Misused Phrases

Whether you are writing or speaking, the language pitfalls abound. Here a some common ones excerpted by Business Insider:

  1. Adverse means "detrimental." It does not mean "averse" or "disinclined." Correct: "There were adverse effects." / "I'm not averse to doing that."
  2. Appraise means to "ascertain the value of." It does not mean to "apprise" or to "inform." Correct: "I appraised the jewels." / "I apprised him of the situation."
  3. Beg the question means that a statement assumes the truth of what it should be proving; it does not mean to "raise the question." Correct: "When I asked the dealer why I should pay more for the German car, he said I would be getting 'German quality,' but that just begs the question."
  4. Bemused means "bewildered." It does not mean "amused." Correct: "The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused." / "The silly comedy amused me."
  5. Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. The adjective is clichéd. Correct: "Shakespeare used a lot of clichés." / "The plot was so clichéd."
  6. Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: "Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabraand agenda long ago ceased to be plurals," Pinker writes. "But I still like it."] Correct: "This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it."
  7. Depreciate means to "decrease in value." It does not mean to "deprecate" or to "disparage." Correct: "My car has depreciated a lot over the years." / "She deprecated his efforts."
  8. Disinterested means "unbiased." It does not mean "uninterested." Correct: "The dispute should be resolved by a disinterested judge." / "Why are you so uninterested in my story?"
  9. Enormity refers to extreme evil. It does not mean "enormousness." [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.] Correct: "The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears." / "The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work."
  10. Hone means to "sharpen." It does not mean to "home in on" or "to converge upon." Correct: "She honed her writing skills." / "We're homing in on a solution."
  11. Hung means "suspended." It does not mean "suspended from the neck until dead." Correct: "I hung the picture on my wall." / "The prisoner was hanged."
  12. Ironic means "uncannily incongruent." It does not mean "inconvenient" or "unfortunate." Correct: "It was ironic that I forgot my textbook on human memory." / "It was unfortunate that I forgot my textbook the night before the quiz."
  13. Nonplussed means "stunned" or "bewildered." It does not mean "bored" or "unimpressed." Correct: "The market crash left the experts nonplussed." / "His market pitch left the investors unimpressed."
  14. Parameter refers to a variable. It not mean "boundary condition" or "limit." Correct: "The forecast is based on parameters like inflation and interest rates." / "We need to work within budgetary limits."
  15. Phenomena is a plural count noun — not a mass noun. Correct: "The phenomenon was intriguing, but it was only one of many phenomena gathered by the telescope."
  16. Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk are past participles--not words in the past tense. Correct: "I've shrunk my shirt." / "I shrank my shirt."
  17. Simplistic means "naively or overly simple." It does not mean "simple" or "pleasingly simple." Correct: "His simplistic answer suggested he wasn't familiar with the material." / "She liked the chair's simple look."
  18. Verbal means "in linguistic form." It does not mean "oral" or "spoken." Correct: "Visual memories last longer than verbal ones."
  19. Effect means "influence"; to effect means "to put into effect"; to affect means either "to influence" or "to fake." Correct: "They had a big effect on my style." / "The law effected changes at the school." / "They affected my style." / "He affected an air of sophistication to impress her parents."
  20. Lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to "recline"; lay(transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to "set down"; lie(intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to "fib." Correct: "He lies on the couch all day." / "He lays a book upon the table." / "He lies about what he does."


More Pronoun Research

Dr. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, is on a roll lately.  

His research was picked up by WSJ:

"112 psychology students were assigned to same-sex groups of two. The pairs worked to solve a series of complex problems. All interaction took place online. No one was assigned to a leadership role, but participants were asked at the end of the experiment who they thought had power and status. Researchers found that the higher the person's perceived power, the less he or she used 'I.' "



What Language Reveals

Part of my vision of Refleta was to bring in disparate data streams and use them to form a picture of the consumer. Once I realized that device data was difficult to get at (mainly because most of middle America still doesn't own many devices) I turned to social media data. Turns out there's a lot you can glean from a Facebook post or Tweet. To start, my team built a sentiment analysis engine and ran it against the post and tweets data we were granted access to by alpha testers. We were able to discern when testers were feeling sad, happy, angry, etc. even without the specific use of those words.

But that wasn't a novel idea. In fact, there is plenty of research out there that shows the language you use says a lot about you.

And now there's even more interesting work in the space. Check it out.

Data and Language

A Ted talk by Deb Roy on the birth of a word:

What I'd like to see is the link between media consumption and thoughts, which I suspect affect beliefs. How to get at thoughts? A user's online journal, blog or social media posts.

Like a baby learns to talk, I can imagine a person's belief formations or reinforcement can be tracked. What do you think?

The Language of Love

There are many languages of love, but some words are difficult to translate. From the article:

"Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight."

Accurate Language

I'm no stranger to avoidant behaviors and avoidant language. You know what I mean - saying you have to wash your hair instead of saying you're just not interested. But language shapes our reality and used too often, wishy-washy language can turn a decisive woman into a victim. How do you change that? Get more accurate with your language. Beware - it's not easy. Here's how Martha Beck suggests you do it.

Victim Language

1. I can't...

2. I have to...

3. I don't have time to...

Accurate Language 1.  I wont... I choose not to... I don't want to... I've decided not to...

2. I will... I want to... I've decided to... I choose to...

3. I'm going to do something else. That's not my highest priority.

Give Me Two Pronouns

Who? Me? Psychologist James Pennebaker from the University of Texas at Austin discovered that "if people were asked to write about emotional upheavals, their physical health improved and the ways people used pronouns in their essays predicted whose health would improve the most. Specifically, those people who benefited the most from writing changed in their pronoun use from one essay to another. Pronouns were reflecting people’s abilities to change perspective."

If you think this trivial consider research that found that poets who committed suicide used more I-words than non-suicidal poets.

So does it matter if you're a man or woman? Yes. Interestingly, women use more I-words and cognitive words like "because" and "think", than men. There is actually no difference between the sexes when it comes to emotion words like "happy" or "sad".

King James

I was given a King James Bible when I was a young girl. I actually made a jean book jacket for it at a Christian summer camp. I still have my bible and when I opened it recently I saw I had highlighted various proverbs with colored pencils. Truth be told, if I could I think I'd use some of the King James language in every day life - words like "hath." Interestingly, the King James Bible seems to be experiencing a bit of a re-emergence. See more here.

You Can't Take it Back

So why might people be afraid to say what they feel? Perhaps the answer lies in why humans use indirect language. Here's a great clip from RSA animations that explains more. [youtube][/youtube]

Explicit language turns individual knowledge into mutual knowledge and where there's mutual knowledge a fiction can no longer be maintained. Interesting...

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

If you know me at all, you know my answer is a resounding Yes! It's interesting that this connection, between the language one speaks and how one views the world, is being drawn more frequently. This recent NY Times Article highlights more of the work being done in the field.

If the language one speaks affects how you view the world, isn't it natural to conclude that the words used in your thoughts (whatever your language), affects how you are in the world? Buddhism, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Byron Katie, to name a few, have been expounding this conclusion for years. Is science only now catching up?