Speaking in tongues

By Deborah Gaines
President, Deborah Gaines Associates

If you want a great name for something, ask a linguist. One of my favorite sites is Language Log, where the following terms are in daily use.

Autocorrect has been around long before the iPhone.

Snowclones. Variations on popular phrases. When Watson wiped the floor with the humans on Jeopardy, Ken Jennings snowcloned The Simpsons by cracking, “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.” Other examples include “I’m a doctor, not a _______” and “The _______ from hell.”

The Cupertino Effect occurs when computer spell checkers substitute the wrong word (and copy editors don’t catch it); it was coined by European journalists who kept replacing “cooperation” with “cooperatino.”

Crash Blossoms were named for a headline about a musician whose career prospered after her parents died: “Violinist Linked to Air Crash Blossoms.” They can be ambiguous (“Hanging Meat Causes Stir in South St. Louis”) or just plain hilarious (“Man Accused of Killing Lawyer Gets New Attorney”).

Mountweasel is the official name for the cartographer’s trick of including fake locations to protect map copyrights. When I start a band, I will name it The Mountweasels.

Finally, ace copy editor Carol Fisher Staller drew my attention to Shatner Commas, which she described as “oddly placed commas that don’t serve any actual purpose, but make it look like you should pause, as William Shatner does when delivering lines.”

Who, knew?

The language of resistance

Recently I said to a colleague, “We need to improve distribution channels for your piece.”

The colleague heard, “She is criticizing the way I distribute my work. In fact, she dislikes my work, and has no respect for the time and effort I put into it.”

Since then, every request to this colleague has been met with a wall of resistance. The question, “Which solution works best for our system?” receives the reply, “Any solution would require change.”

“Which would be most compatible?” I ask. The reply: a cut-and-paste document containing spec information from the websites of the vendors in question.

Even the body language is defensive: crossed arms, tight smile, refusal to meet the eye. Yet when asked, this colleague says, “My first priority is to help the group.”

The language of resistance is ultimately self-defeating. If this colleague feels disrespected, there are appropriate ways to address it. Instead, because his behavior is so unpleasant, the rest of the group tries not to include him in meetings.  This fuels his paranoia and makes him even less effective.