of his prison, leaving the goat to suffer his fate alone.


A nightingale was caught in the talons of a hawk and pled for his life, saying that the hawk ought to let him go and pursue much larger birds that might have a better shot at slaking his hunger. “I should indeed have lost my senses,” said the hawk, “If I should let go food ready to my hand, for the sake of pursuing birds which are not yet even within sight.” And he ate him.


A snake and an eagle were locked in a life-and-death battle when a countryman came upon them and freed the eagle from the serpent’s grasp. As retribution, the snake spat venom into the man’s drinking horn and, as he went to drink, the grateful eagle knocked the poisoned drink from his hand and onto the ground below. The man was probably just ticked about his drink, though, if you think about it. Unless he spoke eagle.


In the story, a swallow and crow were arguing over who had the superior plumage when the crow ended the discussion by pointing out that, though the swallow’s feathers were pretty, his kept him from freezing during the winter. The crow then dropped the mic and walked off the stage.


A fox came across a bunch of grapes hanging from a trellis high above but, try as he might, he just couldn’t reach them. As he gave up on the fruit and began to walk away, he said to himself, “I thought those grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour.” It’s easy to disparage something you can’t attain.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one…You have? So you know the turtle wins the race despite the hare’s incredible speed? Thought so. Moving on, then.


When a flock of cranes descended on a farmer’s newly seeded field, he cast a net with the intention of trapping and killing them all. In the process, the farmer gathered a single stork along with the cranes, who naturally pleaded for his life, citing his noble character and pointing out that his plumage was different from his cohorts. The farmer, however, was not moved and, since the stork had seen fit to take up with the scoundrel cranes, he did him in with the other birds all the same.


When a woman failed to discipline her son for stealing a book from a schoolmate, he continued to up the ante and was eventually caught and hung. As the woman cried about her son’s fate, a neighbor basically rubbed it in her face by pointing out that if she’d put a stop to his thieving ways long before he never would have been executed.


A man looking to purchase an ass took one home on a trial basis and released him in the pasture with his other donkeys. When the new addition took an instant liking to the laziest ass of the bunch, the farmer yoked him up and led him straight back to the vendor, saying that he expected the new donkey would probably just turn out as worthless as his choice of companion.


No surprise ending here—a stag took refuge in a cave to hide from a pack of dogs that were on his trail only to find something much worse inside: a lion. Not quite sure how anyone can take anything from this particular fable except maybe ‘Keep yourself out of strange caves if you don’t want to get eaten by a lion.’ Still, it’s pretty sound advice.

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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in African American News



25 Words For Other Words



One of the intriguing things about languages is that they eventually develop vocabularies comprehensive enough to describe themselves, often down to their smallest units and components. So as well as drawing a distinction between nouns, verbs, and adjectives, we can talk about things like synonyms (happy, content) and antonyms (happy, sad); homophones (oar, ore, or) and homographs (bass the guitar, bass the fish); and digraphs (two letters with a single sound, like sh or ch), diphthongs (two vowel sounds in a single syllable, like “kah-oow” for cow) and ligatures (two letters joined as a single character, like Æ).

English being as vast and grandiloquent a language as it is of course, straightforward examples like these are just the tip of a linguistic iceberg. In fact there are dozens of little-known and little-used words referring to other words, describing their form, their origin, or their use. So next time you spot piripiri on a menu, or you’re trying to lip-read a conversation about “Ben’s men’s pens,” you’ll know exactly how to refer to it.


An anacronym is an acronym that has become so naturalized in the language that the phrase it originally stood for has now largely been forgotten. So “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” is better known as scuba, and “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” is laser. And Thomas A Swift’s electric rifle? That’ll be a taser.


An ananym is word coined by reversing the letters of an existing word, like yob from “boy,”emordnilap from “palindrome” (more on those later), and mho from “ohm”. Ananymic words are relatively rare, and you’re much more likely to come across them as proper nouns (like Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo company) or in fiction (like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon).


Also known as a contronym or a Janus word (after a dual-faced god in Roman mythology), anautoantonym is a word that can be its own opposite. So dusting a house implies removing a fine powder, while dusting for fingerprints involves applying a fine powder.


You’ve probably seen lists of these in airports or hotels, on ATMs or travel documents, or if you’ve ever tried to change the language settings of a webpage or cellphone: anautoglossonym is the name of a language written in that language, like English, Français,Español or Deutsch.


An autological word is word that describes itself. So short is short. Common isn’t rare.Unhyphenated doesn’t have a hyphen. Polysyllabic has more than one syllable.Pronounceable is perfectly pronounceable. And sesquipedalian is unquestionably sesquipedalian. The opposite is a heterological word. So rare isn’t rare. Long isn’t long (in fact it’s shorter than short). Hyphenated is unhyphenated. Symmetrical is asymmetrical.Monosyllabic is polysyllabic. And there’s nothing at all wrong with misspelled.


A backronym is a word or phrase mistakenly believed to be an acronym, which then becomes the subject of a “back-formed” (and completely untrue) etymology. So posh doesn’t stand for “port out, starboard home,” and golf doesn’t stand for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden.” Nor does Adidas stand for “all day I dream about sport,” and SOS doesn’t mean “save our souls,” but is simply a memorable combination of dots and dashes (•••—•••) in Morse code.


A capitonym is a word whose meaning changes depending on whether it is capitalized or not, like Turkey and turkey, Polish and polish, or August and august. Most capitonyms are entirely coincidental and the two words in question are entirely unrelated, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the difference between the two is much more subtle, like moon (any natural satellite) and Moon (our natural satellite, from which all others are named), or sun (a star at the centre of a solar system) and Sun (our star).


A demonym is a word referring to or describing an inhabitant of a place, like New Zealander orParisian. In English, most demonyms behave fairly predictably and are formed using a suffix like –an (American), –ian (Canadian), –er (New Yorker), or –ese (Japanese) added to a place name. There are plenty of irregularities though, like Neapolitan (Naples), Glaswegian(Glasgow), Damascene (Damascus), Guamanian (Guam) and Monagasque (Monaco).


If a palindrome is a word or phrase that spells the same backwards as forwards, then anemordnilap is a word that spells a completely different word when it is reversed. So bragbecomes grab, reward becomes drawer, stressed becomes desserts, and so on. Emordnilapitself is an emordnilap of course, but it’s also an ananym and an autological word.


An endonym is a word that the speakers of a language or the inhabitants of a particular region use to refer to themselves, their hometown or their surroundings. The opposite is an exonymor xenonym, which is an outside equivalent or foreign translation of a local name. So London is an endonym is you’re a Londoner, while the French name Londres would be an exonym. Sometimes endonyms overtake exonyms and become the official name for a location regardless of language, as is the case with Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Myanmar (Burma), and Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).


In linguistics, the concepts of holonymy and meronymy refer to the relationship between parts and wholes – the “whole” is the holonym, and the “part” is the meronym. So a word like houseis a holonym that encompasses a group of meronyms like bedroom, bathroom, kitchen,doors, floors and walls. Body is a holonym for meronyms like arm, leg, head, stomach andfoot, and so on.


A holophrase is a single word used to sum up a full phrase or idea, like bouncebackability,ungetatable, or unputdownable. It takes its name from a linguistic phenomenon called holophrasis, whereby whole thoughts or sets of ideas are communicated by a single word or (as with babies first learning to speak) a single sound.


A homoeosemant is a word that has almost similar meaning to another, but not quite. Also known as “semi-synonyms,” homoeosematic words basically account for the ever so slight differences in meaning between sets of related words, like ask, question, probe, enquire,interview and interrogate.


Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often (but not always) different spellings, like dough and doe, or maze and maize. Homophenes however are words that look the same as they are pronounced, and so can prove problematic to lip-readers—try covering your ears and getting someone to say the words Ben, men, and penand you’ll soon get the idea.


A hypernym is essentially an “umbrella” term, under which a number of more specific words known as hyponyms can be listed. Unlike holonyms and meronyms, which deal with parts of a whole, hypernyms work like categories into which the subordinate hyponyms can be grouped. So animal is a hypernym incorporating hyponyms like mammal, fish and bird. In turn mammalserves as a hypernym for another set of hyponyms, like dog, cat and mouse. And dog is a hypernym for words like spaniel, collie, and terrier, and so on.


An oxytone is a word with stress on its final syllable, like guiTAR. A paroxytone has its stress on the second to last syllable, like piAno. And a proparoxtone on the syllable before that, likeacCORdion. Originally used in reference to Ancient Greek, terms like these are used in English to account for the differences between homographic words like CONduct as in “good conduct” (a paroxytone), and conDUCT as in “to conduct an orchestra” (an oxytone).


Coined by the journalist Frank Mankiewicz in the early 1980s, a retronym is a word that comes into being whenever a newer word or invention surpasses an older one, which then has to be renamed. So after electric guitars were invented, earlier non-electric guitars came to be known by the retronym acoustic guitars. The same thing happened with landline telephones,analogue clocks, field hockey, rugby union, silent films, 2D films, the French franc, BritishEnglish, George Bush Sr., and the First World War, which until the outbreak of the Second World War was known simply as “The Great War.”


A tautonym is a word made up of two (or more) identical, repeated parts. Normally this only applies to the scientific names of animals and plants, like the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) or the western lowland mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), but it can also be used to describe words like goody-goody, tutu, piripiri, bye-bye and cha-cha-cha.


A troponym is a word (more often than not a verb) that provides a more detailed description of something than a more general word can. That might sound like the definition of an adverb (like happily or slowly), but troponyms are more like a cross between hyponyms and homoeosemants in that they are used to provide a slightly different, slightly more specific account than a more general synonym might. As such, troponyms are hugely important to writers of fiction, who want to provide as accurate and evocative a description as possible. Take a simple sentence like “She walked into the room,” for instance, and then substitute walkwith strut, march, stumble, creep, flounce, stagger or jump and you’ll soon see how important they are.



Stop Trying To Be So Efficient!

by Allan A.

It’s a go-go-go world. Read. Act. Write. Send. Repeat. We are just machines using machines to be faster machines. From the top down, we’ve all been instructed for decades to get things done more efficiently. What’s it gotten us?

Are law firms and accounting firms sending staff home because they worked so fast on their deliverables? Probably not.

Are software developers standing up from their cubicle mid-day to announce “Ok my part is done! See ya’all tomorrow!”? Ya right.

Are work-at-home professionals calling it quits early and logging off for the day because they quickly responded to every email? Not anyone I’ve ever known. Expectations of efficiency riding us from behind to hurry up, while the carrot of effectiveness gets dangled in front of us to bring quality results. What do we have to show for it?

A big pile of mistakes, frustrations, more work, and more time working – and we are ALL to blame. What I see now from the several thousands of people I interact with, is a trend of lower quality work products and communication, and everyone is keeping their mouth shut about it, because we are guilty of practicing it and encouraging it – and we are all paying a hefty price for it – our lost time and sanity.

I don’t want an accountant to do my taxes efficiently. I’m not excited about resubmitting corrections to the IRS because they made a few typos.

I don’t want an attorney to write our terms & conditions efficiently. Turns out lawsuits are even more costly than lawyers.

I don’t want a solution proposal to be done efficiently. Turns out no one likes scope creep after they buy. (Plus if I see a typo, I may discredit you and buy from someone else.)

I don’t want an assistant to make travel plans efficiently. My trip may either miss out on savings or be on a redeye or worse.

I don’t want marketing to get a campaign up efficiently. They might not deliver their best ideas.

I don’t want tech support to do their work efficiently. They might miss a step and create another problem.

Doesn’t seem like a healthy model to try to be efficient if it doesn’t get the job done in one shot. You are not helping your team, your career or your company. Instead, we ALL need to shift our mindset, motivation and reward systems on being effective.

If you are not sure what the difference is, I could tell you right here efficiently or you could find out effectively so you actually learn.


I’ve never met one person who read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and disagreed with it. Did you think it would just efficiently get solved in one article? It’s going to take proactive effort on your part – on everyone’s part! As for my personal experience, it evolved who I am in a more positive way than any other business education I’ve ever had.

Every organization should build entire training and curriculum to train, nurture & reward these habits. What every leader needs to do is incorporate being an effective organization into their vision – starting with themselves first. What every manager needs to do is manage metrics & rewards on being effective. What every employee needs to do is make effectiveness their personal responsibility and learn to communicate that expectation to their peers and back up the command chain.

Practical Tips on Being Effective

While each company and individual has to come to grips on how to execute and implant the solution into their core being, here are some tips that can make the evolution to a more effective professional a little smoother. It is certainly helping me and our company.

Tip #1. Go to “You’re welcome”. This is my personal favorite. Do the job so well that you can confidently ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?”, receive a response “No thank you” and be the final say to the matter with “You’re welcome.” The other person will walk away with the feeling that they were helped and you were professional – a good sign that you were effective.

Tip #2. Communicate at your recipient’s level of understanding. Don’t E=MC2 unless you’re talking to another Einstein. Business communication is not about showing everyone how many big words you know. Keep your communication simple and always ask the person if they understand or if there is anything you can clarify for them. You are only as effective as the person that understands you.

Tip #3. Stop using your smartphone all the time! Since there are only 6 people left with blackberries, the rest of us have a hard time typing or dictating lengthy content with our touch screen phones. So we under-communicate, which spurs a series of replies, or dozens of replies if others are copied, which could have been communicated with one email if you took the time to compose your thoughts, instead of banging out another worthless email while waiting for your coffee.

Tip #4. Do not respond until you have the complete response. If you were asked 3 questions and only know the answer to 1, please don’t respond. You already suck with your smart phone. Don’t frustrate your recipient even more. Just flag it or save it in drafts and finish it later. When you make other people have to remind you to complete your commitment as your method of task-management, it just reminds them how unprofessional you are. So respond once, when you have all the information ready to respond and try to accomplish Tip #1.

Tip #5. Use Delay Delivery in Outlook often. The more complex the thought being communicated, the less desirable and beneficial for your immediate response. If you are certain you have the response, reply and hit Delay Delivery. Then later when the better thought occurs to you (and it usually will), you’ll be doing yourself and the recipient a favor by having time to edit it before it goes out. Plus no one needs your response immediately all the time, they have other work they are trying to do effectively.

Tip #6. Say “I don’t understand” often. Many people shy away from this because they think it will make them look less smart. It won’t. You’ll be helping yourself and the other person will usually try even harder to communicate even more clearly. You might have missed something anyway; you are trying to unlearn decades of poor work place habits of trying to being so efficient that has led to so many mistakes and re-work. Understand?

Tip #7. Verify your work! Did you complete a tax return? Check it over in detail even if you’ve done a 1000 like it before. Did you install software? Test it as the user would before you declare victory! Did you write a brief or scope of work? Proof read it before you send it out. The world is not here to verify your quickly-put-together work product for you and tell you to try again, that’s called “sucking at what you do”, even if you are the fastest at repeating it until you get it right.

Tip #8. Get closure. Ask “Are you satisfied with what I have provided?” Ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?” no matter how big or small what you completed. It makes people feel good about you, gives you a chance to truly deliver. Delivery happens when everyone signs off and you can get a chance to implement Tip #1.

If you implement these tips into everything you do at work, you will be reducing the mistakes, frustration and time spent working on activities.



Why Isn’t ‘Arkansas’ Pronounced Like ‘Kansas’?

Kansas and Arkansas aren’t so far from each other on the map, but their names seem to want nothing to do with each other. Though they share all but two letters in common, Kansas comes out as “KANzis” and Arkansas as “ARkansaw.” Why so different?

Kansas was named for the Kansa, a Siouan tribe that lived in the region. The Kansa people were called, in plural, Kansas, and that became the name of the state. But before it did, English, French, and Spanish speakers, as well as speakers of various Native American languages, all came up with their own ways of pronouncing (and writing) the name of the tribe. The Kansa themselves pronounced it with a nasalized “a” (rather than a full “n”), a “z,” and an “eh” sound – approximately “kauzeh.” Everyone else had their own versions, and historical records show all kinds of spellings: Kansa, Kansas, Kantha, Kances, Konza, Kauzas, Canees, Canceys… Eventually, Kansas won out.

Arkansas was named for a related Siouan tribe, the Quapaw. The Algonquians called them “akansa,” joining their own a- prefix (used in front of ethnic groups) to the Kansa name (the same root as that for Kansas). The Algonquians’ name for the Quapaw was picked up by others, and was also spelled in various ways: Akancea, Acansea, Acansa. However, it was the French version, Arcansas, that became the basis for the eventual state name. In French the final plural s is not pronounced. Somehow, the English speakers that took over after the Louisiana Purchase decided to go with a modified French spelling along with a French pronunciation – an s on the page, but not on the tongue. (Incidentally, the name Ozark comes from French aux Arcs, short for aux Arcansas. And the same native word that became Wichita in Kansas went with the Frenchified spelling Ouachita in Arkansas.)

Actually, it took some time for Arkansans to come to agreement on pronunciation. In 1881, a heated disagreement between the state’s two senators, one who said “arKANzis” and the other who said “ARkansaw,” led to a ruling by the state legislature making the “ARkansaw” pronunciation official. Ever since, Americans have gone along with the s-less, first-syllable-stressed version of Arkansas. At least when it comes to the state name. The people of Kansas don’t go any further than that. For them it’s the “arKANzis” River, and “arKANzis” City.




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