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Posts Tagged ‘Communication

They flouted their disregard for the laws concerning proper disposal of hazardous waste.

Oh, he’s just playing politics. He’s flaunting the state’s constitution to push a political agenda, but what he’s trying to do won’t hold up under legal scrutiny.

In the examples shown above, flouted should be flaunted, and flaunting should be flouting.

Recently I’ve run across these and many similar misuses of the words “flout” and “flaunt” in print, online and on the radio. It seems as though a lot of people have only a fuzzy idea of the difference between flout and flaunt, so I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about them.

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Flout

Flout

Unfortunately, dogs can't read ... This one enjoys taking a stroll at Kerrycroy near a sign that states “No dogs.” Where is the dog’s rule-flouting owner? (Click image for source and credit)

To flout is to ignore or defy authority, or to treat laws with contemptuous disregard and scorn. It can also mean to mock or insult someone, or treat someone with contempt.

Brazen defiance and deliberate offense are contained in the notion of flout. If someone chooses to flout a rule or law or social convention, for example, their act shows a certain brash arrogance toward others. Why? Because to flout is to challenge and to affront, all while in the act of making one’s disdain plainly evident.

You can see, then, that the sentence beginning with “they flouted their disregard …” makes no sense, because it means the people in question ignored their disregard or treated it with contempt. By contrast, the correct word, flaunted, means they proudly or ostentatiously displayed their disregard in front of others in a way that indicated they mocked the laws.

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Flaunt

Flaunt

Do you flaunt what you’ve got to inspire envy in others? (Click image for source and credit)

To flaunt means to ostentatiously display oneself or something, or to parade in a showy and public way, often with the intent to inspire envy in others.

Flaunt contains an element of strut and swagger, of grandstanding and shameless spectacle. Those who flaunt engage in a theatrical, flashy exhibition that is intended to impress others in some dramatic way.

Consider the sentence that opens with “he’s flaunting the state’s constitution ….” In that case, the rest of the sentence indicates that the politician in question is not trying to show off or pretentiously parade any part of the constitution to his advantage. Rather, by attempting to defy or ignore it in order to further his agenda, he is flouting the state’s constitution.

Writers, readers and listeners, are you among those who have been flouting when you should flaunt, and vice versa? If so, maybe now is the time to draw a clear distinction between the two in your own mind, and then do your part to stop the epidemic of misuse of flaunt and flout.

Talkback: Have you found examples of misuses of flout and flaunt? Do you have any favorites? Now is your chance to weigh in on this topic and share your insights, anecdotes and stories by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

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Semantics: The Meaning of Words

Let’s untangle the meanings of “nauseous” and “nauseated” without having a cat fight. They share the same root word, but have different meanings. (Click here for image credit and source.)

Lately I’ve been spotting many misuses of nauseous and nauseated, which is unsettling, to say the least. And also kind of humorous.

While the two words both stem from the Latin nausea, meaning seasickness, they have different meanings.

The careful writer makes a distinction between them.

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Nauseous

Something that is nauseous causes nausea.

For example, if you smell a nauseous odor, it makes you feel sick to your stomach.

You can also use the word figuratively to mean sickening, disgusting, or loathsome. For example, a nauseous idea or statement is one that disgusts you.

A perfectly fine synonym for nauseous is nauseating.

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Nauseated

If something makes you feel sick to your stomach, you are nauseated.

Figuratively, the word can also be used to mean you feel sickened or disgusted.

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Common Misuse

The most common misuse seems to be something similar to this: “I feel nauseous,” which actually means: “I feel I make other people sick to their stomachs.”

Hey, could be. But probably the speaker means to say: “I feel nauseated,” meaning: “I feel sick to my stomach.”

Now it’s your turn: Has the misuse of these two words caught your eye? Do you have any examples to share with us? Thanks for leaving a comment!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Geographic Information System (GIS)

How can Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help writers and content creators visualize data? Do you use information visualization in your publications and documents? (Click image for credit and source)

Data visualization is becoming the new frontier in content, writing, and communication. In this post, I want to share with you a remarkable type of map.

There are your standard, average sorts of maps, and then there are your WOW! amazing, captivating maps.

In The World in Tweets and Photos and Infographic of the Day: Using Twitter and Flickr Geotags to Map the World, Eric Fischer has created a marvelous series of geographic maps of the WOW! kind showing overlays of geotagged photos posted to Flickr and tweets to Twitter.

This fascinating project visualizes the intersection of geography and vast quantities of user-generated data.

When you look at Fischer’s images, you will see clusters of multi-colored dots that represent where people are when they send photos and tweets. Red dots correspond to Flickr photos; blue dots signify tweets; and white dots indicate locations from which both have been sent.

From New York and Washington to the entire United States to Europe to the entire world, you can see images that instantly communicate how many people are using those two social media, and where they are when using them.

In an earlier post, Information Visualization: How Can It Improve Your Publications?, I wrote about the value of using visualization to extract meaningful information from a sea of data, and gave you some guidelines for successfully doing just that.

I think Eric Fischer’s maps beautifully illustrate the best reason for visualizing large and complex data sets: visualization is a technique that allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

That type of large-scale analysis gives writers and other communications professionals a powerful tool to connect with their audiences and convey a story in moving and unforgettable ways.

Enjoy Fischer’s glorious maps. I hope they inspire you to come up with even better visualizations for your own publications and documents.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of Fischer’s maps? Do you use information visualization in your own work? What software tools do you use to take large sets of data and convert them to visual form? Please share your tips, techniques and experiences – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Weasel Words

How do you respond to weasel words? Do you find them useful, annoying, or deliberately misleading? (Click image for credit and source)

Ah, weasel words.

People often use weasel-speak in business to create the impression that they have said something important, meaningful and to the point when, in fact, their claims are ambiguous, their assertions little more than assumptions, and their statements vague and misleading.

When you hear weasel-speak, don’t you just want to raise your eyebrows in alarm and mutter What sesquipedalian tergiversation!

Here are a few common weasel phrases as examples:

Studies show …

The vast majority …

People say …

Critics claim …

There is evidence that …

Experience shows …

If you use such phrases, you can avoid weaseldom in one of two ways:

  • Substitute the exact figures, names or details in place of the weasel phrase in the body of the text.
  • Use footnotes or appendices in which you give exact figures, details, names, places, and so on.

Notice that the key idea in both suggestions is the same: Prefer language that is concrete, factual, specific and detailed. Substantiate all claims. Provide supporting evidence for all assertions. Avoid the clutter of bureaucratic phrases. Simpler language almost always communicates better.

You can also use what is known as the “general-concrete” pattern. In this method of writing, general and abstract statements are followed by a concrete case. Use specific examples, illustrations and detailed explanations to get your exact point across to your readers. Don’t just present concepts and sweeping generalities. Clarify each one with a concrete case, specific figures, or detailed examples to convey what you mean and help prevent weasel-speak from creeping into your writing.

Now let’s take the example weasel phrases above and remove the smoke screens. The following examples banish the empty weasel words and restore substance and specificity:

Two studies, the 2003 Hirt Report on Nicotine Use and the 2007 CDC Mortality Rates Report, show …

89 percent of respondents said …

People we interviewed agreed that …. Here is a list of their names and departments …

The movie critics of the following newspapers claim … (provide the names of the papers and critics)

The 26 supporting studies we cite in the appendix offer evidence that …

Based on the self-reported experience of the following 10 people … (give their names, describe each person’s experience in detail, and how each person’s experience supports your point)

Oh, it’s so easy, isn’t it? A little weasel here, another slithery weasel there, and before you know it, clear, substantive speech can find itself on the slippery slope to puffery, devoid of all real content.

To help you maintain sense and meaning in your writing, here is a list of handy resources I think you will enjoy:

Now it’s your turn: What weasel phrases do you dislike the most? How do you avoid using weasel words? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Metaphor: The Open Road

Can we imagine any part of our life without using a metaphor? Do we need metaphors to create meaning? (Click image for credit and source)

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All is connected, all is real, and all is metaphor.

Do you think this statement is true?

Recently I ran across a website of metaphor examples. According to its author, the site is based on the idea that metaphorical relationships can be considered to be “universal” in scope: a sort of Rosetta Stone between disciplines, if you will.

A related view is that metaphors provide a set of tools to compare two (seemingly) unlike things that are alike in at least one important way. Pick the tool of your choice – simile, analogy, personification, and others – and use it to explore and better understand the unknowns.

Then there’s this definition: “A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea … Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance.”

And what of visual metaphorsCognitive metaphors? Root metaphors?

If you follow some of the links in this post, you will see that metaphors of all kinds appear to be an indispensable key to understanding as well as creating our reality. They also allow us to connect to other forms of reality and to live beyond the boundaries of our own space.

Could we write, or communicate in any way, without metaphors?

Can you think of any aspect of your life that is metaphor-free?

If you were deprived of all metaphors, could you exist?

Do you think humans are responsible for creating metaphors, or do we just notice all the connections around us and attempt to describe their interfaces and correspondences?

In a recent post titled Language: The Government Wants Your Metaphors, I discussed IARPA’s Metaphor Program, which seeks to “exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture” in order to “characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

Although analytically and intellectually admirable, at least as a mathematical construct, such a project may ultimately prove too daunting to be practicable, because what metaphors say is so complex, interlocking and interrelated that it seems quite a challenge to untangle all the possible meanings and connections. And never mind that all of those qualities are dynamic.

If, as some suggest, metaphors are the foundation of our conceptual systems, then apparently we require them in order to think and act.

And if we can only understand or experience one thing in terms of another, that is, by using metaphors, then what don’t metaphors say?

Now it’s your turn: Do you think metaphors are the engine of communication? Could language itself be construed as a form of metaphor for life? Without communication of all kinds would life exist? Thanks for leaving your comments!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Meet two of my pet peeves in word usage: trooper and trouper

I am currently on a linguistic rampage about how to distinguish one from the other, because lately I’ve noticed an outbreak of misuse and misunderstanding involving these two words. Whenever I come across such an unfortunate lapse, it causes me to raise one eyebrow in dismay while staring at the offending noun through gimlet eyes.

The guilty know who they are (or, worse, maybe not).

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Trooper - State Police

Are you a trooper? (Click image for credit and source)

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troop

Troop refers to a throng, crowd, herd or group. For example:

  • a troop of State Police officers
  • a troop (group) of friends
  • a troop (flock) of birds

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trooper

Trooper typically designates a member of a military unit or a police force, or a member of a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop.

Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary lists the following as examples of troopers:

  • enlisted cavalryman
  • paratrooper or soldier
  • mounted policeman
  • one of a body of State police, usually using motorized vehicles
  • Girl Scout or Boy Scout

By extension, “to be a real trooper” has come to mean “to show bravery and courage, especially in the face of adversity while on duty.”

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Trouper - Member of a Theatrical Company

Are you a trouper? (Click image for credit and source)

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troupe

Troupe refers to a company or group of performers on the stage: a company of actors and actresses; a theatrical troupe.

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trouper

Trouper typically designates someone who is a member of a troupe, that is, an actor or an actress who belongs to a particular acting company.

By extension, “to be a real trouper” has come to mean knowing “the show must go on,” whatever it takes. Thus, a “real trouper” is a professional you can count on to help achieve the group’s goal, especially when the going gets rough. “Real troupers” will come through for you, no matter what, because they are committed, reliable and tenacious.

Once more then: Are you a trooper or a trouper?

Now it’s your turn: What are your pet “word pair” peeves? What sorts of homonymic misusage get under your skin, prompting you to think that civilization is irreversibly in decline? What confusions of meaning goad you into reaching for your red pen? What sorts of linguistic pratfalls provoke your inner editor to sally forth? Tell all in your comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Create Headlines That Work

Do your headlines and article titles sizzle? Do they grab readers’ attention? Do they make readers want to read the body copy?

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Headline, title, lead, opener – however you refer to it, the headline is the first impression your audience gets.

Whether read in a print piece or heard on radio or TV, the headline can spell the difference between success or failure: Is that first impression exciting and attention-grabbing? Does the headline offer useful information or news or promise readers they will gain something? Does the headline motivate the reader to keep reading, or make the listener continue to pay attention to what follows?

Whatever type of piece you are writing, the headline has to deliver, if it’s going to beat the competition and win people’s attention.

The secret that powers every successful headline is simple. The winners answer the most important question people ask themselves every time they read or hear a headline: What’s in it for me?

If a headline makes you interested in knowing more, it’s done its job, which is to:

  • Grab your attention.
  • Appeal to your self-interest.
  • Deliver the main message.
  • Persuade you to continue reading or listening.

Here are four sure-fire tips for writing headlines that get the job done.

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“Direct” Headline

This type of headline directly states what will follow. It clearly summarizes the message in the piece without using wordplay, hidden meanings, cleverness, or oblique references.

Select an important benefit that appeals to your readers’ self-interest, and then craft a statement that is bold, direct and perhaps even a little dramatic. For example:

Embedding Videos in Your PDF Documents

Get a Free Subscription to the Monthly Newsletter

Tank Tops – 25% Off Until Wednesday

Keep it short. Keep it simple. The “direct” headline gets right to the point.

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“How To” Headline

This one has been called “pure magic” in its ability to draw attention and compel people to continue reading or listening.

The “how to” headline dangles an irresistible promise before the reader: Listen to me. Pay attention to me. I can help you solve a problem. I can answer your question. I can help you learn something you want to know. For example:

How to Easily Save $300 a Month

How to Get More Sleep

How to Communicate Well

The “how to” says you are not alone. It relieves stress. It brings hope. This headline assures readers that others share their concern or have the same problem and, best of all, promises: You can fix it, solve it, learn it, overcome it—and here’s how.

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“Question” Headline

When you use the “question” headline, remember to focus on your audience. It’s all about their self-interest, so address your question to them. What fires up their curiosity? What fears or needs can your headline appeal to? For example:

What Won’t the Neighbors Tell You?

Which Foods Can Keep You Looking Young?

Is Your Air-Conditioner Costing You More Than It Should?

“Reason-Why” Headline

The “reason-why” headline is useful when you want to list the features of your product or service. It is also a good hook for pieces that offer advice or something to learn. For example:

Three Reasons Why You Should Get a College Degree

Six Ways of Chic Dressing on a Tight Budget

Five Steps to Looking Better and Living Longer

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These headline types are tested and proven—just look around and see what draws your attention. Ask your family, friends and colleagues. Ask businesspeople. Ask other writers. Do some research on what makes a headline effective.

Your challenge, as a writer, is to create headlines and titles that compel people to focus their attention on what you have to say and stay glued to every word.

Now it’s your turn: What sorts of headlines appeal to you? Writers, which headlines have worked well for you? Do you have any analytical insights into headline effectiveness? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Writer Ideas


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