Tag: Weasel words

Links, Links, Links: Some tabs opened in my browser

I just spent a couple of days at Stir, a conference in Queensland featuring Al Stewart and a bunch of Christian people from around the state. It was very encouraging. But before I went, I had about a thousand tabs open in my browser that I had planned to blog. Here they are.

The Twitter users who have single letter accounts (a to z): from the Atlantic.
Taking a look at the users who make @replies easy.

“Unsurprisingly, nearly all the accounts are used heavily. The average single-letter Twitterer has Tweeted 3,266 times, follows 302 people, and is followed by 2,896. That might seem like a lot relative to the average user, but none are celebrities or power users like a Tim O’Reilly and his 1.4 million followers. @T aka Tantek Çelik, a developer, has the largest number of followers in the group with his 13,005.”

The best bit, @c and @k are now married to each other. Brilliant.

NineMSN takes a look at terrible business terminology, or management guff:

“The 2010 winner is the investor Chuck Davies who was quoted in the FT saying: “He is a deep-dive, granular, research-oriented person who really understands the inner workings of companies and is just a very free-cash flow, hard-asset-based investor.” He was speaking of one of the men who may take over from Warren Buffett; on the basis of this testimony one rather hopes someone else can be found instead.”

While the SMH deals with similar terminology applied to surrogate parenting

“Terms such as breeder and gestational carrier are dehumanising. The experience of carrying and giving birth to a child is profound. It is also difficult, painful and life changing. The changes go beyond the merely physiological to the core of our personhood.”

I can understand the emotions that drive people towards surrogacy, and they’re murky ethical waters, but I can’t imagine what it does to a kid – especially if genetics play some role in the formation of identity.

I’ve just signed up for Kindlefeeder, and Instapaper – two services that bring online content to the kindle so that you can read stuff offline in a purpose built document reader. Fun times. Instapaper also saves stuff to your iPhone.

I love this post from Mark Thompson – I think some people are all too keen to toss out terminology not found in the Bible because of a propensity to employ it to describe ministry roles – this is a better balanced picture methinks (and a warning about what ministry is and isn’t):

“In an era when some fear their backs are against the wall and that we must do everything in our power to arrest Christianity’s slide into oblivion, the temptation to rework this classic understanding of Christian ministry is felt keenly. The ministry of the pastor is recast in terms of images gleaned from outside the Scriptures: a leader, a manager, a mission director. Yet these images must be subverted by the dynamics of the biblical gospel if they are to be of any use. The Christian leader leads by praying and faithfully attending to the ministry of the word. Effective management takes place through prayer and the consistent, faithful teaching of the Scriptures. The mission is properly directed by teachers rather than strategists, by prayer warriors rather than vision casters. It would be wrong to portray this as a battle between either/or (e.g. teaching vs leading) and both/and (e.g. teaching and leading). One is the means of the other (e.g. we lead by teaching). Christian leadership, management and mission direction is not simply a modification of what we might find in other walks of life. It is an entirely different phenomenon.”

This “List of Common Misconceptions” on wikipedia is like mythbusters for common old wives’ tales and other miscellany. Here’s one somebody quoted to me today (in a milestone I discovered my first grey hair. On a youth convention):

Shaving does not cause terminal hair to grow back thicker or coarser or darker. This belief is due to the fact that hair that has never been cut has a tapered end, whereas, after cutting, there is no taper. Thus, it appears thicker, and feels coarser due to the sharper, unworn edges. The fact that shorter hairs are “harder” (less flexible) than longer hairs also contributes to this effect.[77] Hair can also appear darker after it grows back because hair that has never been cut is often lighter due to sun exposure.

Here’s another one:

A popular myth regarding human sexuality is that men think about sex every seven seconds. In reality, there is no scientific way of measuring such a thing and, as far as researchers can tell, this statistic greatly exaggerates the frequency of sexual thoughts.[102][103][104]

And the BBC reckons the King James Bible changed the way we speak English. Not surprising really, given its influence on the written word. Alister McGrath has even written a book about its influence (Amazon)
(and there’s some stuff on thees and thous in there too):

“The translators seem to have taken the view that the best translation was a literal one, so instead of adapting Hebrew and Greek to English forms of speaking they simply translated it literally. The result wouldn’t have made all that much sense to readers, but they got used to it, and so these fundamentally foreign ways of expressing yourself became accepted as normal English through the influence of this major public text.”

“David Crystal in Begat, however, set out to counter exaggerated claims for the influence of the King James Bible. “I wanted to put a precise number on it,” he explains, “because some people have said there are thousands of phrases from the King James Bible in our language, that it is the DNA of the English language. I found 257 examples.””

Pretty funny that he’s from Begat, given its use in genealogies of the Bible.

I’m a long time mafia nut – I, at one point, was planning to write the next great mafia novel. I read heaps of “true crime” mafia confessionals to prepare. Maybe one day I’ll do it. In the meantime I’ll savour stories like this one. Where the good guys win. Slate has a look at how modern mafioso are making a dollar.

“Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Mafia has begun stealing millions from the EU through a sure-fire scheme—wind energy. Enticed by government underwriting of renewable energies—Brussels ordered all 27 EU nations to use one-fifth renewable energy by 2020—the Mob has focused on its own backyard. (Italian wind power sells at Europe’s highest rate, a guaranteed 180 euros per kilowatt-hour.) In 2008’s Operation “Eolo”—named after the Greek god of winds Aeolus—eight alleged Mafiosi in the Sicilian coastal town of Mazara del Vallo were charged with bribing officials with luxury cars for a piece of the wind energy revenue. Police wiretaps recorded one man saying, “Not one turbine blade will be built in Mazara unless I agree to it.”

Animoto seems like a cool site for making videos that are “killer”… which means videos that connect with young people. You have to pay money for the good stuff.

Stanley Fish has written an interesting book on how to write and read outstanding sentences (Amazon Link)
. Sounds fun.

Slate reviews it:

“[Fish suggests] we should be examining the “logical relationships” within different sentence forms to see how they organize the world. His argument is that you can learn to write and later become a good writer by understanding and imitating these forms from many different styles. Thus, if you’re drawn to Jonathan Swift’s biting satire in the sentence, “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse,” then, Fish advises, “Put together two mildly affirmative assertions, the second of which reacts to the first in a way that is absurdly inadequate.” He offers, “Yesterday I saw a man electrocuted and it really was surprising how quiet he became.” Lame, and hardly Swift, as Fish is the first to admit, but identifying the logical structure does specify how satire functions at the level of the sentence and, if you want to employ the form, that’s a good thing to know.”

Things I learned from daytime television

I don’t often get the chance to watch daytime television. Not since my days as a slovenly uni bum anyway when that was all I did. Only I had pay TV so day time television meant sport. Today was one of those odd occasions where I found myself watching the Summer repeat bonanza special edition of Mornings with KAK.

While Kerri Anne herself is an Australian institution – who happened to mention this morning that she’d been doing the show for more than 25 years (only it was a repeat from last year so it’s even longer now) – her show still doesn’t seem to have the basics right. Infomercials are like a car crash – you can’t turn away but you know they leave carnage in their wake. If a family member is affected by infomercials it can be a painful process. On a side note – the Danoz direct oven that was being advertised this morning would make a very interesting coffee roaster… but back to the main point of this little tirade. And it will be little. If you have testimonials from happy customers singing the praises of your weightloss miracle cure concoction – do not. And I repeat. Do not. Have them read their testimonial from an autocue using words that are right out of the weasel word manual.

“It enabled me to engage in a vast array of activities I’d never really considered” might sound impressive to you sitting in your ivory tower of corporate promotional speak where you have to address a board of directors on sales results – but coming from a real woman who is claiming to have lost 30kg thanks to your product it sounds like she’s acting, or at the very least not as glowingly enthusiastic as she should be. Personal testimonies are an incredibly powerful way to sell a product. Unless they are riddled with jargon that sounds like it comes straight out of head office.

There’s a lesson here for all of us. Well providing we’re trying to sell something via an infomercial.

Actually – there is a lesson here for any Christian trying to explain the gospel to their friends/neighbours – avoid in house jargon at all costs. Authenticity depends on you sounding real and sincere – people don’t want a cardboard cut out towing the company line. If you’re going to use the power of personal testimony to sell something – make it personal. Don’t “identify a product that will help you overcome a drastic deficiency in your regular masticating schedule” – tell it like it is. In plain language.

Seriously people. Is it that hard to not automatically become a robot in front of a camera.

I did manage to flick over to Business Today or something like that on ABC 2 – where a terrified telephony lobbyist was trying to explain that communications companies will not be affected by the recession in the same way that other companies will – they’re a diversified bunch now.

He delivered a deadpan line of company speak gobbledygook that made little to no sense even to the business minded journalist asking the question – so little that she asked him to clarify – and his idea of clarification was to repeat verbatim what he’d said to the earlier question. An answer so filled with corporate double speak that none of it managed to penetrate my cold addled brain. Oh, and he reckons we should invest in communications companies. After a compelling sales pitch. I think it’s pretty funny that “communications” companies are developing a reputation for their inability to clearly communicate and articulate their business. Mobile phone contracts are a triumph of obfuscation. “Communication company” could well be a latter day oxymoron if all our modern day companies can do is trot out weasel words.

Green on the black list

There are a number of words I’d like to blacklist at work. Identified, sustainable, showcase… a bunch of buzzwords robbed of their meaning by overuse and the ability to fit into any context. I don’t like weasel words – and I recommend removing them from anything you write/produce/say lest you fall into a position where your colleagues play bingo based on the predictability of your speech.

The Lake Superior State University has published a list of banished words. They’re not arbitrarily selected. They give reasons. And also include popular, overused phrases. Words on the list include: green, first dude, bailout, maverick, carbon offset and others.

What words/phrases would you ban given the chance?


Last week I posted about the self proclaimed dullest blog in the world.

Here’s a sample post from that one.

Opening a cupboard door…
October 16th, 2005

There was a cupboard in the corner of the room. I reached out my hand and gripped the door handle. I pulled the door towards me, thereby opening the cupboard.

Like most self proclaimed titles – eg the World’s Strongest Man – this one fails at the truth test. Here, today, I give you a new candidate for World’s dullest blog. A chance for the Australian Government to prove it really hasn’t come to terms with technology despite their claims to the contrary. Here’s an excerpt from Lindsay Tanner’s first post:

“I’m pleased to be able to join with the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in welcoming you to the Government’s first online consultation trial. There is a happy synergy in government using its first blog trial to deal with the important questions of the future of the digital economy, and Minister Conroy and his department deserve credit for their initiative in getting this consultation established.”

“While the primary aim of this blog is to get your feedback on aspects of the digital economy, we also want to use this opportunity to explore the mechanics of government blogging and hear your thoughts on how we should interact with you online.”

At least the comments are entertaining. Like this one from Gaz.

“Excellent initiative, so well done. Can I suggest that to facilitate civil discussion that your Ministerial partner, Sen Conroy refrain from implying that those who oppose your net filtering plans are somehow supporters of child pornography as he has done in the past? His comments instantly caused the debate to veer off into unproductive directions and were therefore extremely unhelpful. I hope he can raise his standard of contribution in the spirit of the sort of “effective engagement” you quite rightly mention.”

Ahh, democracy in action.

Magical Mystery Cure

Another shared item from Dan. This story from the SMH.

AUSTRALIA urgently needs a national screening policy for Down syndrome, experts say, after international research showed it could halve the number of babies born with the incurable genetic condition.

So how does testing produce such amazing results?

Access to the four tests that help detect if a foetus has Down syndrome varies widely between states, urban and rural areas, and public and private patients, leading to stark differences in birth and termination rates.

Amazing. The miracles of modern technology.

K-Ruddy Year

A year on, K-Rudd hasn’t grown on me. He’s still a triumph of symbolism over substance. What has he done? Not much. Annabel Crabb, still my favourite political commentator, obtusely reviewed his year in office… complete with Shakespeare reference. I’m still in awe of her. She is brilliant.

And then, in a story on his dropping the d word – “defecit” in parliament yesterday – highlighted this little gem from the PM’s first post trip question time…

As he arrived for question Time, at 2pm, the Prime Minister scanned the Opposition front bench and performed a double-take when he espied the employment spokesman, Andrew Southcott, whose Movember moustache has survived a sickly infancy to become a luxuriant ornament to his upper lip. Noticing the PM’s surprise, Mr Southcott told him: “I grew it – while you were away.”

The comment was a palpable hit; even the row of disciplined countenances along the Government’s front bench betrayed the odd appreciative smirk.

Anyway, a year of Labor in power. Interest rates have plunged – which would be a good thing, if they hadn’t been raised first. But in isolation it’s quite a positive – shame about the rest of the economy – and the deficit… politically a bad move, given a budget surplus is generally understood by the population as being a marker of successful fiscal managment. I think a deficit is not necessarily a bad thing – provided it’s contained to spending on infrastructure. What’s the repo man going to do? Take away our roads and ports? The rest of the population is happy to borrow beyond its means to finance a lifestyle and to invest – why isn’t that thinking extended to the government? Anyway, Rudd will have to be prepared to die by a sword of his own making – given that he promised a surplus budget. The Coalition will no doubt continue hammering the fact that they paid off Labor’s debts and they do still have a reputation of economic management – conveniently the Global Economic Crisis really began to be noticed under Rudd’s watch, and there blame will be apportioned. The global economy is largely out of governmental control. I’m more interested in Rudd’s bad policy moves in emissions trading and other decisions that will ultimately cost jobs and make us less competitive – and the fact that he’s the most boring Prime Minister in the world with a massive reliance on cliche and cheap buzz phrases like “a bridge too far.”

Rudd’s speech writer issued new vocabulary

Stop Press. BBC News is reporting on the 20 most annoying conversational cliches – coming soon to a Prime Minister’s address near you…

I heart Annabel Crabb

I know I shouldn’t be saying that sort of thing on the first day of my second year of marriage – but I mean it in a platonic sense. Annabel Crabb is my favourite Parliamentary Press Gallery Journo – she provides obtuse analysis – with a beautiful turn of phrase – see her comments on Bronwyn Bishop at the end of this story.

clipped from www.smh.com.au

IT’S worse than we thought, this global financial crisis. At
2.14pm yesterday, Kevin Rudd ran out of euphemisms for “money”.

The PM blathered skilfully and at length about “loose change”,
“fiscal buffers”, “mortgage-related assets”, “increased liquidity”,
“collateral”, “stocks”, “aggregate exchange settlement balances”
and assorted other expressions that mean, loosely, moolah.

And then – clunk – there it was. Speaking about the United
States Federal Reserve bail-out, he talked about the Fed’s decision
to rescue US institutions with “$700 billion worth of … um
… US … errrrr … money.”

Bronwyn Bishop, for instance, has been relegated to the back
bench, and she did not look at all pleased as she stared down at
Turnbull from her new, non-prestige seat. Dressed in a jacket with
a jungly teal and brown design, she looked like a small but
malevolent armchair.

blog it

Weasel words

I was driving to work this morning listening to my local ABC news. Which I think is the best local news in Townsville. There’s a story going round up here about a crocodile – which is not unusual for North Queensland. This crocodile is terrorising the locals at Mystic Sands. It’s two metres long and must be removed because it’s a danger to the community – the creek it lives in flows past two houses. 

The local EPA spokesperson said “The Crocodile needs to be removed because there’s a real chance it could interact with pets, or even small children…”

Since when is “interact” a euphemism for eat? Weasel words are the new black. Obfuscation is a big part of my job, a media training thing yesterday with one of Queensland’s leading PR consulting groups made me even more cynical. The trainer (an experienced journalist) made a point that everything we read now has spin on it because journalists are hand fed more than 90% of their news (ie most stories come from Media Releases) – and anyone who puts out a media release knows that they’re not objective.

This trainer made a comment that politics – and particularly policy making is now purely assessed on the following criteria:
a) will we be hammered more for not doing it, or doing it?
b) is there a photo in it?
c) Can we turn it into a news story or a website?

The QLD Government, and the Rudd Government have massive spin machines dedicated to packaging policy for the masses. Rudd is great at symbolism – but lacking substance. This is a prime example of something that met the aforementioned criteria.

Rumours and innuendo
Rumour has it that several leading local sports stars were busted in a “cocaine party”
Rumour also has it that several leading political journos are starting to link some of Rudd’s decisions in policy making in the Queensland government – linking many of South East Queensland’s current woes with his decisions… eg Water shortages with dam refusals, health problems with health infrastructure investment (or lack thereof), and education problems with a Rudd led education review.

Anyway, I’m off to interact with my morning tea.