Archive for August, 2008

….since the semester is right around the corner:

“I could imagine that after this would occure once his future articles, if any would be for the most part wholly ignored.”

Yes, that was a native English speaker.  The core problem here is too many concepts trying to be juggled in one sentence, with inadequate punctuation, I think…

I suspect that many such sentences are in my future, because one of my classes this semester is going to endure a variety of short answer challenges, and if they can’t read carefully and describe what they’ve read succinctly, verbal flailing is a likely result.  The little duck to the right here is not flailing; he’s filtering water through his beak quite effectively, and looking damn cute while doing so.

In other news, I actually got to pet Leia this afternoon; I caught her as she was running over me to get up the stairs. I was sitting in the staircase, and the hailstorm outside had her thoroughly spooked.  She had been hiding in the base of the cat-tree, and I’d thought that she would have stayed downstairs rather than run right over my lap.  So I got to hold her for a few moments, and tried to calm her down.  Then I let her go, and a few minutes ago our paths crossed in the upstairs hallway.

She hissed at me.


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Jargon creep has gone on for ages, but I didn’t encounter the bizzare task of crafting “elevator speeches” until about 2003, when I was working for a company that believed everyone should have one to reflect their role in the organization. These little ditties are what you are supposed to recite, clearly and forcefully, when you get a private moment with a client or potential client — and such moments tend to occur, apparently, in elevators. I suspect this is just a much nicer way of labeling what is really a “Okay, you’ve got them cornered” speech or a “A polite person won’t be able to run away, so go for it!” speech. [This form of speech has an even more evil cousin, called the “Blackberry Pitch”, which I’ll discuss some other time.]

Here’s an article grumbling about the language used in such discourse

Of course, the first audience for this kind of speech isn’t actually the person who is supposed to be the audience — the first person who has to love love LOVE that job description or elevator speech is the middle manager or boss who wants to hear their business described in an “impressive” way.  The problem is that what’s impressive to an insider [or someone buried in managerial wonkiness] is not necessarily going to actually be comprehensible to a potential client.  And the problem is magnified if the person reciting the description is talking to someone who isn’t a part of that business at all….say, some poor schlub who chose the wrong time to get seconds of potato salad during the reunion.

The problem of bloated, blathery language infesting Middle Manageria has been discussed in many journal articles — my favorite is the one where well-meaning tech writing consultants come in to give workshops on clear language, and it turns out their efforts have less impact than the “please stop smoking” workshops. [I want to say it was by Brown and Herndl, but I’m not sure….will need to look that up.].  If being vague and pompous earns you points with your superiors and prevents your underlings from really understanding what you do all day, what earthly motivation would you have to become clear, brief, or precise?

Some coaches do push elevator speakers [this begs the question of whether there are elevator whisperers, doesn’t it?] to think about their audience and trim out excess material. I know this. But when push comes to shove, it is easier to get into the trap of using inflated language than it is to get out again….

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“Y’know, even with a pretty steep rise, putting that staircase in from the hallway is gonna put you right up against the rafters when you come up…”

“Arrrrrhgh.  There’s no — [silence].”

“Now….that might be the water pipe… But I don’t think we want to touch it — if it’s been like that for a hundred years, now might not be a good time to try and — nope, that thing’s not moving.”

Several hours later, we discover that the other valve he tried did control the water system….

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“Early on a summer evening
You will hear the music playing
Just a friendly little Cockroach
Selling fresh soft-serve ice cream.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Gringos don’t know what it means
Or else they’d never, or else they’d never
Use the tune to sell ice cream!

You may think that I am joking
I am wondering what you’re smoking
Crazy humans send their children
To buy ice cream from a roach!”

More lyrics may occur, depending on my level of irritation…..

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Examination fail

The following bit of amusement does NOT come from the world of university teaching:

Apparently, there’s a physician in Boston who is the go-to guy if you’re a professional firefighter wanting to be put on disability [with all the paychecks thereunto pertaining].  One of his “patients” was just caught competing in a bodybuilding competition after being put on permanent disability for injuries sustained on the job.  The doc says that now he looks “foolish”.  I think he should look for another line of work, perhaps at a mortgage company…..but maybe we should check out the stories of the other 20-odd firefighters who have had their disabilities approved by this fool…. Full story here.

Yech.  Now I know that you can get hurt while fighting fires.  And not all bodybuilders look especially ‘ripped’ before they do the weight loss for competition.  But there’s something fishy going on, and it’s not at the docks this time.

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