Ever wished you could take those words back? Ever wished you hadn’t said it? Well, I guess most of us have.
Those “Oh, I wish I could take it back,” or “Can I have a do-over?” moments generally fall into two categories: (1) Content, or what you say; and (2) Mechanics – or how you use the English language to say it. I got thinking about this over the Memorial Day weekend, (1) as a great neighbor wished me a “happy” Memorial Day.
How well intentioned! How kind of my neighbor to wish me, as I’m sure it was meant, a happy holiday. But what a contradiction in terms. Happy Memorial Day? While there must be tremendous gratitude for those who have given their lives for our country, as there are those happy memories of our deceased loved ones, it just doesn’t seem quite right to consider a day of reflection for their impacts on our lives today as a happy time. Grateful? Maybe. Appreciative? Maybe.
Another sign of the times? Probably. When, in 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic – an organization of Union veterans of the American Civil War – set aside a “Decoration Day” for putting flowers on veterans’ graves, the intent was clear. Today? Maybe not so much, as Decoration Day has morphed into the more inclusive Memorial Day, with its attendant day off, sales, and picnics, sometimes following a trip to the cemetery. And that’s why I was being wished a “happy”one. And why my neighbor, when he realized the content he had offered, was embarrassed.
In the second category – mechanics, or how you say it: The frequently-seen sign outside the dental or medical office, reading “Now Accepting New Patients.” A real potential for disaster on three counts: (1) tone, (2) word choice, and (3) potential for very unfortunate misspelling, or misunderstanding.
- Tone and (2) Word Choice. Instead of saying, “Now Accepting New Patients,” which is (2) pretty formal and could come across like the professional inside is doing you a favor, why not just say, “New Patients Welcome” – which expresses a far warmer tone – much more desirable if you are looking for new patients.
- Potential for Unfortunate Misspelling. “Accepting” and “Excepting” can sound very similar, and can be easily misunderstood, or confused. Not a good situation when you want potential patients to know they will be favorably received – “accepted”; and not “excepted,” or turned down.
Two more easily misunderstood, or misspelled words: accede and exceed. Both of these words date back to the 14th century, when they did not look or sound as similar as they do today. Accede means, Mr. Webster tells us, “to express approval or give consent.” Exceed means “to be greater…better…or more than…to go beyond the limit.”
So give some thought to what you want to say – to your content, and then to how you will say it. Make what you mean to say very clear, so you can get the results you have planned for. Ask yourself, ”Is this what I really mean?” And then look particularly at how you say it: choice of words, resulting tone, and potential for misunderstanding, or misspelling.
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email email@example.com to learn more.
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