Archives for category: Language

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind…sorry, bit of a tangent there. But, it’s a good question. When you’re using phrases like much appreciated, well versed, often forgotten and so on, when should you use a hyphen and when not? Here I’m really talking about attaching adverbs to verbs. There are many other instances when you have to decide on a hyphen, or not.

Tricky one, but here’s my rule of thumb on it. Could be wrong, but makes sense to me. When you’re using the supine – that’s the passive bit of the verb, but it applies equally well to a part of the verb like occurring, as in often occurring – in a verbal sense, then I don’t use it. When you’re using the supine in an adjectival sense, then I do plonk in a hyphen. It’s as much about directing the reader as anything.

A couple of examples might help. ‘Thanks, that’s much appreciated. It’s well thought out’ Appreciated and thought are verbal, so much and well are simply the adverbs, as in next to the verb.

‘He gave me a well-intentioned slap on the back’. Here, gave is the verb, and well and intentioned describe the slap, so they’re used adjectivally, so I hyphenate them.

‘Often fired, sadly missed.’ Bit of autobiography here. This sentence is actually engraved on a bench in the bowls club where my late father used to play. Here, both fired and missed are verbs, not adjectives, so no hyphens. Both clauses are a clever play on words, when you think about the context, eh? I can’t claim ownership, my youngest brother coined it.

So, with this poorly-exampled post, which I’ve often considered but never put down in print, I’ll take my well-earned but seldom-occurring leave and promptly sign off, until the next time.

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‘Age is just a number.’ Don’t you hate it when the gym instructor says that, as you bemoan your general state of feebleness and fragility after a lung bursting effort following the latest ‘here’s a great new exercise for you to try, you’ll love it!’? Or coming from someone looking insufferably youthful?  Yup, I know. Your age is just a number, an inexorably increasing one, until it stops, obviously. Despite the fact we’d love to turn the clock back, almost all the time we’d rather ours went up than stopped, I imagine.

I get that our approach to ageing is often a reflection of our state of mind. It’s a perception thing too, the messages we send out and the way people interpret them.

There is still the raw number itself, however, our actual passport- or birth cert-verified age. When it comes to that, I prefer the odd numbers to the even. Of course 29 is better than 30, but what about 31? Counter-intuitive, no? I think it sounds better, feels better.

I’m not sure why I prefer the odd numbers. It’s illogical and irrational, I know. I just do.

Rings are a great way to communicate. Married, engaged to be married, not married – there’s a world of jewellery-inspired signalling on the finger next to your left pinkie finger, or your right finger, depending on where you’re from. It’s not always been that particular ring finger either.

We use jewellery to communicate our partnering availability and non-availability to others. I’ve seen women with rings on every finger of their hand except their wedding finger, and men who are married but don’t wear any kind of band. I couldn’t wait to get my wedding band on.

Then there’s the famous Irish Claddagh Ring. It’s supposed to originate in the oldest part of Galway, the Claddagh maritime area, in the west of Ireland. The three symbols making up the ring signify different things; the heart for love, the crown for loyalty and the hands for friendship. It’s often used as a wedding ring for men and women.

Perhaps most fascinating of all is how you wear the ring, by which I mean in which direction. If you wear it with the heart pointing into you, and the crown facing away, it means you’re spoken for. If you wear it what I would call ‘upside down’, it means you’re not.

As soon as I met Her Ladyship and found out about the Claddagh ring and its significance, I went out and bought one for my right pinky finger, putting it on with the heart pointing inwards. It looked like a signet ring and gave me ideas above my station.

Incidentally, and with full disclosure that I have been helping them with their digital marketing, JVD Claddagh Rings have their own take on the traditional Claddagh ring, incorporating a Celtic knot motif within the heart and a gentler treatment of the crown, as pictured. Lovely for wedding rings and heritage pieces, don’t you know. Here’s the link to the shop.

No, not the infantile word for urination, the abbreviation when you’re signing something on someone else’s behalf.

They say you learn something new every day. That was certainly true for me this morning. I always assumed that ‘pp’ stood for ‘pro per’, or on ‘behalf of, through’ as it is in Latin. It also used to irk me that you’d see the pp next to the person’s signature, rather than on the line of the person they were signing on behalf of. ‘pp John Smith…Jane Smith, Director of Policy’ wasn’t right, or so I reasoned, should be ‘John Smith….pp Jane Smith, Director of Policy.’

Well, blow me down. I looked it up this morning. It stands for per procurationem, meaning through the agency (of), or by delegation if you like. Furthermore, it turns out it can be shortened to per pro, not pro per, so doubly wrong. If that’s not enough, the pp belongs on the line of the delegated person too. Sheesh!

I took small comfort from the fact that the pp can also appear on the bottom line, but not much comfort.

Well, stap me vitals, as they used to say. That was the second thing I learned this morning, as I wrote this post. I always thought the phrase was ‘stack me/my vitals’…apparently I’m not alone in feeling confused (read the comments).

The TLA – the three letter acronym which of course is itself a TLA – is shorthand, jargon that we can use in good ways and bad ways. It saves us time and effort, but is also something to hide behind and can exclude others.

I think how we use the term TLA varies between the spoken and written word. If the first letter of the TLA starts with a vowel sound, and is a consonant like the F of FAQ, we’re more likely to say ‘an FAQ’ when we’re talking. It’s easier and sounds better.

If we use a TLA in the written word, like in a report, then we’re likely not to use ‘an’ before a vowel-sounding TLA, as in ‘If you have a FAQ, please consult the FAQ section.’ Or are we?

This is where it gets ambiguous, when you’re in the realm of email, which is kind of written but kind of spoken too, or at least is the chattier form of the written word.

Essentially you as the writer are signalling to the reader whether you want them to read it as a TLA in their head or read it as the expanded phrase the TLA refers to. For example, the other day I received an emailed that closed with ‘… a MNC’, where MNC is a multinational company. For me the reader wants me to think ‘a multinational company’. If he had written an MNC, I think he would want me to think MNC, which also means multinational company.

Geddit? Too deep? Neither relevant nor interesting? To answer the title of the post, if you want your vowel-sounding TLA to be read as a TLA, use the ‘an’, otherwise don’t.

Then there’s the vowel-sounding TLA which begins with an actual vowel, like an OTC drug, which is a whole lot easier!

I love a good heteronym, don’t you? A heteronym is two versions of the same spelled word that mean different things but are pronounced differently. In this blog post title, I’m referring to the word ‘live’ as in ‘we’re live in 10 seconds’, not as in ‘we live here’.

This post is not really about language, though, it’s about decision-making and about how mass communication has changed these days. I was talking to a neighbour of mine the other day. He’s a cameraman for a TV station here in Ireland. He was explaining how TV has gone. Many people now watch their drama in box sets or via piped, on demand television. The only currency in television nowadays, he said, was in live news and live sports. People still need to live in the moment and experience the present tense as it unfolds.

My neighbour is in the news business and was getting exasperated in a team meeting about a news item. A decision was not forthcoming and time was running out. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘either we go live, or go home.’ So succinct really. We’re in the live news business, we either get out there and film this thing or we’re done for the day, otherwise we miss the window, the moment has gone.

If you’re in the business of producing television, you either go live or you go home. Currency is the currency.

‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, or so they say. Not a problem solved, necessarily, but less of a problem, and less of a mountain to climb to fix it.

I find also that a problem emailed is a problem halved. It is, of course, the digital equivalent of talking something out with someone. If we’ve got a work or non-work problem that we’re not sure how to address, the act of putting it down on paper, organising your thoughts and explaining it, goes a long way towards better understanding the problem and maybe solving it yourself.

When you share the problem with someone else it becomes their problem too, hence the phrase problem halved – if they’re prepared to shoulder it for you. They might also be able to solve it for you too, especially if you picked them for their subject matter expertise as well as their willingness to listen and help.

How many times have you taken time to articulate a problem, its origins and its causes, and the possible options to fix it, before the answer crystallised for you? Many times, if you’re like me. Often we don’t need the other person to do anything, just to listen and nod. The act of them simply being there and of forcing us to think about something in a way someone else can understand is enough. Same with email.

My word of the moment – as I write this, but not necessarily by the time you read this, such is the fickle mind – that I use a lot in business meetings is ‘dovetail’.

I like to use it with rather too many prepositions, for example ‘perhaps we should get that to dovetail in with the other initiative.’ Dovetail presents a nice image of two things coming together. It’s one of those coming together words that business is very fond off, like connecting, aligning, meshing with, joining up and so on.

Business loves to join things and people together, as it’s the very basis of human society and indeed of commerce. The joy of the fair exchange!

Which is why it’s such a lovely word for me. It’s the most picturesque word for describing bringing things together – or ‘pictureskew’ as my mother would say.

Our American business friends love the phrase ‘peeling back the onion’. It’s used a lot as a metaphor for life, but I hear it in business most of the time. People use it to describe how you can layer a story or a whiteboard to get your message across, or to reduce something complex and muddle to something simpler to grasp, but for years I was never sure I knew exactly what they meant.

Sure, I get the analogy of how you can remove the layers of an onion, and there is a satisfying feeling to doing it that probably dates back to six-year-old-birthday-party games of ‘pass the parcel’, but there’s not much to it when you peel away the inside layer. There’s no reward in the centre of an onion.

For me, the direction is wrong. Even though I’m an outside-in kind of a guy – by which I mean that I need to understand the whole picture so I can see how the little bit I’m dealing with fits in – I much prefer the inside-out onion layers approach, starting with the core and adding back in the onion layers, or the concentric rings of a diagram, as you go.

Adding the onion layers, rather than peeling them back, starts with something small and simple and builds as you go. It’s not a breaking down or disassembling process, it builds from the nub, the core, the kernel, and layers on the colour, complexity and detail.

I used the phrase ‘between you and I’ in an email the other day, thinking this was the correct version of the second pronoun in that colloquial clause. Fortunately, the subjective and objective pronouns for the second person – you – are the same.

Not so the first person singular – or plural for that matter – where we have to go with either I or me, or we or us. I thought that between you and I was slightly over-formal, but correct.

Wrong! Apparently it’s between you and me, because the you and me are objects of between, if you get the grammar there. Making this mistake appears to have vexed a lot of people, if you google the incorrect version of the phrase…

I guess I could argue that email is a hybrid form of spoken English and written English and, therefore, I can get away with it. Maybe I’m clutching at straws. Far better to do what one of my American bosses used to do a few years ago. ‘Between us girls’ he would say, even if there were no people of the female persuasion in the conversation.

Or is it between we girls? Argh! Same mistake as between you and ! :-).