"Every time you open your mouth to speak, your mind goes on parade." —Anonymous
The same holds true for the written word of course. And, clearly, in business we'd prefer that our mind parade itself with the precision and professionalism of a military marching band or the beauty and elegance of the Rose Bowl pageant. As opposed to, say, the farce and flamboyance of the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade.
Fortunately, the typical business communications mistakes I read and hear rarely reach the level of laughable inelegance that is the hallmark of the Dooh Dah event. Those slip-ups more closely equate to missteps. They won't stop the parade, but they will detract from it. In today's article I highlight three such slip-ups.
You're at a tradeshow and it's the end of the day. You and another woman step onto the elevator, still wearing your nametags. You make eye contact and smile politely. Commenting on the name of her company, you break the ice. "Ironclad Cloud, I like that. Cloud security, right?" Good marketer that she is, she launches into her elevator speech. "Yes," she begins, "cloud security is our forte," pronouncing the word for-tay, stressing the second syllable.
Misstep. Meaning "strong point, something at which one excels," the word has traditionally been pronounced fort. But over the years it came to be confused with the Italian musical direction (to sing or play loudly), forte, pronounced for-tay. To quote Charles Harrington Elster from his book, The Accidents of Style, "For better or worse, this is now the dominant pronunciation in American speech." The pronunciation used by our elevator companion though, is an affectation to be avoided.
I'll stick with the tradeshow theme. It's the big luncheon and your keynoter has been welcomed to the podium with an effusive introduction. "Wow!" he says. "Thank you. I'm excited to be here today. In fact, after such fulsome praise as John so kindly accorded me in his introduction, I can't wait to hear what I have to say!"
Misstep. Fulsome is a troublesome word, and careful communicators would do well to leave it be. Indeed, linguist Bryan Garner, author of Garner's Modern American Usage, labels fulsome a "skunked term." It's easy to understand why. (For a complete list of Garner's skunked terms email me, subject line: Skunked.) Use fulsome correctly, and a large swath of your audience will likely misinterpret what you mean. Use the word incorrectly, and another contingent will "tsk, tsk" you. Still others will be confused about what you're trying to communicate.