Friday, September 30, 2016

If You Need to Know Something, Ask Why.

Why? This is one of the most effective questions anyone can ask. I know that many of you who are good at problem solving or communicating often ask questions containing this simple word. Do these questions look familiar?

• Why are things done this way?
• Why do we have the same problems over and over again?
• Why are these horrible (or nice) things happening?
• Why won’t he or she change?

Even when your question is initially answered, many of you will follow up with another Why-question and possibly a few more; this technique is outstanding because Why-questions allow you to dig deeply into your issue of the moment. The use of Why-questions is especially effective for communication, management, leadership of others, self-management, and personal relationships.

This article is about a key but simple point: If you ask Why-questions the right number of times, you’ll get a reliable and realistic overall answer; the more you ask, the better the answer.

Why-questions are also useful in clarifying troubling issues related to grammar and communication. When readers email me a question, they usually begin by using the Why-word. Indeed, so many of you have asked me Why-questions that I believe I need to demonstrate how I use the Why-question method to arrive at my own answers.

If I communicate a recent example to you, you’ll see how I use Why-questions and how you can easily apply them to most situations you encounter at home or on the job. In turn, you’ll be more likely to succeed at what you’re doing; that’s a promise.

The idea is to get to the root of a problem, challenge, or situation by asking a few Why-questions. Gradually, you’ll get more detailed information and answers, and you’ll arrive at a point where your curiosity and concerns are satisfied. I encourage you to try this method today after reading the rest of this post.

The following is a situation that I recently encountered; it's about editing and writing, which are areas that most of us frequently encounter.

A reader asked me a question about the use of a certain grammatical term in business communication; he also wondered as to why one way was preferred over another.

After the question was asked of me, my first internal response was “that’s just the way it is.” Then I thought: But why?

Because we have style guides that tell us what is correct when using language.

But why is that?

At some point many decades ago, business communicators, journalists, publishers, and language experts saw a need to have some structure and method by which all of this language and grammar stuff could be organized and codified so that everyone would understand; as a result, style guides were invented. The experts’ top goals included maintaining consistency in the use of language while allowing for variations in different environments, such as in publishing, journalism, universities, and everyday life. Examples of style guides (and there are many) include The Chicago Manual of Style; the AP Stylebook, and countless in-house corporate communication and language guides.

But why do these people have the authority and right to do this?

That is their job, they are experts in language and linguistics, and they follow words and language like some of us follow sports and television programs. The experts rely on past and current usage of language and communication to make conclusions, which in turn become the accepted authority and practice.

But why do we have to accept these forced-upon-us conclusions?

You don’t have to rely completely on these eminent authorities; use your judgment where needed. If you don’t routinely use their guidance, though, you'll be out of the norm, you’re going to make errors in your writings or speeches, and it’s not going to be pretty. That is, you’ll be a language renegade.

See how I used Why-questions to get to the core answers of a simple question? Notice the number of details that I discovered just by continuing to ask why, and I got better results as I persisted in my questioning. All the details may or may not have been useful to me, but I found them helpful. The questioning process wasn’t a fancy or complex way of getting some answers, but it worked.

This article has been less about communication or grammar, but instead more about a methodology of asking questions so that you can resolve your particular situation or problem efficiently and effectively.

Many times in life, we try to find solutions by using complicated or formal multi-step methods; resist that temptation when possible and use the simple approach.

I hope you have a great month in October, thank you for your time today, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Looking for Questions to Answer—Part Two

I appreciate the overwhelming response to my June 29, 2016 post where I sought questions from you on topics you wanted me to cover over the upcoming months. Those questions will be addressed in my future posts. For those who submitted questions on or before the July 31 deadline, you were entered into a random drawing, and the winner was selected to receive complimentary copy editing assistance from me. The winner was chosen, and I completed a thorough editing of her business website.

Several of you submitted ideas to me after July 31. I was unable to enter you into the original contest, but I have figured out a reader-friendly solution to this. I am repeating the contest with the same rules and guidelines, which I will post below. The only change will be the dates, and for anyone who makes a topic or idea submission to me for my blog during August 1 through September 30, 2016, you will be entered into a new drawing for a complimentary copy edit from me. So for those of you who submitted questions to me after July 31, you are already entered.

The guidelines that I posted on June 29 will still apply with only a change in the end date:

Here is my proposal and incentive to you. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until September 30, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

Thanks for your time today, send me those ideas, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference. Have a great September.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Sunday, July 31, 2016

What To Do When You're Wrong

Perfection. It seems that many of us believe some things can be done perfectly—always and without exception. There is no doubt that in some occupations or pursuits, perfection is the clear standard and objective set by the leaders; these areas might include healthcare, air transportation, and emergency services.

Most of us, it seems, would be happy with getting things right most of the time and then declaring it a win. Probably all musical performers, teachers, sales professionals, and managers, for example, realize that it would be nice for everything to work out perfectly; since that’s impossible, their expectations and goals are less than (but not far from) 100% perfection.

It is generally accepted by most people, though, that perfection in everything we do is impossible. I agree, and I want to see how this principle affects us when we make mistakes in our daily communication with others. When communicating, most of us err several times a day without fail; it happens, and there is no way to consistently achieve 100% error-free days—though I guess it’s possible if you don’t communicate in any way with anyone.

Barring this exception, please realize you and I are going to make mistakes in all areas of our lives, and the realistic goals are to strive to do the best we can, learn from our mistakes, and get better at what we do.

In today’s post, I will look at some practical solutions that you can use after realizing you made a communication mistake. That is, what do you do when you say something that is dumb or wrong, or write something that is in error? I offer three tips.

1. Increase your chances of getting things right the first time. It makes sense to aim before you fire. In other words, prepare well and think as you write something that is to be emailed or sent to others; and practice and think before you speak.

• Instructional courses are available that teach the minutiae of writing, speaking, interpersonal communication, and all things related. In addition to a course or seminar, consider other low- or no-cost alternatives such as independent self-study and learning, targeted readings, and local clubs that exist solely to improve your writing or speaking skills.

• Before speaking, rehearse what you’re going to say—even if you do so only in your thoughts.

• Take a moment and think before you write or say something. The following paragraph is taken from my January 31, 2016 blog post, which addressed the importance of being clear in communication:

"Think about what you want to communicate and break the message down into its key points. These ideas, without any doubt in your mind, are what you want others to know from you. Make it simple by thinking about what you want to write or say before you communicate it. A clear communication has the following characteristics: understandable, intelligible, obvious, unambiguous, coherent, and straightforward."

2. If it’s wrong, fix it. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, correct it.

• Acknowledge your error immediately: electronically, by phone, or in person depending on the situation. Apologize if appropriate. Since everyone makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. 

• Fix the incorrect message by sending the correct information, correcting the original-but-wrong message, or restating what you originally said with different words that are more accurate.

3. Learn from your mistake. A truth believed by many is that humans must learn from their mistakes in order to get better. This principle is applicable as we make communication errors.

Take a moment and reflect on what you did, why you did it that way, and what lessons you learned in the process. Do this every time you make a communication mistake.

This contemplation will help you the next time you are in a similar situation, and you will make fewer mistakes. Soon, you will almost be perfect.

Thanks for checking in with me today, I appreciate it, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 

© 2011-2016. All Rights Reserved for all Blog posts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Looking for Questions to Answer

Here we are at the year’s halfway point, and I hope most things are going your way. Even if you’re having challenges or difficulties, it’s true what others say: Things will get better and work themselves out.

One thing that I am proud of is this blog. Through it, I’ve been able to express some ideas that have been on my mind about grammar and communication, and I’ve been able to communicate with many of my readers. I have also decided on some topics to write about for the rest of the year and beyond. Despite that, I seek your help. And in a nod to my October 18, 2015 post below, I am looking for some questions.

I want to shake things up a little by getting your ideas and suggestions. That is, what would you like me to write about for the rest of the year? In the areas of grammar or communication, what’s been on your mind?

The reason I want your thoughts is simple. You are my readers, and you are the only reason I write this blog. I thought it would be useful to all of us, therefore, to seek out those questions to which you want answers.

Here is my proposal and incentive to you. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until July 31, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

There it is. I seek what’s on your mind, and in return, I will thank you by commenting on your question or topic as well as offering one person a copy edit from me.

Thanks for your time today, I look forward to hearing from you and your friends, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day

One of the themes in my blog is the importance of looking out for the details whenever we communicate. That is, be aware of the nitty gritty details as well as the huge obvious ones that present themselves every day of our lives. If you check out my previous posts, you might think that I am obsessed with all things related to grammar and communication.

I respectfully decline that characterization; instead, I tend to think of myself as extremely interested in these areas, and as a result, I am focused, particular, meticulous, and exacting when dealing with grammar and communication. At the same time, I derive a huge amount of satisfaction from passing along information that could be useful to others. As I have said a few times in nuanced ways, I don’t know everything about grammar and communication, but I know enough to bring some useful ideas and successful tactics to you and others.

Today, I will make some key and relevant observations, and I hope that you will stay with me to the end. I will use Memorial Day as an example to reinforce some ideas and principles I have made in previous posts about grammar and communication.

Everyone loves holidays because you get to do neat things, such as going to the beach, taking a short trip, relaxing from work, or visiting relatives. During the upcoming Monday, those of us in the United States will celebrate Memorial Day. Take a moment and think about Memorial Day, and without using Google, ask yourself what is the purpose or meaning of Memorial Day?

Here are some possibilities:

- To honor those individuals who have served in peacetime or in war

- To honor those who have served our nation overseas in a civilian or military capacity     

- To honor any of our relatives who have died

Like the meaning of words as they change over the years, there are several interpretations of Memorial Day depending upon whom you ask. And like the changes in grammar and communication practices, different interpretations are ok and to be expected. There is no need to judge and no need to malign others who have a different opinion.

I need to point out some details and facts. First, if you read about Memorial Day, you’ll see that its origin dates back many decades, and the holiday has a vibrant history. Second, according to, Memorial Day “honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.” Several other government and commercial websites offer a similar definition without distinguishing between wartime and peacetime service. Third, the holiday has unofficially evolved into one where in many towns and cities across America, all veterans—living or dead; wartime service or not—are honored.

How about that for adaptation? We have an official government-sanctioned federal holiday that honors those who died while they were serving in the military. As a veteran, the meaning of the holiday is clear to me. Yet still, there is ample evidence showing that while most Americans stay true to the original purpose and meaning of the holiday, other Americans supplement the original intent by honoring all veterans, alive or not.

This occurs even though we have a venerated holiday in November dedicated to all men and women who have served in the military: Veterans Day. In fact, there are many purists (veterans and others) who will gently correct a person who mistakenly confuses the two holidays. Most veterans will probably just be grateful that people are putting some thought into the situation by recognizing that veterans and those still serving have done and are doing some selfless, dangerous, and courageous work.

After spending some time thinking of and writing about one of the most sacred holidays in our country, I have some conclusions and suggestions.

• Like grammar, the definition and meaning of anything can change over time.

• If the meaning of something—like a word, phrase, or holiday—changes over time, accept it as natural and inevitable and don’t distress too much over it. These things happen, so try to adjust. But if you can’t adjust, that’s ok too.

• Details matter. If you have read my blog in the past, you already know many of my thoughts about the details and particulars of grammar and communication; I try to alert you to the key points and meanings that matter. With regard to today’s thoughts about the meaning of Memorial Day, those details matter as well—but in a much more exalted and special way.

Thank you for your time today as you enter into the Memorial Day weekend. I send special thanks and appreciation to the men and women who have died serving our country while in the military.

Please bookmark my blog, and contact me with your comments or ideas.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, April 29, 2016

Want Better Emails? Try these 20 Tips.

The use of emails as a method of communication was scheduled to be one of my upcoming posts, but Business Insider beat me to the story. I'm actually glad they did because I doubt I could have written a more interesting article than “16 Unprofessional Email Habits That Make Everyone Hate You.” How about that for a title?

Business Insider, in its April 22, 2016 article (the link is below), states that the following are 16 practices to avoid at all costs:

• Sending urgent emails that aren’t urgent
• Being too casual—Being too stiff—Replying to all
• CC’ing without approval—BCC’ing—Using a vague subject line
• Sending too many personal emails—Being snippy—Being curt
• A ridiculous email address—Numerous typos—Sending emails at 3 a.m.
• Annoying punctuation—Unprofessional fonts—Going too long

Whew! Once I came up for air, this article got me thinking about some other improvements that would be helpful in communicating our thoughts via email, which is a ubiquitous mode of communication that is going to be with us for a while. In addition to the above List of 16, I offer you a supplemental list of 4 email practices that will ensure your emails are looking great.

1. Decide if you need to send an email. Most of us would probably admit we get or send way too much email. There is one easy solution to this challenge: send fewer emails. That is, would it work as well or better to pick up the phone and call the intended recipient? If you’re in the same work area, how about getting up and walking over to their desk and striking up a conversation? By personally delivering your message by phone or in person, you’ll get the opportunity to discuss the issue and work out any details or challenges instead of launching a multi-day back-and-forth chain of emails that will leave you and others exhausted and frustrated.

Of course, if several people need to be involved in the discussion, personal delivery by phone or in person might not work; you may have to send a multi-recipient email or discuss the topic at a meeting. The day after you read this blog post of mine, phone someone or walk over to them in lieu of an email, and see how that works for you.

2. Get to the point. One sure way to have your readers disregard your email is by not getting to the point quickly enough. It may seem to you that sending a nice, entertaining, and quirky email would be the right thing to do—but that’s usually not the case. I will give you two tips that many experts on presentations or speeches give to their attendees; the same principles apply to writing an email or using other forms of communication.

Open with purpose and detail. Your email should have at least three sections: opening; main body & supporting facts; and conclusion. In the case of emails, the opening is sometimes not there at all, not there in sufficient detail, or vague. Your job is to ensure your opening is clear, precise, and obvious; it should tell your reader what to expect in the email.

Use the BLUF technique. BLUF (an acronym for Bottom Line Up Front) is especially helpful by using a couple of follow-on sentences right after you tell your readers why you're sending them the email. After giving the purpose of your email, tell the readers about your conclusions or recommendations; that is, give them the bottom line. This guides the readers and allows them to see clearly what your email is all about and what other things to expect in the email’s main body, such as facts or arguments.

Some emails, of course, will not contain a lot of facts and arguments, though the BLUF technique can still be used successfully and succinctly at the beginning of your email. Keep your opening short and precise, and briefly tell the readers what you're going to say in the rest of your email. If you’re in the middle of a brief back-and-forth email or possibly a quick one-liner email, the BLUF technique probably will not be needed.

3. Include sufficient information. Sufficient information for emails includes all the knowledge, facts, or data that is necessary for your readers to completely understand your email and its message. It is up to you to determine what is sufficient, though I can make three points about this area.

First, it may be helpful to you to briefly outline a complicated email before you write it. That is, jot down some key points that you believe should be included in the email and use these points as you compose the email.

Second, think about your message from the perspective of your readers and consider what they need to know to understand your email; include this information in your email.

Third, review what you have written and take a fresh look at the email’s contents. Is the message logical and orderly? Would it make sense to your recipients when they receive it? Does the message convey what you want to say?

4. Review before sending. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it's important to check for typos, punctuation errors, and content accuracy in all communication that we create. However, you’ve got to bump it up a notch when using emails. Check carefully the substance of your emails because emails are designed to be a short and quick means of conveying information; with this advantage of almost instantaneous delivery, you have a disadvantage of a potential increase in the number of errors. Ask yourself:

• Do the emails tell the narrative you want to tell in a logical progression?

• Do the emails make sense?

• Are you certain the readers of your emails will understand completely and easily what you're trying to communicate?

• Are you using the right tone and formality?

• Can you trim the emails and eliminate unnecessary sentences?

To answer these questions, you must re-read all emails at least once. When emails are unusually important or going out to a large audience, you need to re-read them more than once. If possible, print your important emails and review them on paper, and you’ll get a different visual perspective of what you wrote and see some areas that need improvement.

If you’re up for more reading on the subject of emails, here’s the link to the Business Insider article:

As always, thank you for your time today, and I hope that the tips I passed along are useful. Please bookmark my blog, and if you have any thoughts or questions, please contact me or leave a comment. See you next month.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Listening is Important

There are countless articles on personal development and workplace subjects such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. It’s a good habit to read what you can, especially if you see something interesting and pertinent to you. This week, I read several articles on communication, and one theme that I saw among many of the articles was the subject of listening and why listening is vital to everyone.

We probably all think we listen well and need no help. However, several studies and observations I read about this week say otherwise. That is, thought leaders and experts say that things could go much better in our personal and professional lives if we listened more, listened better, and showed to others that we were listening to them.

Sounds simple, yes? In practice, listening well is a challenge to most people because we have flaws in the communication process. In addition, we have to listen and perceive through different channels of communication, such as over the phone, in-person, by email, and through other written products.

These communication flaws that pop up can take several forms, such as an improperly constructed message that we want to send to others, a breakdown in the communication channel, and an inability of the receiver to receive the message. Later on in another blog post, I will look at these areas in more detail.

For today, I want to focus on something that occurs in the third category (the inability of the receiver to receive the message), and in doing so, I offer some ideas on how we, as receivers, can listen better. These tips apply to everyone. Whether you're a team member, leader, or sole contributor, listening well to others is crucial to your ability to get things done, thrive on and off the job, and successfully communicate with others.

4 Tips to Better Listening

1. Tune in. When someone is communicating with you in any way, they are trying to get your attention. Unless their timing is not good and you need to put off the interaction, stop what you’re doing and tune in to what they’re saying. This means not reading other material while you’re talking on the phone with them, not looking around at other things while talking in-person with them, not interrupting them, and minimizing or eliminating multitasking with other work. Maintain good eye (or ear) contact and be present in the moment.

Not only is tuning in a good practice in general, it also increases your efficiency by allowing you to focus intently on others’ issues, and it helps you make a better contribution or decision.

2. Put the Phone Away. Yes, that’s right; put it down when you’re communicating with someone. This is especially important when talking in-person or on the phone with someone. Why? It’s because the person with whom you are communicating will sense that you are doing something else (fiddling with your cell phone) that is distracting you from the conversation with them.

This is annoying to others, and you risk the possibility of completely disrupting your conversations with people. Think about it—have you ever tried talking to someone who was frequently checking their cell phone?

3. Do a Brain Dump. The idea here is to release from your mind those items about which you are thinking or worrying, such as projects, challenges to overcome, and routine day-to-day tasks. If you’re working on something, let it go for a while. If you do this, you will free up some mental space and allow yourself the capacity to focus on the person with whom you are communicating.

There are several ways to do a brain dump, though it only requires you to write your thoughts onto a piece of paper or your electronic device. Before you start a lengthy conversation, meeting, or phone chat with someone, extract those ideas and tasks that are swirling around in your mind and list them on the paper or device. Write a few words or short phrases describing each item, and when you finish conversing with the person, you’ll be able to quickly resume where you were prior to the conversation. This is an efficient way to handle communication, and it's practical and easy to implement at work or at home.

4. Be Patient and Involved. When interacting with others, it’s always a good idea to slow down, digest what they’re saying, and actively participate in the discussion as needed by giving your opinion or asking thoughtful questions.

Others may operate at a slower or faster pace than you, so you’ll have to adjust your style of communicating to fit the situation. If someone is painstakingly and slowly trying to explain something to you, relax and try to understand them at their pace; avoid letting your mind wander. Conversely, if someone is talking too fast for you to handle, either keep up with them (while doing your best to engage and understand them) or ask them to slow down so that you can better understand them.

Thank you for listening to me today, I appreciate your time, and I hope that my ideas will be useful to you at work and at home. Please bookmark my blog, and I’ll see you again in April.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, February 26, 2016

How to Pronounce February

I know; some of you are expecting me to demonstrate my knowledge and proficiency in pronouncing one of the great months of the year: February. Not so. If you’ll bear with me, I promise you this is no showing of superiority. If you’ve read my previous posts, this blog is all about two things: my observations related to grammar and communication, and you. Yes, it’s all about you. I want to point out some things that you may already know, and then I want to give you some takeaways that will be useful for the remaining months of the year. Everything is related to February.

February is known as a month for U.S. presidents, for those in love, and as a tribute month for many worthwhile causes and historical remembrances. So without doubt, we utter the word “February” throughout the month. However, because today is near the end of the month, fear not. As we move forward into the remaining months of the year, we will mention and refer to February often in many ways. What I’d like to do is give you some current information that will be useful, practical, and thought provoking.

I’ve lived in several cities in the United States and two countries abroad. I’ve heard countless people pronounce February. It’s a difficult word to pronounce using the preferred and traditional dictionary suggestion (#1 below), and so I’ve concluded there are four ways that most people pronounce it:

1. Feb-roo-were-e

2. Feb-u-were-e

3. Feb-u-air-e

4. A combination of the first three

After reading the current stances of the major dictionaries and grammarians, I discovered a useful observation. The first pronunciation is the oldest and still the most correct way of pronouncing February; the second way is also an acceptable way of saying it; and it’s best to avoid the third and fourth ways. But since the traditional pronunciation of the word (and similar words such as “surprise” and “particular” where the “r” is often not pronounced) is difficult, we adapt.

Let’s be realistic and admit that #2 is easier to pronounce than #1. If so, why not do it? Well, you can—and that is why I am sitting here writing this blog post on a subject that may seem meaningless. There is no reason for anyone to avoid pronouncing February if he or she is unable to correctly do it; the evolution of language permits us to do otherwise and feel good about it. If #1 is too cumbersome, use #2.

Words change over time, both in their meaning and in their pronunciation. February, for example, is a classic word (and there are many) that contains two identical or closely related sounds. Look at the pronunciation of #1 above and see how easy it is to get tripped up on the “roo” as you pronounce February. When this occurs, dissimilation occurs and one of the sounds either gets changed or dropped by its users. That is why #2 is a favorite among most people.

This week, for example, I asked five people to name the first three months of the year. Disregarding the occasional unique pronunciations of January, all five people pronounced February very similar to #2 and #3. No one chose to tackle #1. I wonder why. It’s because #1 hard to pronounce.

Well there it is. The story could stop here, but it doesn’t. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to you the application of today’s rant on February; it’s not all about February.

First, realize that the sounds of words change, and if you’re in doubt whether your version is correct or at least acceptable, look it up in the dictionary. This might be helpful before you talk to a group, conduct a meeting, or give a speech.

Second, be tolerant of others as they pronounce words differently than you. It could be, for example, that in another’s person’s culture or background, this is the way they say the word and communicate to others. So let it go and have a cup of coffee. Note that since words change over time, you could very well be witnessing the evolution of the word’s pronunciation. Now that is pretty neat.

Finally, be open-minded and accept the fact that the study of grammar usage is a difficult, precise, and yet imprecise field of work; and there are some easy answers coupled with the difficult. There are people who spend all their working hours thinking about these things. My advice is to be aware of the issue as I have outlined in my blog post today, and use your good judgment and instincts if presented with a grammar or communication challenge.

Thank you for spending your valuable time on today’s post; I appreciate that. I will see you again in March, and I ask you to bookmark my blog for easier reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA         @randallponder

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three Grammar Resolutions for 2016

Happy New Year to everyone on this last day of January, and I hope 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you. Some of us may have made our perennial resolutions earlier this month, and I want to check in with you and congratulate you on that and ask that you work hard to keep your focus on them. If any of you have gotten the least bit discouraged about your progress in attaining your personal or professional goals, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not worth it, and in fact it could be counterproductive. Instead, celebrate that you probably have made some progress and are possibly in the stage where you are building momentum. Most people, it is noted, give up on their first-of-the-year resolutions too easily and too soon; I encourage you to keep chipping away as we enter into February. Do your best and wake up every day with the idea that you’re going to make some progress, and do just that.

I want to help out by offering you three relevant and useful ideas related to grammar and communication that will help you achieve your resolutions and goals. Many of you who know me or who have emailed me with topic suggestions or blog feedback know that I believe that good grammar and communication intersects most things that we do in life. If we are to do better in whatever professional or personal pursuit that lies in front of us, we’ve got to communicate properly.

During this month, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I could tell you that could propel you forward in 2016. As a result, I’ve set aside the hundreds of useful grammar ideas and rules, and I offer you three top grammar goals that I believe could make a huge impact on you this year. If you focus on just these three things and do no more in the area of grammar, I promise you that you will feel better about yourself, others will appreciate and recognize your efforts, and you will see great things come your way. Is better grammar the easy answer to a great 2016? No. Instead, better grammar will be a key factor in helping you do whatever it is you want to do.

I ask you to keep these three points in the back of your mind each and every day as you communicate. Whether you’re writing or speaking, they will help. Here we go: clear, concise, and correct.

1. Clear. Think about what you want to communicate and break the message down into its key points. These ideas, without any doubt in your mind, are what you want others to know from you. Make it simple by thinking about what you want to write or say before you communicate it. A clear communication has the following characteristics: understandable, intelligible, obvious, unambiguous, coherent, and straightforward.

2. Concise. Shorter is usually better when communicating. The longer you prolong whatever it is you’re trying to write or say, eyes start to gloss over, the audience to whom you’re delivering your valuable information will lose attention, and your message could be ignored. Since these outcomes need to be avoided at all costs, think about the following:

- Don’t send long emails. Limit it to a small number of sentences or paragraphs; make it just long enough so you say what you have to say clearly and concisely. In life today, some things can only be communicated by email, especially if you don’t want to have an in-person meeting or if there are many people who need to hear directly from you. Regardless, please be considerate and think about your audience by keeping your emails as short as possible.

- The same principles apply to other written forms of communication. If you need to send a letter or memo, nothing is carved in the grammar stone that says they must be verbose. Are there exceptions? Yes. Sometimes you have to go into excruciating details when communicating with others, and doing so adds length. Even so, my point is always be as concise as possible, and don’t shy away from editing and revising your work.

- When talking to others on the phone or in person, don’t tarry but do get to the point. Your time is important, and so is theirs. Get through phase one of the conversation, which is where you have the pleasantries and small talk, and move along to phase two, which is where you want to effectively communicate. Then wrap it up—in a nice and friendly way, of course.

3. Correct. Being correct involves two things: 1) writing or speaking in proper and accepted ways, and 2) ensuring that what you are communicating is accurate, right, and true.

Proper and Accepted Ways:

What are some ways to learn how to write and speak properly? This is an easy question to answer, though it involves committed work on anyone’s part to get it all right. The easy answer is to get targeted training to develop your speaking and writing skills. There are hundreds of training resources, and I’m sure you can easily evaluate them. Look for seminars, in-house training, local colleges, free courses on the web, and non-free courses on the web.

Another suggestion to improve your writing and speaking is to just do it; that is, learn by practicing and doing. This is what most people do, and it is by far, in my opinion, the best alternative because most people learn well by doing, and they learn best by doing things well. So, if you believe you need improvement in speaking or writing, just step out there and speak to others and write. Find a buddy to give you some feedback on how you’re doing, and observe others around you who speak and write well—and model their behavior.

If someone is speaking well, what is it that they’re doing that makes them sound so fantastic? If someone is speaking poorly, take note of what challenges they are having and make it a point to avoid these pitfalls yourself. The same principles are involved in writing. Most people who write well, read the writings of others and learn from those experiences. If you read well-written reports, documents, news stories, and magazines, you will have excellent ways to pick up the nuances involved in writing. Ask your buddies for their evaluations of your conversational and speaking abilities, and ask them to critique your writing style. These are easy and superb ways of getting the precise and immediate feedback that will be useful to you.

Accurate, Right, and True:

I will make two important points and distinctions as my last thoughts for today.

First, without exception, any communication that you offer to others needs to be free from grammatical errors. I just suggested how to improve your writing and speaking skills. This helps, and as a reminder, it is crucial that you proofread your written communications before you send them. Instead of repeating myself, I refer you to my blog post below from November 8, 2015, entitled “Easy Fixes for Daily Writing.” There, you will find great information on what I am conveying to you.

Finally, it is vital that the content of your communication is accurate, right, and true. Here, I am not talking about grammar or punctuation, but instead am referring to what you’re saying. Is the substance and content of your communication factual, truthful, exact, verifiable, reliable, and certain? If not, you’ll not only have a communication issue at hand, prepare yourself for a question of your credibility. The last thing you want to say, for example, is that something happened, when it did not; a number is correct, when it is not; that Mr. X did this, when he did not do it or might not have done it; or that a problem was caused by Y, when it’s possible other things might have caused or contributed to the problem. The only exceptions that I can think of are if you’re giving your opinion or if you're speculating. If so, be sure and clearly state that you are guessing or speculating or that it’s your reasoned and well-thought-out opiniongiven the facts and information as you see them. You get my point; everything you write or say should be accurate, right, and true. The way to make this happen is to re-read what you’re communicating, verify everything, and have your buddies give their honest critiques of what you’re writing.

Thank you for your time today, and I appreciate you reading my post. I hope that I have shared some helpful information with you. As always, thank you for your emails and topic suggestions, and please bookmark my blog. I will catch up with you in February.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Top-10 Overused Buzzwords on LinkedIn

I read an article from "Business Insider" that lists the top-10 overused buzzwords that LinkedIn users have in their profiles. It's an interesting list, and I will let you decide if you have these words or not—and whether the words need to be changed.

In my opinion, authenticity, accuracy, and precise communication are the best approaches. If the word applies to your skills and background, use it; just don’t overuse it again and again in your profile. I use a couple of these words in my LinkedIn profile, and I am not changing those couple of words because the words are accurate. Here goes a portion of the article:

The No. 1 overused buzzword last year across LinkedIn profiles globally and in the US was "motivated."

If you want your profile to stand out in 2015 (per Business Insider, not necessarily per me), avoid these overused words and phrases at

1. Motivated  

2. Passionate

3. Creative

4. Driven

5. Extensive experience

6. Responsible

7. Strategic

8. Track record

9. Organizational

10. Expert

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA       @randallponder

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Paris Attacks: Lessons Learned from the Media

The attacks in Paris last week were horrific, and they graphically showed a dark side that remains on our earth. At the same time, there was an outpouring of solidarity for the victims, city of Paris, and country of France. My sympathies go out to the victims’ families and other people who were affected by this event. As did millions of others across the world, I watched in horror as the aftermath became increasingly clear.

Fortunately, the media were there almost instantaneously reporting on the events, and journalists from dozens of countries were on the ground within hours. Viewers were dependent on professional reporting to present accurate and up-to-date information on what was known about all things related to the attacks.

What got my attention in the hours and days after November 13 were the facts, speculation, and revised statements about what happened. News reports after a major catastrophe are, in my view, always a developing story. We learn a little bit at the beginning, increasingly more as the hours and days go on, and if we’re lucky, one day we get the truth about what really happened. That is just the way it goes with big and complicated events such as the attacks.

I noticed three media trends develop over the past week, and I want to mention them today and show how they relate to us in our daily lives. The lessons learned thus far from the Paris news coverage are directly applicable to us at work and elsewhere.

1. Initial accounts are seldom true or complete; facts change.

There was simply too much going on in the hours and first day or so after the events to know exactly what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and who did it. This may seem obvious, and that is why I am pointing it out today. It is noted that the media is not privy to all the information that law enforcement and intelligence agencies know at any particular moment, so it would make sense that the French authorities would withhold some of their information for fear of compromising their investigation.

In the attacks, I noticed that it took about a half-day before we began to get solid and credible information. Some of this differed substantially from the initial reports on the night of the attacks. Was it one group that attacked all locations, or were there multiple teams that had different missions? In what order did the attacks occur? Were all the assailants dead as was initially reported, or, as we later found out, did one escape into the night? Again, this is just the way it is: Not all information is known at the beginning.

That is why we who work in or with organizations must be relentlessly proactive at the beginning of an assignment or project, regardless of the scope. For us to get all the information we need to make decisions or adjust course, this information gathering is heavy at the beginning while it remains constant and intense throughout the project. Information gathering never ends, nor should it. In the macro and micro environments in which we operate, change is inevitable and the facts and assumptions change frequently. Communication to, from, and throughout all levels of our organizations is key to successful outcomes.

If we are to make the right decisions along the way, we have to act just like French law enforcement and the international community are acting right now. They are relentless in their attempt to get fresh and correct information each day, because each day gives them the opportunity to get closer to the end of their most immediate problem, or project. The media are doing the same thing by being open to this truth, accepting the constant change, doing their job by validating their sources, and reporting what we should know. So for us, the lesson learned is to work hard on a project, but be open to changes in our facts, assumptions, and environments so that we too can succeed at what we’re doing.

2. If someone says something is true, that is not necessarily so.

During the Paris coverage over the past week, we heard from witnesses and news commentators who gave their opinions on what had happened and why. The first-hand witness statements tended to be accurate, though in a several instances I noticed that some people extended their testimony by making some questionable statements about what they saw happen. In addition, some witness statements directly contradicted the accounts of others. I will not judge them on this; they went through an intense and tragic situation that will haunt them for many years. 

As for the media, they reported what they knew: raw information and solid facts once verified. Yet again, there were numerous instances where a television journalist would make a statement, and the next day this would be proved false. Is it the fault of the journalists? In most cases the answer is no because that is the nature of their job; that is, report what is known, verify when necessary, and update later as facts become clear.

As a notable example, we heard at various times with authority that the weapons used in the music hall were shotguns, automatic weapons, and explosiveslots of each. As of today, we do not know exactly which weapons were used because the final report is not complete, but it would not surprise me if the mix of weapons changes, given that there are only so many types of weapons that a team of terrorists can carry without detection before an attack.

In our lives at work and elsewhere, people give us advice, answers to questions, their opinion, first-hand accounts, and what they perceive as facts. Our job is to assess this trove of information and determine which is valid, factual, and useful. What I am mentioning should not be new to you, but it bears repeating that just because someone says something is true, that does not make it true. I can give you several unbelievable personal examples of this, but I will let you explore this truism on your own. While at work, make it a personal commitment to be more discerning of the vast amount of information and so-called facts that fall into your lap.

3. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

I observed, in general, that the television media did not overstate what they knew or what they could tell us about the attacks on Paris. News reports seemed to be refreshingly frank with the viewers. This balanced approach to their job appealed to me, and I commend it. However, I did notice three glaring missteps by two different television networks; I would be remiss if I did not mention the incidents, which all referred to one victim’s stunning tale of survival.

A Parisian was in harm’s way, and it looked like she was going to get severely injured. My issue with the television reporting is that the reporters promised to the viewer that the incredible story of the lady would soon be told to us in a few minutes. In all three cases, about 20-30 seconds were used in the story’s promotional teaser, which also told us to stay tuned to hear “all of the details.” Well, I stayed tuned, and I did not hear the details.

It turns out in all three instances, the same video footage of the lady’s ordeal was shown along with some commentary, but the networks never delivered on their promise to me, the viewer. After waiting for the networks to give me the entire story, they eventually spent around 15 seconds showing and describing 80% of the lady’s ordeal, and then her story was over with not a clue as to how it ended; then it was on to the next story. More time was spent on the buildup to the story than on the story itself. In the end, I was left hanging and begging for more information on the lady’s condition, which was never revealed. Fortunately a couple of days later, I discovered on television that the lady survived her terror and was doing well.

The lessons are not to overpromise and underdeliver; don’t renege on your promise; and don’t insult someone’s intelligence. These truths are self-evident, and we can see their use in all aspects of our daily life. When we promise to do something and don’t do it, we lose credibility and stature to those with whom we interact. Avoid it.

Next month, we’ll get back on track with some easy fixes for daily writing. Thank you for your time today, and please bookmark my blog.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA       @randallponder 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Easy Fixes for Daily Writing

Most people write every day. Whether you’re in school, at work, or in retirement, there are reports to be written, memos to be drafted, and emails and text messages to send. We write for our internal audiences such as co-workers, and we write externally to our customers, potential customers, and others. Most of us don’t give our writing a second thought; we just do it.

Therein is a potential problem: If we write without any reviewing or editing afterwards, we send stuff that is sloppy, has errors, or doesn’t communicate what we want it to say. How do you feel when you read some online news that has misspellings, incomplete facts, or faulty conclusions? What about company policy number 37 that is confusing, chock full of errors, and dated eight years ago? There may be a sinking feeling in your stomach at this moment, and if so, that’s ok because it might mean that your preference is to read, see, and send communications that are pristine, logical, and precise. Even if you’re not all knotted up when envisioning such haphazard writing, you might find it useful to have some quick pointers on improving what you have written. Writing well leaves a good impression, and it reflects on your professionalism, your concern for the recipients of your document, your ability to communicate well, and, of course, you.

In keeping with my prior promise to you, I am only mentioning practical, relevant, and easy-to-use tips and fixes. Today’s post will offer you five ways to clean up your communication so that your recipients have better feelings when they read or see what you have written. In another post later this month, I will offer some more ways to ensure that your written products look sharp. Today’s post is not a review of how to write; it is useful guidance on what to do after you have finished writing something.

1. Spell-Check. Always use the spelling and grammar checker (aka spell-check) on your word processing software to catch misspelled words in your documents. If you’re writing an email and don’t have access to spell-check (although there is a review tab in most email software), then write the email and copy/paste it into a blank document; then spell-check this new document and correct the email as necessary. Spell-check will also alert you to any grammar issues that you can correct as well. If you have the money and believe you are in need of some serious double-checking of your writing, there are dozens of software packages or online companies from which to choose.

A caveat to spell-check is that it’s not always correct. And so with every suggestion it gives you, think about it and decide whether to accept or decline the suggested alternative spelling or grammar improvement. As an example, if you write the following sentence and then spell-check it, Microsoft Word will consider it a correct sentence; however, it is not correct.

“He was on a mission to sleigh or trap the animal, since it was violently killing his outdoor pets.”

So because of instances like this, never completely rely on spell-check.

2. Read What You Write. After spell-checking your document, read it a minimum of two times. Read once on the computer screen, and then print the document and read it again. I promise you that after reviewing the printed document, you will find an error, an improvement, or a logic issue that you would have never seen just by reading from the computer screen.

Why is that? By printing the document, you are, in essence, reformatting it to your eyes and mind, thus allowing you to take a fresh look at your document because you’ve become too familiar with it. This slightly time-consuming task will pay off for you when you see things that you had not seen before. As a copy editor, unless I am editing something online in real time, I rarely go final on a document until I print it and review the written words as they appear on paper.  

3. The Buddy System. Some experts advocate reading your document backwards before you go final. This may catch some errors, and if you have the time, go for it. I find it tedious to read a document this way, and the only real benefit is to catch punctuation errors; it doesn’t help you find errors in sentence structure, logic, or style. Instead, spend your coveted time with your buddy. That is, find someone in your workplace or family who can read your document for themselves so that they can tell you what they think and possibly catch errors that you’ve missed. Just give them your document and ask them for any comments on the areas we are discussing today. Your buddy might catch some sentences that don’t make sense, a paragraph that is all over the place, and of course, misspellings. In turn, pay back the favor and volunteer to review your buddy’s documents as needed. You both will benefit as a result, and all of your documents will see improvement.

4. Wait. It’s quite amazing that after you write a document and put it away and out of mind for a while, it will then be much easier to edit and review. The idea is that you give your mind and eyes a break from the constant exposure to your words. When you wait a while for another review, you will be refreshed and in a better position to tackle the final review. If you have the time, take an overnight break from the document; when you look at it the next day, it will be almost as if you’re looking at it for the first time. No kidding.

5. One Space Not Two. In upcoming posts, I’ll offer some quick fixes that deal with the issues of format and style, but I will put those aside for the moment—except for one thing. One space, that is. Please commit this to memory by repeating three times while tapping your feet: “There is only one space after a period.” There. You’ve done it, and you are now in the 99th percentile on this grammar topic.

If you randomly look at others’ documents, such as memos, résumés, or anything, you will still find that some people believe that it’s ok to insert two spaces after a period, question mark, or exclamation point, which are usually called the three end marks. That’s ok, and the people don’t mean to do anything wrong. They are simply perpetuating a once-correct way of doing something during the age of the typewriter; it is no longer correct. Right now, check any magazine, newsletter, book, or newspaper, and you’ll likely find that they too have only one space after the end marks. Unfortunately, there are many self-published books, electronic books, websites, and online articles that are still using the two-space rule; this is usually because these items were not edited properly. If you’re using a typewriter, you could probably get away with the double spaces, but ever since the dawn of computers and multiple fonts, space adjustment after an end mark is properly accounted for with just one space.

Next time, we’ll continue the discussion and expand it to other areas that you encounter while writing each day. Once again, thank you for your time, please bookmark my blog, and check back with me in a couple of weeks.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA      @randallponder

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Looking for Answers to Questions

Many years ago, the singer/songwriter/author/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett wrote a wonderful ballad that he still performs to this day. It’s entitled “He Went to Paris” and is considered by many Buffett fans as one of his best songs. I like it for many reasons, but I will focus on just one. The song sets up today’s topic by its very first verse: “He went to Paris, looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.” I could stop writing right now and feel complete, but I can’t because I need to convey to you why those words are relevant to us.

How many times during a week do you go to a business, store, or restaurant and you have questions about a product, price, or menu—about anything? And how many times at work or at home do you interact with a co-worker, significant other, or a child and have even more questions? Let’s keep it simple and round up; we’ll go with a thousand times. During these one thousand interactions, you have questions that are clearly bothering you in the sense that you’re looking for answers, sooner rather than later.

Now, look at the following set of three questions that you could ask someone along with some possible answers that could be given to you. Pick your preferred answer and we’ll continue in a moment.

Q. I notice that the shirt is not available in a medium size; could you order one for me?
A. Absolutely!  B. No problem!  C. Not a problem!  D. Yes ma’am, we can.

Q. I really want that hamburger on toast instead of the bun. Can you do that?
A.  Not a problem!  B. I can absolutely do that.  C. That is absolutely not a problem.  D. Yes sir.

Q. Hey (insert co-worker’s name here), thanks for making that fresh pot of coffee.
A. No problem!  B. Not a problem.  C. You are absolutely welcome.  D. You are welcome.

For me, my favorite answer to all three questions was the last choice. Was “D” your favorite choice as well? If not, then that’s ok, and I respect your choice. For those of you who chose “D”, I would like to explore why we chose it. I can think of several reasons: It is a clean and definitive affirmative response with no room for confusion; it doesn’t tempt us to ask an awkward follow-up question; it’s traditional; it’s polite; and it’s not one of the other three answers.

Combining answer “D” with the other choices could work almost as well while taking some of the abrasiveness away from the other choices. Consider these acceptable responses:

- Yes ma’am. That would be no problem.

- Yes sir. Fortunately, that would be no problem because we have some fresh bread on hand.

- That is absolutely impossible for me to do because we have no bread.

- You’re welcome. It is not a problem for me to do that.

So we see that the words themselves aren’t the problem, and there are countless uses of the words “absolutely” and “problem” that are just fine. It becomes problematic when the person at whom the phrase is used thinks the answer is curt, rude, unclear, or unprofessional. The answer may, in turn, make the person feel awkward, confused, or disrespected. If we want to communicate successfully and make others feel special, using the right words will help.

When we ask questions of others, usually we have compelling reasons to do so. We need to determine—without doubt—an answer. Like Jimmy Buffett wrote, we have a question that is bothering us to some degree and we want someone to answer it. In recent years, language has gotten relaxed and sometimes we get relaxed answers from others. In general, I think this is a great trend and makes for a better world. Sometimes, however, we need to speak up and call out those phrases or words that are annoying, bothersome, unclear, just-plain-wrong, or open ended. The answers I write about today are grouped into two categories that I wish did not exist: “No Problem” (and its variations) and “Absolutely” (and its variations).

Do I want to ban these words? No. I’d just prefer them not used in certain circumstances, such as shown in the three questions posed above. It makes good business and personal sense by not avoiding this grammar issue and instead addressing it head on. By formally training our workers and staff on how to properly answer customers’ questions, businesses would make customer experiences so much better. Similarly, if we hint to a relative that their answer is ambiguous or, in essence, a non-answer, then we will help them make some improvements that will be of great benefit across many areas of their life. They may even appreciate our suggestions at some point. How about that?

Now back to our two categories. Are the people who use these responses terrible people who should be shunned? Absolutely not! (Ouch. This is another usage that can be decreased.) I meant to say “No, of course not.” In fact, my hunch is that those who use these phrases are people who have inherent enthusiasm, excitement, and friendliness; the last thing we want to do is dampen those fine attributes. The world needs more people just like this who want to make others feel good and have fantastic experiences. Just this past week, for example, I read a quote from an enthusiastic senior executive in a restaurant chain who stated in a major business magazine: “We have absolutely seen increased consumer demand for pork.” She got her point across to the readers, but my point is that the word “absolutely” in this context is probably not needed; and if you’re going to use a strong-sounding word, why not say something like this: “We have seen substantial (or unbelievable, or record-shattering, or previously unseen) increased consumer demand for pork.” Or, just leave out the word; the sentence will be just fine.

I ask my readers to help out those around you when appropriate, and make a suggestion here or a constructive comment there. You could even look puzzled at hazy answers; this may prompt the person to offer an alternative and better answer. All of this will go a long way in getting clear, definitive, and positive answers to the questions that are bothering you so.

Please bookmark my blog, thank you for your time, and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA      @randallponder

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Say what?

There is no doubt that we all make mistakes every day; what I try to do through this blog is help us make fewer grammatical and communication missteps. The research I put into each blog post helps me become better at writing, editing, and communicating; and my goal is that you will find this information useful and practical. 

Grammar carries over to situations where we converse with others, either informally or formally. Today, I am focusing on some words that are often mispronounced in media, government, and our day-to-day lives. My opinion on each of these words is based on recent research and opinions from practitioners in the field; as a result, if you go with what I suggest, you’ll be fine. The suggestions are intended for those who are English-speaking and living in the USA; you’ll find different pronunciations that are correct in other countries. Since often there is more than one correct way to pronounce a word, I’ll give you the most common and preferred way. I always want to be relevant to you the reader, so the following list of mispronounced words is topical and will help us as we chat with others each day.

1. Pronunciation. The core part of this word is spelled differently than in “pronounce.” Notice that there is no “noun” in this word—just “nun”— so “pro-noun-see-ā-shun” is not the way to say it.
- “Pro-nun-see-ā-shun”

2. Iran and Iraq. These countries have been in the news for decades, and I’ve heard each of them pronounced at least five different ways by people who should know better. No wonder we are confused.   
- Iran: “ear-Ron”—Not: I-Ron, I-Ran, E-Ron, E-Ran, Ear-Ran.
- Iraq: “ear-Rock”—Not: I-Rock, E-Rock, I-Rack, E-Rack, Ear-Rack.

3. Utmost. Your use of language is of utmost importance to your company and those with whom you work. Many times this word is mistakenly pronounced as “upmost.”

4. Calvary. This special word of religious significance is often swapped accidentally for “cavalry,” which is a specific term pertaining to special types of military organizations or soldiers.

5. Applicable. This is a helpful word that we use quite frequently. It’s common to hear its first letter “a” sounding like Hay or Day; but it’s not correct.
- “uh-Plic-uh-ble”—Not ā-Plic-uh-ble.

6. Verbiage. Here we have a word that is nicely used in describing a style or manner of writing or speech (according to one of several definitions of the word), and it is known to be pronounced in several interesting ways. Notice the “a” in the word is silent when pronounced correctly.
- “Vur-be-ij” is correct and preferred with three quick syllables.

7. Espresso. At the coffee shop, some coffee drinkers order “expresso” for their morning drink. This may, in turn, explain the puzzled look on the barista’s face.

8. Prescription. After visiting a doctor, she gives us a prescription, not a “perscription.”

9. Nuclear. Various people have been ridiculed (not nice to do) for pronouncing this scary word as “Nu-ca-lur.” It’s “nu-clear” with just two syllables.

10. Presley. As in Elvis. Elvis Presley, that is. Most everyone in the world knows how to pronounce his first name, and most people refer to him at least once or twice a year. Now what about that last name?
- “Press-lee”—Not Prezz-lee.

Once again, it’s been a pleasure to pass along some grammar tips to you, and I hope today’s post has served you well.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA      @randallponder

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sports and Words

The U. S. football season has begun, and this annual passage has motivated me to note it today and make some observations. I have started to pay more attention to the announcers who are heard during the games. Announcers do great jobs given what most would see as herculean tasks—work live on television or radio or at a high school announcer’s booth for three to four hours describing to the viewers or listeners what is happening and trying to do it without error and within seconds; I applaud these men and women for their skill, aptitude, and tenacity.

So today’s post is more about some of the language missteps they and others occasionally make when describing plays, giving statistics, and making on-air predictions. Those of us not in the sports industry make these same mistakes in other areas of our personal or professional lives as we communicate, so the following observations apply to us as well; this is not a condemnation of sports officials or anyone else. My focus is on the areas of quantity, distance, and comparison.


Fewer vs. Less. “Fewer” refers to things that one can count or quantify, while “less” deals with uncountable, intangible, or abstract things.

There are fewer players (not less players) on a basketball team than on a football team. Some footballs have less air in them than others, and the ones with less air have fewer pounds of air. The losing team will score fewer points than the winning team; as a result, the losing team may have less of a chance to win the championship. A football game usually lasts fewer than four hours, and it certainly lasts less than a day.

Number vs. Amount. “Number” refers to countable things; “amount” is about all things uncountable. The:

- number of days in the week
- number of seats in a football stadium
- number of fans in attendance at today’s game
- number of players on a team
- number of passes in a game
- total number of points scored in the season
- number of beverage coolers used during a game
- tremendous amount of the fans’ enthusiasm
- huge amount of pressure on the coach to have a winning season
- high amount of confidence one team has over its opponent
- large amount of liquids drunk by the players during the game


Farther vs. Further. Think of “farther” as a physical distance; remember that and you’ll be ok. “Further” is used when talking about nonphysical or figurative distances, or when meaning “additional.”  

Team A’s quarterback throws passes that are longer and farther downfield than does his counterpart on Team B. The coach tells his players that they have to do more work each week if the team is to further its chances to enter the playoffs. Do your daily drills, and you’ll run farther faster; and furthermore, you’ll be appreciated by a greater number of fans who will have huge amounts of loyalty.


Good, Better, and Best; and Great, Greater, and Greatest. Usually good and great stand by themselves, as in “This company is great. That product is good. This football season is going to be great.” Kick it up a notch when comparing something with one other thing, as in “our company is greater than his, that product is greater than its predecessor, or our kicker is better than theirs.”

The superlatives “best” and “greatest” are used when comparing one thing against two or more other things: this season will be the best and greatest of all seasons in the past twenty years. Our team is the best in its division.

Note that when comparing things, always indicate to what they are being compared. It’s confusing to a listener or reader when someone says “that punter is better” or “that punter is the best.” Better than who? The best of what?

Than vs. Then. “Than” is the comparative word, and “then” is related to time.

This quarterback can probably throw the ball farther than the fullback can throw it. A quarterback takes the ball and then he throws it, tosses it, runs with it, or fumbles it. If a team is winning by 30 points in the final minute of a game, then it will win the game because it is playing so much better than the other team.

Between vs. Among. These words aren’t really comparisons (they’re prepositions), but I am going to mention them anyway. Use the word “between” when referring to two things, and use “among” when three or more things are involved.

After the player fumbles the football, we watch a private conversation between the coach and the player. During said conversation, there is some tension among the other players on the team. If fans had to choose between two players to be the player of the game, then they would choose the receiver, because he caught a record-shattering number of passes. However, among the remaining forty or so players on the team, all of them are great players, though it is difficult to say who are among the greatest.

Thanks for your time today, and I wish you a great upcoming week.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA     @randallponder