Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Tone is everything

Monday, 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,


Ouch! More grammar mistakes that hurt my ears and eyes

Saturday, 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

Where, oh where, is where?

Tuesday, 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

Wednesday, 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


A word about Michael Phelps

Tuesday, 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

Wednesday, 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


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

I can accept bad grammar from those who don’t know any better — such as small children or individuals who are learning a new language or even people who have not been priviliged to have had a good education. But my tolerance runs short when persons in a role-model position (such as the President of the United States) or in a position of written trust (such as newspaper reporters) misuse the language.

I recently witnessed the commission of a grammatical mortal sin in the lead paragraph of a newspaper story published in the Jacksonville (Florida) Times-Union. It was a wire story from McClatchy Newspapers (which owns the Times-Union). The story reported on a fire at a church Gov. Sarah Palin attends in Wasilla, Alaska. The story began:

“WASILLA, ALASKA — Whomever torched Gov. Sarah Palin’s home church tried to start fires in several places about the building … ”

Did you catch the gross error? I hope so. The first word in the sentence should have been “whoever.” This word is used as the subject of the sentence (nominative case, to be technical); whomever is only used in the objective case, as “She questioned whomever she met.”

Shame on the writer of that article! Double shame on the newswire editor who let the story get out with the error! And triple shame on the local newspaper editor who allowed it into print!

Sometimes people misuse grammar when they are trying to “put on airs.” Sometimes, they misuse it because they remember hearing “something” about a rule of grammar and do not want to make a mistake. For example, I hear people — including our President Elect — incorrectly say, “between she and I.” (President-Elect Obama has said, on many occasions, “Between Michelle and I.”) The correct usage is “between her and me” and “between Michelle and me.” Why? Between is a preposition, and words following a preposition must be in the objective case. Hence, the correct words are “her” and “me.”

No one is perfect, even with respect to grammar. I make errors when I speak and probably when I write, also. I hope they are little mistakes, though — ones that don’t cause people to cover their ears.

The problem with published mistakes of grammar is that the writer forgets the power of the printed word. After all, if you see it printed, it must be true! At least, that is the public’s perception. So, those of us who write and publish shoulda tremendous responsibility to publish the truth, even down to the grammar we use.

If you see any grammatical errors in the magazines and newspapers you read, let me know. I think we need to bring them to light.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

The case of evil Outlook

Friday, December 12th, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with my computer: I love it when it works right; I hate it when it doesn’t. Actually, I have discovered that it is not my computer with whom I have this relationship. It’s Microsoft Corp.

The software programs Microsoft has developed are excellent. But when they go wrong, they are bad. Worse than bad — evil. They complicate my life, waste my time, and frustrate me to no end.

Let me give you a “f’r instance.”

I own a six-year-old Gateway computer. As computers go, I know that sounds old, but actually, it is a very fast computer and with the exception of being incapable of burning DVDs, it does everything that a brand new computer can do. So, I am happy with it.

A few months ago, however, I began to have a problem opening Outlook. It would take several tries and manipulations. One day, the program opened but then got stuck. It would not summon new mail; it would not allow me to read any mail; it would not allow me to scroll; and it would not allow me access to my mail folders. It would not even close. I had to control-alt-delete (several times) before it would close. All the while I could not access Outlook, the rest of the computer functioned admirably.

A computer technician acknowledged he could do nothing more than reformat my hard drive. He said that after a long period of time, the computer gets muddled with leftover registrations and other such programming information so that conflicts begin to occur. The only solution, he said, was to reformat. And of course, that meant reinstalling every single program I used. (It also allowed me to get rid of things I didn’t use.)

Many hours later, my computer — including Outlook — began to function normally again. During my research about why Outlook had frozen up on me, I discovered that one cause might be an extremely large data file, which could become corrupted. So, this time, with a clean machine, I resolved that would not happen again.

If you use Outlook, you probably get a message that pops up periodically, “Do you want to archive old messages now?” I had always declined to archive, because I thought I might need to access those five-year-old e-mails. And besides, I didn’t know where the archives were hidden or how to retrieve them.

The first time that invitation popped up after my reformatting, I thought, “Why not? This might keep Outlook from crashing on me.” So, I began to allow archiving.

All was good, I thought, until yesterday. That’s when I clicked on a folder which, incidentally, was not old. The folder was empty. I started clicking on other folders. Empty. Not everyone, but a lot of them.

“The contents must be archived,” I thought. So, I researched how to retrieve archived information. This is when I began to realize how evil the programmers at Microsoft are.

First I had to find the archived file, which was in a hidden folder. Unless you deliberately go into “folder options” in the control panel and click “show hidden files” you will never find “local settings.” It is in local settings that application data, including archived folder, for Outlook resides.

Next, I tried to restore the archived files. I think I did what I was supposed to do, but the lost files did not come back.

So, I investigated some more. I dug around and discovered that the default setting for archiving Outlook messages deletes messages older than six months. So, a lot of the e-mails I wanted to save are gone forever — just because I was trying to avoid a computer crash.

I have now turned off the autoarchive function. I don’t want Microsoft determining which of my precious mail items should be destroyed.

Finally, I made another interesting discovery: Empty e-mail folders are not necessarily empty.

In desperation to find lost e-mail, I did a Google desktop search. Interestingly, as I searched for certain addresses, I was able to open actual e-mails. Hmmm. That suggested the e-mails were still on my hard drive somewhere, although I didn’t know where. So, I decided to find the most important ones, open them, and then move them to the designated folder.

However … when I opened the folder, it was empty! What was this, a conspiracy to stop me from keeping e-mails past their prime?

I poked around some more in the cryptic “Outlook help” and came across information (with inadequate explanation, of course) about views in Outlook. I don’t understand it completely, but somehow, the view was changed, and messages became hidden. Once I changed the view, they suddenly appeared.

Evil. Evil. Evil.

I’ve been using Outlook for at least 10 or more years. And I’ve been using Microsoft products for longer than that. The lesson I’ve learned: Check the default and make sure it does what you want it to. And if it doesn’t, change it.

Otherwise the handiwork of the evil Microsoft programmers will get you.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

It hurts my ears!

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

The presidential campaign was long and tedious. But before we put it completely to rest, I’d like to have a say.

My first choice was Hillary. I thought she had the experience and clout we needed. And, of course, I wanted to see America elect its first woman president. When Hillary was defeated, however, I placed my support behind Barack Obama. Despite his youth and his relative inexperience, he has the look and presence of the Chief Executive of this country. He even sounds like a president (unlike the individual who actually IS president).

However, I would like to make one suggestion to Mr. Obama: Please, please, please … use the correct pronoun following the preposition between!

Mr. Obama, I heard you say on numerous occasions, in both formal speeches and impromptu interviews, the phrase “between [name] and I.”

Ouch! That really hurts my ears! The correct usage is “between [name] and me.” “Between” is a preposition, and it must be followed by the objective case. The objective case of the pronoun “I” is “me.”

Mr. Obama, you are the hope of our nation and a role model to every young person in this country. I know asking you to watch your grammar is a small thing, but it is important. Grammar gives structure and order, and our country needs structure and order more now than ever before, and we are counting on you to provide it. So, if you are reading this, Mr. Obama, please pause before you finish the phrase “between [name] and …” Then use the correct pronoun. Me.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises

3 broken rules

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I know I amlinda an anomaly: I love grammar. Actually, I don’t love grammar so much as I love the order grammar gives to language. Its rules allow us to communicate with little misunderstanding. But, for communication to occur, the rules have to be followed.

I cringe whenever I hear three rules broken — and I heard all three broken time and again as I listened intently to the politicians at the Democratic National Convention last week. As Ann Landers used to say, they deserve 40 lashes of a wet noodle.

The three broken rules? Here they are:

1. “Graduate college (or high school).” Oh, were my ears pained when I heard the phrase,”When I graduated college.” Please! Graduate is almost always an intransitive verb, which means it cannot take a direct object. If the speaker meant to say s/he received a diploma from a college, the correct usage would be “graduate from,” as in “I graduated from Indiana University.”

That said, graduate can be used as a transitive verb, but it is used in this way only rarely. As a transitive verb, it means to confer a degree or certificate, as in “Indiana University graduated 5,000 individuals last spring in an outdoor ceremony.”

2. Over. Such a little word, but it drives me crazy when it is used to mean “more than.” The first definitions of “over” refer to spatial and time relationships, such as “the roof over your head” or “over a period of 10 years.” 

OK. I’ll concede: The dictionary does allow over to mean more than, but this meaning is far down on the list of definitions. So, if you are referring to a number, use more than, not over, as in “More than 38 million people tuned in to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. That’s more than the number tuned in to the Olympics the week before.”

3. There is/there are. Strictly speaking, this phrase is grammatically correct. It is, however, editorially lazy. As an editor, whenever I see that phrase, I look to see if the sentence can be recast without it. And usually it can be. For example, “There are rules that govern speed limits” can be restated, “Rules govern speed limits.” Or “There is only one acceptable answer” can be restated, “Only one acceptable answer exists.”

Does that mean you should never use the phrase “there is”? Absolutely not. Just use it judiciously. This is a case of less is more.

Each year, the editors of Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary come out with new additions in American English in spelling and usage. Language does change, but at a very slow pace. Until it is official, please try not to break the rules of grammar!

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions