Tone is everything

January 17th, 2011

When was the last time you listened to yourself? I mean really listened?

When my husband and I talk, sometimes we accuse each other of yelling. Inevitably, each of us denies raising our voice. Could we each be wrong?

I don’t think so.We learn patterns of speech early in our childhood, modeling them after our parents, grandparents, and siblings (who learned them from our parents!). Those patterns of speech are ingrained and hard to break.,/p>

For example: I have a brother-in-law I’ve only met a few times in 25 years, since my sister lives cross country from me. When we get together, I know he asks questions just to get a conversation going. Inevitably, however, when he questions me, I feel as though I am being interrogated. He uses direct questions and does not share experiences or feelings to temper the tone.

When my husband and I have an emotional discussion (not an argument, mind you), we both tend to raise our voices and talk more directly. That’s why we accuse each other of yelling! What we need to do is to tone down and listen to ourselves (as well as the other person).

I remember my mother saying to me when I was a sometimes sassy teenager, “I wish I had a tape recorder so you could hear what you sound like!”

That’s not really a bad idea. I have a tape recorder–a tiny one that I can slip into my pocket. Maybe I’ll start recording myself (and my husband!) when we have one of those “discussions.”

Until next time,


Long live the Energizer bunny

November 8th, 2009

The Energizer bunny finally powered down. My 97-year-old mother-in-law, Helen, passed away Oct. 5.

People who read this and did not know Helen will say, “Ah, well, she lived a long life.” And she did. What they don’t know, however, is that up until the end, she was the Energizer bunny—always on the go, full of 97-year-old energy and pep, never wanting to quit. My former co-workers gave her that name, because it seemed that whenever she was down, she got up again.

It has been a tough summer for her. She thought she could undo the consequences of her age through surgery. Instead, the surgery to repair her bladder turned out badly and took a grave toll on her health. Determined, however, she exercised daily until she built up enough energy to return to “school” (the senior center). Then, one day, she announced she wanted to visit her brother and extended family in rural North Carolina. My husband took her there, and that is where she passed away—in the house where she grew up.

They say each of us goes through five stages of grief—anger being one of those stages. I admit that several days after Helen passed away, I began to feel an emotion unfamiliar to me. It was anger. I was angry because Helen had not given us the opportunity to say good-bye.

A few days before she died, her brother took her to the ER, where they diagnosed an inoperable problem. The doctors told her she was dying, and she said she understood. But she didn’t accept it. Instead, she kept fighting to live. Up until the end, the night before she passed away, as she complained about pain (her pain pills had not kicked in), she said, “Take me to the hospital. There has to be something the doctors can do to keep me living!”

But, there wasn’t. And by the next evening, she was gone. She missed the chance for us to say “we love you.” And she missed the chance to say good-bye.

Death is the one certainty we all are guaranteed to experience. I loved my mother-in-law, and I think I am over the anger I felt at her not accepting her finality. I hope, though, that when my time comes, I will have the opportunity to say good-bye to those who mean the most to me. As the “serenity prayer” goes, “accept the things you cannot change.”

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions


Ouch! More grammar mistakes that hurt my ears and eyes

September 26th, 2009

I am actually a “regular” person who flexes her English usage in “regular” conversation—especially to prove a point. I’ll occasionally say “ain’t,” use an adjective as an adverb, split an infinitive, and use “they” instead of saying “he or she.” I sometimes even begin sentences with “there is” and “there are.” But, I believe that writers—especially journalists—have an obligation to model good grammar to their readers. This admonition applies even more to their editors who should catch grammar mistakes.

I would like to say that most of the errors I catch are the result of sloppy editing in my local newspaper, the Jacksonville Times Union. Unfortunately, however, I see these mistakes in other places, and I hear them on television and radio news and talk shows, too.

My latest catches (I’ve italicized the mistake):

• “Even worse are situations where one person’s gift will be compared to another’s.” “Perplexed by a culture where soaking beans overnight seems like just too much planning…”

“Where” refers to “in or what place,” not a thing. Correct usages for these examples: “situations in which…” and “culture in which.”

• “The federal study of more than half a million men and women bolsters prior evidence of the health risks of diets laden with red meat like hamburger and processed meats like hot dogs and sausage…”

“Like” and “as” are not equal and cannot be exchanged as equals. Use “like” in comparisons when you mean “in the manner of” or “to the same degree as.” Use “as” when you want to show equality or in the function of. So, this sentence should have been written: “…with red meat such as hamburger and processed meats such as hot dogs…”

• “Terrie Brady…said the district should work hard to put expenditures like technology advancements and travel expenses on hold…” The rule on the use of “like” in this example is a bit different: Both “like” and “as” make comparisons, but “like” is used when making a single comparison, “as” when making a comparison to several things, such as in this example.

• “…Norman is feeling more optimistic about his ability to turn back the clock. Having a wife that knows all about once being the No. 1 player…” “That” always refers to inanimate things. Unless the writer believes that a wife is chattel, the correct usage should be “who.”

OK. Enough about “like,” “as,” “that” and “where.” Now, how about a look at a blatant proofing error. (Proofer, were you asleep on the job?”

A deck headline to a newspaper article read: “Residents are wary of an idea to change whom operates two courts.”

Ouch! “Whom” is the objective form of the pronoun. In this case, the word should be “who.” The entire phrase “who operates two courts” is the object of “to change.” This mistake is akin to those individuals who want to be “super correct” and say “between he and I.” Uh, uh. It’s “between him and me.”

Why is it important not to print grammar mistakes in the popular press? Well, to me it is obvious: When something appears in print, people (erroneously) believe it is true, accurate, and reliable. These grammar mistakes are none of those things and should not be perpetuated.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

High healthcare costs? Get rid of simple inefficiencies—and greed

August 9th, 2009

We wonder what is wrong with our healthcare system. We wonder why costs are so astronomical. It’s not difficult to understand. Just look at the inefficiencies—and the greed. They are everywhere.

The inefficiencies start with recordkeeping. Every time my husband has taken his 97-year-old mother to the hospital it is the same story: He has to provide the same information to the intake worker. An admission that should take no more than a few minutes and the click of a mouse, ends up taking at least 30 minutes, with the intake worker inputting the information anew. Doesn’t the hospital know that every time data is input, the opportunity to introduce errors (or omissions) increases? Duh.

Other inefficiencies also are due to recordkeeping and the inability of agencies to share information (with permission, of course). When my mother-in-law was discharged from rehab/nursing home last week, a home-healthcare nurse was supposed to visit. Once they finally came out, the nurse took down all of the information that was available from the nursing home (and the hospital). Could she have accessed records and merely updated information?

We had to fire that agency because they were unreliable. We hired another, which had come out to our home several times in the past—so it had the healthcare records. What was the first thing the nurse did? You guessed it: She took down, by hand, all of the information. Why didn’t she have the records with her? And why couldn’t there have been a sharing between agencies?

It’s actually worse than I describe: This nurse had a computer. I did not see what she was looking at. It could have been my mother-in-law’s records, or it could have been some government or agency forms. Whatever it was, she copied what she was reviewing on screen to a handwritten form!

And of course, there is greed. In my previous post, “Just because you can…” I commented on the ethics of the doctor who performed multiple surgeries on my mother-in-law and left her much worse off than she was before she went to him initially. I am convinced it was greed, allowed by the system, that encouraged him to do those things. And I find it extremely interesting that Medicare recipients get just enough rehab to take them through the end of Medicare coverage—whether they need it or not!

We need a complete overhaul of our medical system. I am disappointed that Mr. Obama has caved in to the pharmaceutical, medical, and insurance industries and abdicated the only thing that makes sense: a single-payer system. Sure, that would require a completely new paradigm of how we “do” healthcare. But, that is what we need. The system as it is “working” today costs us too much in too many ways.

It is time to change.

Just because you can…

June 14th, 2009

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. That piece of ethical sense seems to escape a lot of people—especially in the medical community.


How about the artificial insemination that resulted in octuplets being born to a single mother (with no means to support her children) who already had sextuplets from a previous artificial insemination? Wasn’t that a breach of medical ethics?


It can be argued that such cases of medical ethics are not mine to judge. I can, however, judge something much closer to home: The medical treatment of my 96-year-old mother-in-law.


For a person her age, she is in remarkably good health. She gets up early every morning; puts on makeup; and take a mini-bus to the senior center. Once a week she arranges a mini-bus ride to have her hair done. She exercises on the Gazelle every day. And when the weather cooperates, she takes a walk around the neighborhood, pushing her walker and resting when she needs to.

She is like the pink bunny in the battery commercial: She just keeps on going.


Although she looks at least 15 years young than her age, her body almost 97 years old. And inevitably, it is wearing down. She is unrealistic does not want to accept that fact. She believes that problems—such as her urinary incontinence—can be fixed the same as they were when she was 75. So she asked a urologist to fix the problem.


He tried some relatively noninvasive procedures, which did not work (no surprise). Then instead of saying “no” to her request, he agreed to perform a surgical procedure to fix the problem.


In a younger woman, the type of surgery he proposed is considered safe, easy, and effective—in and out of the hospital in 24 hours. But for an almost-centurion? Not so.


Here is what happened:

  • He performed the procedure and claimed it went well. He didn’t notice, however, that she began talking with a crooked mouth—sign of a possible TIA (mini-stroke).

  • A neurologist ordered a CAT scan to look for stroke damage. (Although she did not have a stroke, the droopy lip persists.)

  • She spent five days in the hospital, then the urologist sent her home without regard for physical therapy and with a catheter in place. (Geriatric patients lose muscle tone very quickly lying in bed and require rehabilitative therapy.)

  • Two days home, she came down with pneumonia-like symptoms and had to go back into the hospital.

  • The internist treated her chest congestion and she stayed in the hospital for another five days.

  • While she was in the hospital, the urologist removed the catheter and released her (at our insistence) to a rehab center.

  • At 11 p.m. the evening of her release, she was sent to the ER with severe bladder spasms.

  • She was readmitted to the hospital, and two days later, the urologist performed a second major procedure to undo part of his surgery in order to relieve the bladder spasms. (That is major surgery No. 2 within 10 days.)

  • Three days later, still in the hospital, she again experienced bladder spasms. The urologist took her in for her third major surgery to undo everything he should not have done in the first place.

  • She was finally released to go to the rehab center—still with a catheter.

The prognosis? She may require a permanent catheter—a condition much worse than she had had prior to the first surgery.

Three major surgeries within less than three weeks. Almost three weeks in the hospital. Weeks to be spent in rehab. And possibly a major physical limitation.


And we wonder why our healthcare bills are so high!


Was that doctor a namby-pamby—unable to say “no” to a patient?


Was he ignorant of the special needs of the elderly?


Or was he just money-hungry and wanted to take Medicare and her excellent insurance for all it would pay?


I don’t know the surgeon’s motivations. All I know is that I am angry. I am not opposed providing good quality healthcare to the elderly. I am opposed to doctors’ doing needless procedures whose risks outweigh the benefits.


This blog entry did not have anything to do with communication, but I felt a need to write it.


Until next time,
Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Where, oh where, is where?

March 17th, 2009

Time to scratch another itch that has been bothering me — the use (or rather, misuse) — of the word where.

According to the dictionary, where can be used as an adverb, a conjunction, a pronoun, and even a noun. But for one poetic exception, its use always refers to something spatial — a place.

That seems pretty clear to me. So, where were the editors when I found these where errors?

• “They want better results than they might obtain on their own where they do not have the training or experience to feel comfortable making these decisions…”


Actually, I’m not sure what the author meant to say. I think he meant, “They want better results than they might obtain on their own, although they do not have the training or experience to feel comfortable making these decisions.” But, that’s what happens when you do not select words precisely.


• “We found that in elite athletes where there was more likelihood of obtaining sports injuries, there was an increased risk of OA in the damaged joints, but in most people vigorous, low-impact exercise is beneficial for both its physical and mental benefits.”[doctor commenting on a medical study]


This sentence has several problems in addition to the misuse of where. Here is how I would edit (rewrite) it: “We found that elite athletes who were more likely to get sports injuries had an increased risk of OA in the damaged joints. However, in most people, vigorous, low-impact exercise provides both physical and mental benefits…”


• “Nucleation is the step where the solute molecules dispersed in the solvent start to gather…” Correctly stated, this sentence should read: “Nucleation is the step in which the solute molecules dispersed in the solvent start to gather…” 


Why is it so difficult to use this five-letter word correctly? I hear it misused on the radio by announcers and discussion hosts. (I expect more from NPR and faulty grammar.) I see it in the newspaper and in magazines. (Shame on the writers; more shame on the editors.)

I grant you, language is dynamic. It changes with the times. But, I can find no reason for where to take on a completely new meaning, especially since we have so many other fine words that more  than adequately provide descriptions.

I am probably fighting a losing battle. Those who misuse where will continue to misuse it, and editors — who were overworked before the recession caused their numbers to be cut — are now more overworked and are likely to skip over grammatical mistakes that annoy me to no end.

Of course, I have no control over anyone else, so I will refocus on what I can do. So, beware! If you give me something to edit, where will be on my watch list!

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

At last! A leader who can speak and inspire

February 25th, 2009

I confess that I am a fan of President Obama. I also confess that I never felt warm or supportive about our former president, whose competencies were questionable. That said, this blog entry is not about politics. It is about communication. It is about President Obama’s address to the nation last evening.

It was refreshing, to say the least, to listen to a president who has a command of the English language. Mr. Obama spoke with eloquence, passion, and humility. He conveyed his vision and his determination to lead us to recovery. It is inadequate to say he was an inspiration. Rather, he inspired.


In short, Mr. Obama looked like, acted like, and spoke like a servant-leader.


Earlier in the day, an NPR reporter told radio listeners that the Republican response to Mr. Obama’s speech would be given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The reporter also speculated that Jindal might have been selected as a sort of trial balloon – that Jindal might take a run at the presidency in the next election. With that information in mind, I was curious to see what he would say and how he would say it.


For the first five or 10 minutes of his speech, all Mr. Jindal seemed to talk about was himself. Finally, he started to attack the Democratic Congress and its decisions to pass the stimulus package.

What struck me, however, about Mr. Jindal’s address was his lack of sincerity. He tried to appear sincere, just as former President Bush tried to appear sincere. But, there is a big difference between acting sincere and being sincere, and even a two-year-old can tell the difference. Mr. Jindal came across as talking down to his audience. It was not so much what he said, but how he said it.


I don’t know about you, but I am turned off by people who talk in a condescending manner to me.

If Mr. Jindal were putting out a trial balloon, it lost its gas, very quickly.


As I said, this blog isn’t about politics. It’s about communication. Leaders need to be able to communicate if they want to inspire. Great leaders communicate their vision and inspire their supporters to follow.


Mr. Obama inspired. He is a leader.


How great it is to have a president who knows how to talk.


Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing & Editing Solutions


Some thoughts on employee loyalty

February 19th, 2009

I read an article recently stating that job seekers should never disclose to prospective employers anything that might suggest they were disloyal to their former employer. That started me thinking …


Employers expect loyalty from their employees. Not an unrealistic expectation, I think – except some employers have a skewed understanding of loyalty.


For example: Is an employee disloyal if he:

  • Writes a book on his own time, after work hours?

  • Takes a part-time job (which does not interfere with his regular work)
  • Continues to be friends with a former co-worker who left either voluntarily or was fired?
  • Talks about retirement plans, which are two years into the future?
  • Discusses with co-workers how things could be improved at work?
  • Decides not to participate in an after-hours drinking party arranged by the boss?

To my way of thinking, none of these things shows disloyalty. Yet, over the years I’ve known employers who expect their employees to “live” their jobs 24/7, never question decisions, never leave, and to cut off all communication with former co-workers because anyone who has left is disloyal.


So, what is loyalty?


Loyalty is more than merely staying with an employer. I believe loyalty is giving full commitment and energy to an employer throughout the entire working day, being faithful to the company by never doing it any harm and always working toward its success, and not bad-mouthing it to outsiders.


In other words, loyalty is working a full day for a day’s pay and respecting the person (entity) who signs the paycheck.


A person is not disloyal because he has a life outside of the office. And an employee is not disloyal just because he wants the workplace to be better.


Employers who question their employees’ loyalty should look at how loyal they themselves are to their staff, because loyalty does not travel down a one-way street. And they should consider these truisms:

  • Disagreement is not disloyalty. Disagreement encourages a diversity of opinions and better solutions to problems.

  • People who live a balanced life are more productive than those who are workaholics. People who live only their jobs eventually burn out, and burn out leads to disgruntlement and lower productivity.

  • Employees who remain with a company because they are afraid to leave are likely to be less productive than those who stay because they like working for the company. Fear in any form has no place in the workplace.

  • Loyalty is not a given. It must be earned.

Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

A word about Michael Phelps

February 10th, 2009

Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps really did a number on himself when he was captured on film inhaling marijuana … or did he? I think it depends on what his contract with Kellogg’s stipulated.

The grapevine says that a number of groups in favor of the legalization and/or decriminalization of marijuana intend to organize a boycott of Kellogg products because the cereal company dropped Phelps following publication of the photos. The organizations claim that Phelps was hired to promote a product — not to be a role model. Before they begin their boycott, I would encourage these groups to find out what Phelps’ contract specified.


If his contract spelled out that Phelps would endorse products and serve as a role model, and in his endorsement capacity he would not engage in any behavior — especially illegal behavior — that might tarnish a role-model image, then Phelps deserves to lose the deal. But, if the contract did not mention anything about the purpose of his endorsements or a prohibition against illegal behavior, then shame on the lawyers who drew it up.


A contract is an example of a situation in which words definitely count. Just ask former beauty-pageant contestants who have lost their crowns because they broke the spelled-out rules.

So, I am curious about Michael Phelps’ contract: Did it contain a morality clause? Or did Kellogg merely assume he would be a good, law-abiding young man? Was he hired merely to sell corn flakes? Or was he hired to be a role model who would influence little children to eat their corn flakes and grow up to be like him?


Even if the contract did not spell out consequences for illegal or scandalous behavior, common sense should have kept Phelps from putting his future at risk. Some things are best done in complete privacy. Then the words (or the lack of them) wouldn’t have mattered.


Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

My mother, new ways to communicate, and me

January 7th, 2009

Several million people will celebrate on my mother’s birthday — not because she will be turning 87, but because her birthday is January 20, inauguration day. I will be among those who will salute Barack Obama on his historical ascendancy. But I will also salute my mother.

She’s really a pretty feisty character. I can usually tell about what kind of day she is having by the amount of complaining she does about her computer.

About four years ago, I thought it would be good if she had a computer so she could e-mail her seven children and possibly others. (A few, although not many, of her contemporaries have computers.) I had recently purchased a new laptop, so I gave her my old one. Although it wasn’t fast, I thought it would be good enough for dial-up e-mail. So, I set her up with a free Juno account and taught her (long distance) how to use it.

Well, the fascination with e-mail turned into a fascination with the Internet. And mom became a surfer. She discovered sites she enjoyed looking at regularly, such as the newspaper in our old hometown. (She reads the obituaries every day.) She even learned how to Google. The old laptop was slow, but it gave her enjoyment — when it worked properly. When it failed to work right, she would call me to become her computer repairer. (Somehow I have always been able to fix her problems.)

Shortly after my father died, her computer died, too. I knew she was depressed when she declared that she wasn’t interested in the computer any more, so the computer’s death didn’t matter. I knew it did, though, and so we siblings chipped in and bought her a new laptop.

One day (her interest renewed but her frustration growing because the new laptop came with Vista), she told me she wanted to get high-speed Internet. So, I helped arrange for cable Internet access.

We’ve had some ups and downs with the access. When she moved, somehow her password got changed. She doesn’t always know the right questions to ask or the right statements to make to the help-desk people, but we have always managed to get the account straightened out.

Mom uses Webmail instead of an e-mail client on her laptop. As often as I have explained that her mail resides at the “post office” in cyberspace — not on her computer — she doesn’t quite understand.

Recently, I installed LogMeIn (a great “freebie” remote-access program, incidentally) on her computer so I can access it easily to run cleanup programs and tune it up. When I installed it, I also signed her into Windows instant messaging. I showed her the “little green man” in the toolbar and explained how to use IM.

The next day, while I was online, I saw her sign in (automatically, when she starts up the computer). I IM’d her. No response. I tried again. No response. Later that evening, I called her and asked her why she didn’t respond. She said she didn’t know what to do. I explained again.

The following day, I IM’d her — and she responded! Chalk one up for the grand old dame!

Today, I went offline for a while, since I was out of my office. Later, I called her and she said, “I click on that little man, but you weren’t there!” Chalk another one up!

I guess the moral to this story is that you can teach old dogs (or mothers!) new tricks. My daughter is even teaching me some. She (and my daughter-in-law and others in the family) recently signed up for Facebook. She suggested I do, too.

Well, I did. I’m an advocate of networking, and I have a growing number of contacts on LinkedIn. But I’m not too sure about Facebook … I don’t need it. What good is it? Why? Ooops … that’s my mother talking, not me! Who know, maybe I’ll get mom signed up, too.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions