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Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Secret Emotional Lives of 5 Punctuation Marks

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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.

1. THE ANGRY PERIOD

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.

2. THE SINCERE EXCLAMATION POINT

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.

3. THE COY, AWKWARD ELLIPSIS

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…

4. THE DRAMATIC ASTERISK

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!”

5. THE DULL COMMA

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

 

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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

 

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Five errors that immediately get your resume rejected at Google

I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job. I’ve personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes. And at Google we sometimes get more than 50,000 resumes in a single week.

I have seen a lot of resumes.

Some are brilliant, most are just ok, many are disasters. The toughest part is that for 15 years, I’ve continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What’s most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labor market, hiring managers don’t need to compromise on quality. All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.

I know this is well-worn ground on LinkedIn, but I’m starting here because—I promise you—more than half of you have at least one of these mistakes on your resume. And I’d much rather see folks win jobs than get passed over.

In the interest of helping more candidates make it past that first resume screen, here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes:

Mistake 1: Typos

This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.

In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune your resume just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment. I see this in MBA resumes all the time. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality. The fix?

Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.

Mistake 2: Length

A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every 10 years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or 10-page resume simply won’t get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the sole purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. It’s not to convince a hiring manager to say “yes” to you (that’s what the interview is for) or to tell your life’s story (that’s what a patient spouse is for). Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much. So cut back your resume. It’s too long.

Mistake 3: Formatting

Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least 10-point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.

Mistake 4: Confidential information

I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. While this candidate didn’t mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that’s what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5-10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates…unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.

The New York Times test is helpful here: if you wouldn’t want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached (or if your boss wouldn’t!), don’t put it on your resume.

Mistake 5: Lies

This breaks my heart. Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it. Everyone, up to and including CEOs, get fired for this. (Google “CEO fired for lying on resumes” and see.) People lie about their degrees (three credits shy of a college degree is not a degree), GPAs (I’ve seen hundreds of people “accidentally” round their GPAs up, but never have I seen one accidentally rounded down—never), and where they went to school (sorry, but employers don’t view a degree granted online for “life experience” as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall). People lie about how long they were at companies, how big their teams were, and their sales results, always goofing in their favor.

There are three big problems with lying:

  1. You can easily get busted. The internet, reference checks, and people who worked at your company in the past can all reveal your fraud.
  2. Lies follow you forever. Fib on your resume and 15 years later get a big promotion and are discovered? Fired. And try explaining that in your next interview.
  3. Our moms taught us better. Seriously.

So this is how to mess up your resume. Don’t do it! Hiring managers are looking for the best people they can find, but the majority of us all but guarantee that we’ll get rejected.

The good news is that—precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes—avoiding them makes you stand out.

In a future post, I’ll expand beyond what not to do, and cover the things you should be doing to make your resume stand out from the stack.

 
 

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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:

1. “QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.”—FROM “THE LIONESS AND THE VIXEN”

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.

2. “HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY.”—FROM THE TALE “MERCURY AND THE WOODSMAN”

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.

3. “PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL.”—FROM “THE EAGLE AND THE COCKERELS”

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.

4. “REVENGE IS A TWO-EDGED SWORD.”—FROM “THE FARMER AND THE FOX”

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.

5. “DON’T MAKE MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING,” OR “DON’T MAKE A MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLEHILL.”—FROM “THE MOUNTAIN IN LABOR”.

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.

6. “IT’S EASY TO KICK A MAN WHEN HE’S DOWN.”—FROM “THE DOGS AND THE FOX”.

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.”

7. TO TAKE THE “LION’S SHARE.”—FROM “THE LION, THE FOX, AND THE ASS”

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.”

8. “DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY ARE HATCHED.”—FROM “THE MILKMAID AND HER PAIL”

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.

9. “NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION.”—FROM “THE CROW AND THE PITCHER”

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.

10. “LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP.”—FROM “THE FOX AND THE GOAT”

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.

11. “A BIRD IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH.”—FROM “THE HAWK AND THE NIGHTINGALE”

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.

12. “ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER.”—FROM “THE SERPENT AND THE EAGLE”

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.

13. “FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS ARE NOT MUCH WORTH.”—FROM “THE SWALLOW AND THE CROW”

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.

14. TO HAVE “SOUR GRAPES”.—FROM “THE FOX AND THE GRAPES”

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.

15. “SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE.”—FROM “THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE”

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.

16. “BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER.”—FROM “THE FARMER AND THE STORK”

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.

17. “NIP EVIL IN THE BUD.”—FROM “THE THIEF AND HIS MOTHER”

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.

18. “A MAN IS KNOWN BY THE COMPANY HE KEEPS.”—FROM “THE ASS AND HIS PURCHASER”

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.

19. “OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE.”—FROM “THE STAG AND THE LION”

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

 

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