Some people view TED and TEDx events to be inspired, to learn and to connect with other seekers and skeptics. This year’s TEDx Mid-Atlantic – with the theme of Superpowers – certainly had all of those components. But as a communications professional who works with executives and their teams on how to be understood to drive value and positive change, I listened to the talks with a different ear.
A few years ago, I heard an NPR story about a man who had translated Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into emoji. It seemed yet another cruel assault on the English language and, for that matter, on language in general.
Clarity of language counts. Take, for instance, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who found himself at the heart of a firestorm over imprecise language. While discussing the sequestration effect on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, he said ”there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”
While watching the gang on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week, I thought Bob Woodward had one of the best descriptions ever for the dysfunction in Congress. He likened it to “permanent divorce court.” Such is the essence of great message development.
E. B. White’s masterpiece, Charlotte’s Web, recently turned 60. This children’s fable about Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider, who saves him from becoming Christmas dinner, honors friendship, ingenuity, love, and loss.
Living in the Washington, DC area, I am painfully aware of how inflamed our public discourse is today. Just look at the rhetoric flying between the two parties in Congress over a potential government shutdown. In business interactions it’s easy to see how simple matters often get blown out of proportion. Language isn’t the only culprit but it can certainly play a role in whether the recipient of messages hears and understands what the sender intended.
Stop the world. Not literally. But I sure would like to stop the poor use of several words that seem to show up often in press releases, articles and, it just seems, everywhere. When used well, this language greatly assists understanding. Unfortunately, they are so overused that they have become almost meaningless.