What’s in a Name?

Good piece on NPR regarding the American Dialect Society naming the singular “they” as its word of the year. This has engendered much breast-beating and hand-wringing from the pedantry, but as much as I dig a grammatical argument and detest an Oxford comma, I believe language is fluid. If it wasn’t, we’d still be mired in the middle ages with the Wife of Bath and her tales. And who wants that?



10,000 Character Tweets?

That’s the rumor, as reported on Re/code and other sites. And it’s a desperate attempt to reinvent the social media site and cement its relevance. I also don’t think it will work.

UnknownI think this because most of the other tweaks to the site have not yielded positive results: bigger characters, gee-whiz graphics, photos, that annoying “Moments” section and the even more annoying “While you were away” tweets.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that Jack Dorsey and the “thought leaders” at Twitter seem to be more worried about how competitive Twitter is with Facebook and less worried about what their users want or expect from the microblogging platform.

The user experience — or user expectation — is the real key here. People are leaving Twitter not because there are not enough features but perhaps because there are just too many. When you are using Twitter on your phone, which most people do, the last thing you want are six million options. Trying to remember and figure out what you want to do decreases the value of the service to the user, thereby decreasing the likelihood that the user will continue using.

I’ve been completely frustrated by the 140-character limit at times, but that’s the essential element. Think about it. If I wanted to read a 10,000 character dissertation, why would I want to read it on Twitter?

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity. Don’t keep mucking about and trying to make it into something it’s not. If you’re not careful, brand extension can kill you. Just be who you are, Twitter, not what you think someone else wants you to be.

Follow me before it all goes away!

The Death of E-Mail

I promised Cameron Conaway, the author of this excellent piece, that I would link to it. This happened more than a month ago. Then, because I got the request on e-mail, it slid below the line and got lost in my overflowing Gmail inbox. Ah, the ironies.

I think e-mail has it’s uses, but I just left an organization where the entire culture was based on e-mail and it was nuts. Overuse of e-mail has deleterious effects on organizational communication. Finding the sweet spot between no e-mail and the new frontier of organizational dynamics, ay, there’s the rub.

Have at this. You might learn a thing or two — or at least start to think about how you use e-mail.

The Rise of Ad Blockers

This is a really good article from Luke Richards on eConsultancy about the astonishing rise of ad blockers.

The latest data published by PageFair really puts into perspective just how fast the ad blocking market is growing, with the global use of ad blockers being up 41% (to 198m) between Q2 2014 and Q2 2015.

It’s something that you shouldn’t ignore, especially if you are reliant on online advertising as a revenue generator. And it’s very important to understand the user mindset, too. In the UK, generally people use ad blockers because they feel that their browsing experience is slowed down by ads, but in the US, its about privacy and use of personal data. That’s an important distinction and one that deserves some pondering by marketers.

P.S. – If you ever have a chance to sit down with someone in the business of selling online advertising, ask about what statistics they can get. If they are good, they can basically tell you all of your browsing habits, your address and your age. Unless you’re sloppy, they can’t tell your name, but they probably know what you’re eating for breakfast. Orwellian enough for you on Halloween??

H/T Gerry McGovern

Send in the ‘Crowns’ — Today’s Surly Grammar Post


Image: thegrammarnazi.tumblr.com

A good piece in the Times today from Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow. The only quibble I have is with the headline: Don’t Coronate Carly Fiorina Just Yet.

Coronate? No, I don’t think so. The word is crown. You crown a monarch at a coronation; you do not coronate them.

Now, technically, coronate is in the dictionary and its meaning is “to crown,” thus, begging the question of why we need this word. Seems superfluous on its face. In fact, the OED labels this usage rare.

There has been an upswing in the usage of coronate recently and, like other ‘contrarian grammarians,’ I find it grating. Like utilize. No, it’s use.

Over on the excellent Grammarphobia blog they posit that it’s not the rare usage that the OED notes that we’re seeing/hearing these days, but rather:

If I had to guess, I’d say the verb “coronate” that you’re hearing is a back-formation from the noun “coronation.” (A back formation is a word formed by dropping a real or imagined part from another word.) In this case, people assume that at a coronation, somebody gets coronated.

I agree. And the New York Times should know better.

(Also, if you want to get REALLY pedantic, crowning someone in a democracy is a metaphoric oxymoron, but, it’s Monday and I’m just not going to go there.)

College Changes Name Again: I Told You This Was a Mistake!

Do you ever have those days when you feel vindicated and can say to the world, “I told you so?” I’m having one of those days today!

Back in August, 2012, I first weighed in on a controversial name change of a university in Georgia. The short version is that two schools were merging, branding recommendations were made and the regents of the university system discounted the facts and renamed the university what they wanted it to be called.

At the time, I said, “I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. If, in fact, the Georgia regents did go against research when choosing the name of the combined university, they’ll be in trouble. This never works out well.” [emphasis added]

And guess what? They are now changing the name again. To what the top choice was then.

Millions of dollars were spent on this campaign before they surrendered to the inevitable. When will they ever learn, eh?

Accents and Perceptions

A new study came out recently that claims that students with a distinct Appalachian accent have to work harder to prove that they are intelligent.


The Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. |Image: Jan van der Crabben/Wikimedia Commons

That may sound odd to you, but it doesn’t to me. First of all, I’m a “language person.” Not only am I a former broadcaster, but I used to teach people how to lose their Southern accents.

Why? Because in broadcasting, the most appealing (everything is relative, of course, but appealing to prospective employers back in the day, at any rate), most preferred voice in the U.S. is one that is absent of a dialect. It’s called General American speech.

It’s our version of “the King’s English.” The idea is that heavily accented speech can be interpreted as less authoritarian or less intelligent. To put it another way, television journalist Linda Ellerbee, who is from Texas, once noted that you’re not supposed to sound like you’re from anywhere.

Ultimately, it’s all tommy rot. Accents have no bearing on intelligence.

However, this study found that many persons feel that they must “code switch” or use a different dialect around those who do not use their own dialect to project intelligence. The flat vowels and incomplete or missing diphthongs in Appalachian speech make them traditionally an even smaller subset of accents that make up the subset of American Southern speech. For example, natives of the Carolina Piedmont (like me*) might pronounce the word “bear” as “bay-uh” while Appalachian natives may contract and harden it and say “bahr.”

For the record, inside the region, Appalachia is pronounced with flat a’s, while generally outside of the area, the second a is long — App-uh-LAY-cha. As a graduate of Appalachian (-LATCH-un) State University, I’ve corrected people’s mispronunciations for decades.

Many countries are wildly more inclusive of accents than we are in America. But, like so many things, we are forever bringing up the rear in acceptability and celebration of differences.

The paper, called “Dialect and Influences on the Academic Experiences of College Students,” was recently published in The Journal of Higher Education. You can download it through Project MUSE, if you are a member, or read an abstract at Inside Higher Ed.

*For the record, I wouldn’t pronounce that word that way today. Like fellow Carolina native Stephen Colbert (I’m North; he’s South), I lost my Southern drawl years ago because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as “Southern.” I still don’t want that — it just doesn’t have anything to do with acceptance now.