Talking Chairs
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17 “best of the best” headli...

One reason many of us work in corporate communications is that it offers a broad range of writing assignments. From writing the CEO’s blog to press releases to white papers to advertising copy — we are continually challenged. But . . . there are always the assignments that you dread. The assignments that leave you wondering at what point in your career you became a hack. For me, that assignment is headline writing. Rather than feeling discouraged about my inability to generate a clever headline, I look to others for inspiration. I recently found several lists of...
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7 ways corporate comm professionals can ...

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Brene Brown On the surface, this quote may not seem to apply to corporate communicators. Yet Dr. Brown, speaker, writer, and professor, is addressing a work issue we all struggle with. The need to consider our own workloads — and those of our employees — before we obligingly commit to more work, more projects, more wheel spinning. Factoring in staffing constraints, the time it takes to learn new tools and technology, and the sometimes-outlandish...
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15 topics for small talk

There are no small parts, just small topics of conversation. We’ve all been in situations that required us to make awkward small talk. Perhaps it was at the office holiday party, at a dinner with clients, or at your child’s dance recital. Or maybe you have nosy in-laws or a co-worker who frequently “pops in” to your cube. Need some neutral topics of conversation for these encounters? How about language? Below are 15 little-known facts about the English language that can help you fill an awkward void. 1. The English language has 1,100...
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25 ways to spend your vacation time

It’s only March. It’s still cold and dreary. You need to file your taxes. Your annual report content is due. You still have to suffer through performance evaluations. Yet, it’s never too early to start thinking about your next vacation. Not sure of your plans? Take a look at this list of vacation slang to determine what you want — and don’t want — to do on your next vacation. (Terms from Urban Dictionary and Urban Thesaurus.) Booze cruise — a short cruise taken to binge drink, both on the boat and in the ports-of- call.Bosscation — the...
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Phobias that stymie writers

What fears are keeping you from doing your best work? William Shakespeare was reportedly afraid of dogs. Ray Bradbury had a fear of flying. Hans Christian Anderson was terrified of being buried alive. Stephen King’s list of fears include spiders, closed-in spaces and writer’s block. Yet these phobias didn’t stop these authors from writing. After all, “You have to be a little nuts to be a writer,” King once said. Let’s take a look at the types of fears that could impede your progress as a writer. You may not get very far if you don’t confront these...
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Quiz: Find the errors in these sentences

Make your editor proud. Identify the grammar and style errors in the sentences below. Check your answers by scrolling to the bottom. Quiz We play all the hits from the 70’s and 80’s. I’ll need to get cash from the ATM machine before we go out. We need to reign in the efforts by HR to require all staff to read Corporate Magick. They met face-to-face for the first time in 15 years. Let’s learn about Medicare! As you may or may not be aware, performance reviews start next week. The information on the website is meant to compliment class lectures. Irregardless of what...
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4 ways to start a writing habit

“Forget about inspiration and get into the habit of writing every day. Habit has written far more books than inspiration has. If you want the Muse to visit you, she needs to know where you are: so stay at your desk.” — Sir Philip Pullman, author of “His Dark Materials” For PR Daily readers—who spend their working lives crafting messages for companies, clients, leaders, co-workers or employees—this advice is tough to take on. The last thing you want to do at the end of the day is work on your memoirs. Yet, you can motivate yourself by creating writing...
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How to nail subject-verb agreement

About half of all grammatical errors are mistakes in the use of verbs. As professional writers and editors, we sometimes focus so much on choosing the right verbs that we forget the basics of these powerful and sometimes troublesome parts of speech. Here’s a brief look at two problem areas involving subject-verb agreement.   Collective nouns Collective nouns define more than one person, place or thing (e.g., team, class, audience, panel, staff). These nouns take either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether the word refers to the group as a unit or to its...
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Do you believe in “old writer̵...

If you spend your life writing, you know that much of your time is spent staring at the page or screen trying to think of what to write next. Maybe you know what to write next, you just can’t land on the right words. Maybe you found the right words, but self-doubt has crept in and you want to start over. This may be why writers have so many quirks, odd habits and superstitions. Dr. Seuss wore a hat when he felt stuck. Isabel Allende begins writing all her books on January 8. Charles Dickens always slept facing north, believing it made him more creative. Since it’s...
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10 post-holiday gift ideas

Didn’t get exactly what you wanted for the holidays? Want to pick up a little something for yourself? Start with these great gifts for writers and readers: 1. The Qwerkywriter S keyboard This is truly one of the best gifts I have ever received. This keyboard has the feel of a vintage typewriter (with loudly clicking keys, scrolling knobs, and a return bar) and the function of a modern keyboard (with Bluetooth, function keys and a command Windows/Apply key). With keys engineered to feel and sound like a mechanical typewriter, you’ll be looking for reasons to write with...
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What those performance review phrases ac...

For many of us, January is performance evaluation time. Whether you’re writing one for your employees or will soon be the recipient of one from your boss, we can all use help understanding the “HR speak” so prevalent in these documents. What follows is a sampling of phrases from performance reviews, along with their possible translations. How many of these have you seen . . . or used? Phrase: Does not understand the importance of corporate attendance policies. Translation: You’re late every day. Phrase: Demonstrates an entitlement mentality. Translation: You think...
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Write your way through a tough conversat...

It’s an occupational hazard . . . disagreements with other writers and editors about matters of style or preferences in punctuation. (Serial comma? Did someone say serial comma?) And while we are perfectly at ease arguing the merits of the singular they or the correct way to punctuate bulleted lists, we are not always eager to manage other types of conflicts. No one wants to initiate a difficult conversation or to deliver bad news. Why not using your writing skills to help? Think of your next difficult conversation or meeting as a writing assignment and turn it into a...
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Words with silent letters that trip up w...

As writers and editors (and PR Daily readers), most communicators are all above-average spellers. You’re the one others call for spelling advice. You’re the one who correct what the spell-checker has mangled. You’re also the one who remembers the spelling rules you learned in second grade. Yet, sometimes even you can get stumped and stunned by spelling. That’s how you spell that word? For the incredulous among us, below are 23 words that trick even confident spellers with silent letters and other quirks. 1. Aplomb — self-confidence 2. Acquiesce — to give in 3....
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37 alternatives to the word “seaso...

Have you ever referred to your boss, executives, or co-workers as “seasoned?” “Ann is a well-seasoned marketing executive.” “Jaden is a seasoned lecturer with 20 years of experience in high tech.” Please stop. I know, I know. Part of our role as corporate communicators is to write profiles and bios for our clients and executives. And sometimes it’s difficult to come up with new ways to describe our subject’s work experience. But “seasoned” describes food. Pork ribs can be seasoned. Grilled vegetables can be seasoned. People cannot be seasoned. Next time...
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How to end face-to-face conversations

What’s worse than someone who talks your ear off on the phone? A co-worker or family member who drones on and on in person can be a busy communicator’s worst nightmare. It could be the neighbor who corners you in the front yard or the guy in line with you at the bar at a networking event. And then there’s the family get-togethers and the work holiday party—prime settings for long and awkward interactions. How can you politely and professionally excuse yourself in a face-to-face conversation? There’s always the classic: “Is that the restroom? Please excuse me...
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How to shut down a never-ending phone ca...

Everyone has worked with someone who refuses to pick up the phone, insisting that everything can be solved through email, IM or texting. You might do it yourself. The name and number of a difficult client appears on your caller ID and you let it go to voicemail. You tell yourself you can call back tomorrow, but the next day, you respond to the voicemail with an email instead. Many communicators even prefer electronic conversations when it comes to family. How many times has your mom texted you with a request to “please call me when you have a chance” and you text her...
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Minding your manners on social media

Bad manners are everywhere. And these days it seems they are most often on display on social media. And I don’t just mean fake news, election tampering, newsjacking, and all the other ways companies, countries, and politicians try to manipulate us online. I mean the bad behavior exhibited by friends and connections. Sure, there’s a time for photos of you enjoying a drink with friends, or a photo of the meal you just cooked, or for that gym check-in. There may even be a time to post political messages, 75 photos of your vacation, Bible verses, and information about the...
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21 fortunes for PR professionals

Does it seem like fortune cookie fortunes have become more preachy than prophetic? That rather than telling you what to expect in the future they tell you what to do? You may even wonder if you’re reading a fortune or talking to your mother-in-law. Following this current fortune cookie trend, here are a few fortunes for PR professionals and corporate communicators. Use them well. Pass the check to the person with the worst spelling. You will be hungry again when it’s time to start writing. You can’t win friends with bad grammar. Write first; edit later. Maybe after...
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Don’t let these plural forms trip you up...

Bewildered. That’s how I feel when it comes to the rules of English spelling. Writers and editors see it daily. I recently had to check the spelling of “subterfuge” because it couldn’t possibly be spelled “subterfuge” (it is). One area of spelling that is particularly challenging: finding correct plural forms. These can trip writers up, because they’re difficult to spell and difficult to pronounce. Below are 29 tricky plurals: antennae asterisks attorneys general axes (plural of axis) bases (plural of basis) courts-martial culs-de-sac diagnoses dos and...
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Cookbooks for book lovers

As a follow up to a previous PR Daily post on cookbooks for writers, let’s take a look at cookbooks for book lovers. In addition to challenging and novel recipes, literary cookbooks offer a glimpse into the life of the author, their characters, and the time, place, and culture they came from.  “Jane Austen Cookbook” — recipes are taken from the Austen family’s “Household Book.” Would love to try: Martha’s Almond Cheesecakes No thanks, I’ll pass: Wine-Roasted Gammon and Pigeon Pie   “Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes Inspired by the Novels of Jane...
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10 cookbooks for writers

It might be early for holiday shopping — but it’s never to early for good food. Though not every writer loves the kitchen, for those who do a cookbook can be a delightful companion. What happens when you combine a love for writing with a love for food? You end up with cookbooks by writers and cookbooks for writers. Check out the list below. “The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For” includes recipes from mystery writers Scott Turrow, Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson and others. “The Artists’ and Writers’...
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A guide to common sports metaphors

Writers and editors frequently encounter mangled and confusing metaphors in messages from executives and co-workers. And it’s our job to correct those metaphors, so we can communicate clearly with our audience. But when it comes to sports metaphors, some pros can quickly strike out. Sports metaphors (or phrases or idioms) are used universally in the workplace. It’s a rare meeting that goes by without a manager asking, “Who will quarterback this project?” or someone mentioning “bench strength.” Yet, not everyone understands these metaphors. For those of us who...
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52 “muscle memory” typos

As a writer and editor who spends hours at the keyboard every day, you probably don’t think about how to type. That ability is built into your “muscle memory”— or more accurately, your subconscious memory. Once you learned to type, there was no need to learn again. Your brain creates “subroutines” that allow you to type (or ride a bike, ice skate, play an instrument) without consciously thinking about it. However, this can lead to mistakes, especially when typing commonly used words. As you type, you might be thinking “thank you” but you type “thanks...
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The dark history behind four common expr...

History is about more than just dates and places . . . it’s storytelling at its finest. While visiting Boston and the city’s historic sites this summer, I was captivated by the stories and storytellers I met there. Tied closely to the history of Plimouth, the Freedom Trail, and the Boston Tea Party is the language used to tell those stories. And as it turns out, the language has a history of its own. Many of our everyday idioms and expressions have dark origins that date back to colonial times. Think about the history of these terms the next time you use them.   ...
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Three essential (and surprising) podcast...

Looking for inspiration, but need inspiration about where to look? Try these podcasts. They may not be designed specifically for corporate communicators, but they do offer new ways to improve relationships and communication skills, understand psychology, solve problems and get past roadblocks with colleagues. “Where Should We Begin?” In this portal into raw emotion, psychology and problem solving, renowned couples therapist Esther Perel counsels real couples as they tell their stories. Discussions are unscripted and riveting. As described in The New Yorker: “The...
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5 warning signs of a lazy writer

Writing isn’t easy. Whether it’s marketing, academic or technical copy, or you’re simply trying to think of what to scribble on a co-worker’s birthday card, writing can be arduous work — more so on some days than others. Communicators don’t want their results or standards to slip simply because they’re having an off day. Even when you feel profoundly unmotivated, avoid these five shoddy practices. 1. You don’t consider your audience. In corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to the demands of executives or...
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41 alternatives to the word “amazi...

If you pay attention, it’s appalling how many times you see the word “amazing.” It doesn’t seem to matter what’s being described — “amazing” is the go-to adjective. “You’ll have an amazing time.” “She’s an amazing leader.” “This amazing tool makes accounting fun!” If everything is amazing . . . then nothing is amazing. We’re all writers here, so let’s see if we can’t come up with a few alternatives to the word “amazing.” Here are a few to get started, though not all of these will apply in every...
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Hyphen, en dash, or em dash?

As experienced writers and editors, many PR Daily readers harbor a dislike for the hyphen. It’s a punctuation mark that’s supposed to help writers avoid ambiguity, but it can confuse readers. Add dashes of varying lengths, and it’s chaos. Chaos aside, hyphens and dashes have different uses and cannot be used interchangeably. Here’s how to tell the difference and use each correctly. Hyphens Hyphens connect words, prefixes and suffixes, and they are generally used to avoid ambiguity. We found ourselves in a dirty movie theater. We found ourselves in a dirty-movie...
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29 inspirational subject lines

Spam folders can be a treasure trove. The treasure? Marketing inspiration. Of course . . . some subject lines are horrible. But, others have potential, and can be adapted and improved. And considering that readers decide whether to read or trash your email in less than a second, well-written subject lines are essential. Here are a few examples of inspirational email subject lines. See what you can do with these . . .                                            Your organic presence Your inorganic presence Does the past still...
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What would the Jane Austen Society do?

Writers can find inspiration anywhere—fiction, podcasts, billboards, movie trailers. Most recently, I joined the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and have reveled in the refinement of its messaging. As one would expect, notifications from this group have been polite, well written and reflective of the personality of the group. In a world of fake news, spam, and ham-handed marketing techniques, receiving their messages is like feeling the sun on your face on a cold day. Here are a few examples that can help you add style to your customer communications: The...
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29 words with unexpected spellings

English spelling rules are just weird. We have words that sound the same but are spelled differently (i.e. you and ewe), words with letters that have nothing to do with how the word is pronounced (i.e. thought, although), words that contain silent letters (knight, pneumonia) and words that don’t have a singular form (trousers, alms). Here’s a look at 29 words that aren’t spelled the way you would expect. Can you spell them without looking them up? 1. Asphyxiate 2. Brusque 3. Carburetor 4. Champagne 5. Convalesce 6. Derriere 7. Desiccate 8. Eerie 9. Handkerchief 10....
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Backhanded phrases courteous communicato...

Have you ever received feedback or comments from colleagues that begin with the phrase “with all due respect”? The phrase is typically used by someone who wants to criticize you or your work, but that person feels the need to soften the message. Of course, “with all due respect” means nothing of the sort. It indicates willful disagreement with someone in a position of authority; subtle disrespect is intended. Here’s an example in context, pulled from a colleague’s email: “With all due respect, I differ with your perspective that my content was a ‘sales...
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10 exercise to help you escape the writi...

Having trouble coming up with the right words? Unable to string more than a few sentences together? Does it seem like your brain is not cooperating in spite of that looming deadline? Perhaps your brain needs a workout. Consider trying out a new writing exercise . . .  constrained writing. It’s just what is sounds like — imposing conditions on your writing, such as disallowing certain types of words or writing to a specific pattern. Imagine writing a short story without using the letter “e” or the word “is.” Writing with a constraint forces you to solve...
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40 alternatives to the word “said&...

It’s a word used so frequently that it’s become invisible. Read any article in the mainstream media and count how many times the word “said” or “says” is used. In journalism school, we learned that the only word we could use to attribute speech was “said.” This was presented as an unbreakable rule . . . like refusing to sign an oath of loyalty to a 16th century king. Ignore the rule and it’s off to the tower with you. The reason for this restriction is the need to maintain impartiality. When it comes to quoting what someone has said, journalists don’t...
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Why the word “significant” i...

How many times per day do you see the word “significant” in corporate communications? “Significant findings…” “Significant growth…” “Significant work…” “Significant challenges…” “Significant change…” “Significant consequences…” Do you even notice it anymore? The word is used so frequently—in everything from LinkedIn profiles to press releases and annual reports—that it’s lost its meaning. As any graphics design professor would say: If you bold everything on a page, nothing is bolded. If everything is described as...
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16 clever pangrams for word lovers

How often does every letter in the alphabet appear in a sentence? That’s exactly what makes a “pangram” special. The most well-known such phrase is: “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.” Pangrams have been used for years to teach handwriting and typing—and to test typewriters, telegraphs, printers, typefaces and software. Graphic and font designers use pangrams to illustrate their work. For many pangram enthusiasts, the best pangrams are those with the fewest letters. “Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx.” is considered a “perfect pangram”...
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A trademark quiz for PR professionals

Pop quiz: What do the following terms have in common? escalator kerosene corn flakes yo-yo These terms were each coined as a brand name, but were later appropriated by consumers as the generic name for the product. According to the International Trademark Association, “these ‘ghost-Marks’ serve as historic and costly reminders of what can happen to marks if the public comes to regard a brand name as the generic name of a product.” If you went through journalism school or have spent any time with the AP Stylebook, you’re familiar with the style rules that call...
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In defense of adverbs

Adverbs aren’t very popular these days. We all know how Stephen King regards and Mark Twain regarded them. English teachers, writing coaches, and would-be authors advise everyone to avoid them. J.K. Rowling—best-selling author and creator of the “Harry Potter” series—has been criticized relentlessly for her use of them. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at adverbs, the most maligned of the parts of speech. Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They describe how, when, where, and how much. Example: “I was soundly beaten the last time I...
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The secret lives of fonts

We take typefaces for granted, rarely changing the default fonts that come with our software, web browsers or devices. If we decide to change a font, we mindlessly scroll through the list of typefaces, oblivious to the stories of their creation, the people who designed them, and the controversies surrounding their use. ( A font is a specific form of a given typeface. Verdana is a typeface; 18-point Verdana bold italic is a font.) Well, every typeface has a story—and here are seven of them. 1. Calibri — A modern sans-serif font, Calibri was designed by Dutch type...
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9 puzzling phrases and their meanings

Fifty years from now, will people know what “wardrobe malfunction,” “mullet,” and “right-sizing” mean? As word connoisseurs, writers and editors are often fascinated with how language changes over time. Of particular interest are idioms and phrases that were once in common use but now puzzle us today. Here are some phrases that require some word sleuthing: (Expressions and definitions From Bees’ Knees and Barmy Armies: Origins of the Words and Phrases We Use Every Day by Harry Oliver ) 1. Bee’s knees — someone or something particularly good,...
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How communicators can celebrate Pi Day

Pi Day — an annual celebration of the mathematical constant Pi — is observed on March 14. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter. For any size circle, divide the circumference by the diameter and you always get same number: 3.14 (with many subsequent digits). Pi day not only offers us a great excuse to eat pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also a way to combat one of the most annoying generalizations about PR professionals: PR pros (and writers and editors) are bad at math. I wouldn’t say word nerds are bad at math; maybe it’s that...
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4 bad writing habits — and how to break ...

Neuroscientists and psychologists tell us the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new, better habit. For example, if you drink too much diet soda, a good way to cut down is to establish a new habit of drinking 8 ounces of water before you reach for a diet soda. The same can apply to writing habits. Here are four bad writing habits, along with ways to replace them with better tendencies: 1. Bad habit: You ignore your audience. In the world of corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to the whims and demands of...
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24 phrases gaslighters use against you

If you’ve ever spent time around a gaslighter, you know what they’re capable of. Gaslighters engage in the manipulation technique of distorting known facts, memories, events and evidence to invalidate a person’s experience. The idea is to make those who disagree with the gaslighter question their ability, memory or sanity. (See it in action in the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.) Gaslighters use lies, false promises and personal attacks to make those around them doubt themselves. For example, at a meeting on Tuesday, your boss...
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Fall in love with these words

On February 14, let these words draw you in and caress your mind. You’ll like the way they look. You’ll like the way they sound. Most of all, you’ll like them because they’re unusual, archaic and fun. (If we could only find a way to work them into our press releases.) What words are you in love with, PR Daily readers? Here are 14 fun ones: 1. Beslobber — to smear with spittle or anything running from the mouth. In this drunken and beslobbered state, Jacob returned to the hotel. 2. Denouement — the final outcome of a story, generally occurring after the climax...
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7 tactics for motivating your personal w...

If you spend your working life crafting messages for your company, clients, leaders, co-workers, or employees, you have no doubt suffered from writing fatigue. Writing fatigue in our day jobs means that we may have little motivation to write for ourselves. The last thing you want to do at the end of an endless day is work on your memoirs. However, there are ways to motivate yourself. Below are a few recommendations, based on research and advice from other writers. 1. Challenge a fellow writer. Do you have a friend or colleague who can’t find time to write, either?...
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7 all-purpose (and glittering quotes) fr...

There are many reasons to fall in love with the Netflix series “The Crown.” There’s the character development, the deference to historic detail, the gorgeous settings, the lavish costumes, the British refinement, the strained politeness. Yet, it’s the hard-hitting dialogue that makes the show a writer’s dream—and an inspiration to communicators of all stripes. Need to have a difficult conversation with your boss, reprimand an employee, or kick someone to the curb? Take a look at these quotes and add a little style to your messaging. 1. “I’ve been queen...
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Word lovers: Get acquainted with this di...

All word enthusiasts have their own favorite online or in-print dictionaries. I’ve always been loyal devotee of the Oxford English Dictionary, but now there’s a new dictionary in my life. It’s not you OED; it’s me. The Chambers Dictionary is described as the “most useful and diverting single-volume word-hoard available.” It is also the preferred dictionary of literary heavyweights Philip Pullman, Melvyn Bragg and Ali Smith. The dictionary contains more entries than any other single-volume English dictionary, with definitions that are short, to-the-point, and...
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Words you should excise from your writin...

You can count on two things in January: plenty of articles, news stories, and posts listing popular New Year’s resolutions and plenty of articles, news stories, and posts listing all the reasons people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions. This can all lead one to surmise that New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time, but that would be folly. It’s always worthwhile to sharpen your writing and editing skills, as many PR Daily readers will agree. If one of your goals for 2018 is to improve your writing, consider excising unnecessary words and phrases from...
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4 reasons for PR pros to stay home if th...

Do you have a co-worker whose cough sounds like she belongs in a hospital? Given all that we know about how colds, flu, and other nasty viruses spread (particularly in January, the height of flu season), and given that many companies now allow employees to work from home, not to mention laws that many employees get paid time off for illness, why do so many professionals go to work sick? For those who need convincing, here are four reasons to stay home: 1. You can make others sick. Covering your cough, washing your hands, using tissues, and sneezing into your sleeve are...
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8 glittering quotes from “The Crow...

There are many reasons to fall in love with the Netflix series “The Crown.” There’s the character development, the deference to historic detail, the gorgeous settings, the lavish costumes, the British refinement, the strained politeness. But it’s the sharp-witted, hard-hitting dialogue that makes the show a writer’s dream. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the series. 1. “I’ve been queen barely 10 years, and in that time I’ve had three prime ministers, all of them ambitious men, clever men, brilliant men. Not one has lasted the course. They’ve...
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Quiz: Can you define these well-known pr...

Proverbs — they’re phrases and sayings we’ve heard for most of our lives. They use analogy to express a long-held truth or to give advice based on common sense or experience. But sometimes, if you try to define the proverb in your own words, you can’t quite figure it out. The analogy may be too obscure or the comparisons may be too abstract. According to psychology and marketing professor Dr. Art Markman — author of the book Smart Thinking and co-host of the NPR show Two Guys on Your Head — thinking about the meanings of proverbs and re-defining them is a...
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10 famous misattributed quotes

Some of the quotes in our most famous memes are wrong. Wrongly attributed. Wrongly stated. Wrongly shortened. Wrongly turned into sound bites. As journalists, PR specialists, or corporate communicators, we know the importance of capturing quotes from our sources correctly. The same goes for quotes made famous on the Web or in social media . . . the quotes you’ve seen again and again. Before you incorporate these into your work, confirm who said the words and what was actually said. Below are a few of these famous false quotes, along with their corrections. (Sources:...
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Holiday puns every communicator should a...

Be ready for it Now that Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are behind us, the holiday marketing marathon begins. For the next 20 or so days, there will be no escaping the holiday slogans, puns, jingles, and word play. Some of it will be clever. Some of it . . . not so much. Below are a few that fall into the “not so clever” group. You might even call them ho, ho, horrible. Puns Yule love this Be the ghost of Christmas present Fleece Navidad Let’s get elfed up Get caroled away: give the gift of music Brace your elves You’ll love our new Santa-tizer Do you...
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Can you spell these brain teasers?

Last week on PR Daily, a subheading to a post used the word “brouhaha.” It was the first time I had seen the word written out. The word is common in spoken English, but less so in writing. These words can be colloquialisms or jargon and should be used with caution since not all readers will share the linguistic background necessary to grasp their meaning. However, they can spice up dull content and go a long way toward establishing variety in your writing. Here are some words for adventurous writers — along with their unusual spellings. (Definitions courtesy of...
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Negative posts and reviews: How to respo...

As PR and communication professionals, we’re all adept in the art of responding to negative online reviews of our companies and clients. It’s one of our many super powers. But how do you respond to online reviews when you can’t really respond? Let me explain. In certain industries — health care, financial services, legal — privacy laws dictate that a company can’t respond to online reviews because doing so would violate the reviewer’s privacy. For example, a physician cannot respond to a patient’s online review because doing so would violate the patient’s...
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Gift ideas for the co-workers in your li...

by Laura Hale Brockway The season of gift giving is here. This year, remember to think of all your co-workers, not just your fellow writers and editors. From useless gag gifts and goodies to more thoughtful presents, here are 13 ideas. It’s never too early to find the perfect gift. Scrabble Flash Shuffle five electronic tiles to create as many three-, four, – or five-letter words as possible in 60 seconds. The tiles keep time and score, and the game can be set for individual or group play. Tacocat T-shirt For fans of palindromes . . . “Nope” T-shirt To wear...
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27 words without natural opposites

The English language is full of words with uncommon properties. We have contronyms, neologisms, palindromes and portmanteau words. Another set of terms with unusual properties are those known as unpaired words. Unpaired words have no opposite equivalent. They have a prefix or suffix that suggests you could form an antonym by removing the prefix or suffix, but forming their opposites will take more work than that. You can be “disheveled, but not “sheveled.” Unpaired words occur because certain words fall out of common usage (“ruthless” and “ruthful”) or...
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How many of these banned books have you ...

For wordsmiths, the idea of banning books might seem offensive. While conducting research for his high-school English class, my son discovered that some of his favorite childhood books were on the Top 10 banned and challenged books list. His incredulous response was: “’Captain Underpants’—really?” Yes, “Captain Underpants” is on the book of banned books. The American Library Association has been tracking and raising awareness about “documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries” since 1990. The organization said that most book...
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11 definitions for lengthy words

This week, I set out to answer a simple question: What are the longest words in the English language? That led to a not-so-simple question: What do the longest words in the English language mean? Because many of these words are technical and have little practical use, their definitions do not appear in standard dictionaries. After a little digging, though, I now know what “pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism” means—and so can you. Below is a list of the longest words in English, along with their definitions. If you can pronounce any of these, treat yourself to a new pair...
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Great writers on writing

Most of my favorite authors have not written anything new in hundreds of years. The Brontes, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, George Eliot—who all wrote in the 19th to early 20th century—have a combined body of work. Because nothing new will be added to that body of work, I must be content with reading their works over and over again. On Oct. 19, something wondrous is happening. My favorite living author, Philip Pullman, is releasing “The Book of Dust,” a new installment in the His Dark Materials series. A new book from an author I adore—this...
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Should you use an “a” or ...

Determining whether to use “a” versus “an” should not be confusing, but it is. This week, I had a prolonged discussion with a co-worker about why “an MRI” is correct and “a MRI” is not. It turns out that many of us were taught the wrong rules for use of these indefinite articles. I remember being told to use “an” when the word preceding it starts with a vowel and to use “a” when the word preceding it starts with a consonant. The rules actually say to use “an” before any word beginning with a vowel sound and to use “a” before any word...
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World’s most challenging writing t...

One reason I work in corporate communications is that it offers a broad range of writing assignments. From writing the CEO’s blog to email subject lines to medical case studies to advertising copy — I am continually challenged. But . . . there are always those assignments that you dread. Those tedious, soul-crushing projects that leave you staring at the screen, wondering where you went wrong in life. Or the impossibly difficult assignments that leave you staring at the screen, wondering at what point in your career you became a hack. Below are a few assignments that...
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16 email marketing terms PR professional...

Though many PR professionals are fluent in marketing speak, some terms might be unfamiliar. Confusion can especially occur when PR pros’ marketing colleagues use terms related to email and digital marketing or employ abbreviations: “We need to re-think the CTA on that drip campaign because the CTR was abysmal.” Decipher your marketing department’s lingo with this quick guide to common email marketing terms: Inbound marketing — A strategy using content marketing, blogs, events, search engine optimization and social media to create brand awareness and attract new...
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13 annoying verbs

Maybe you overhear someone use them on the train or while you’re waiting in line to buy coffee. Or you see them in a pop-up ad that you can’t close fast enough. Or perhaps your kids use them to purposefully annoy you. No matter how you try to avoid them, they’re out there . . . annoying verbs. Here are a few of most crazy-making verbs that corporate communications has to offer. 1. Conversate — I have no idea where “conversate”came from, but I have seen it in a few corporate emails. Is there something wrong with “talk” or...
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Quiz: How many of these colorful terms d...

Writers can find inspiration for their prose everywhere. Lately I’ve been paying close attention to adjectives—particularly words used to describe color. These words are all over the place: clothing catalogs, travel ads and drink menus, to name a few. Though not used heavily in corporate communications, they can come in handy when you want to paint a clear picture in the mind of your reader. The trick to success is to familiarize yourself with a few of these colorful terms. How many of these colors can you match with the commonly used hues below? (Answers can be used...
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Who are your favorite fictional authors

Fiction is full of interesting characters. For writers, often the most interesting characters are other wordsmiths. After all, who but a writer would best understand another writer? Below are a few of my favorite fictional characters who write—as a vocation or an avocation. They can inspire you with their talent, insights and sense of adventure.   1. Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” Baggins—the hero from “The Hobbit” and a character in “The Lord of the Rings”—is a hobbit from The Shire. Hobbits are known for their love of peace,...
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Bring life to your writing with anagrams

Metaphors, rhyme, and alliteration can help you paint pictures with words and add sparkle to your copy. In looking for ways to keep my writing clever and engaging, I’ve been playing around with rhetorical devices and figures of speech. I’ve been having the most fun with anagrams. An anagram is a word or phrase that is formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase, using each letter only once (dictionary: indicatory). There are several online anagram resources for novices, including Internet Anagram Server, Word Explorer and Online Anagram Solver....
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21 unusual phobias

It’s been said that in English, there is a word for everything. Terms exist to describe groups of animals and other words, and there are even words formed by the combination of two separate words. Having recently unearthed a new phobia—“aerophobia,” or fear of air travel—I’ve taken an interest in words that describe and pinpoint fears. How many of these phobias do you recognize? (Terms from Oxford Dictionaries, Phobialist.com and Fearof.net.) 1. Asthenophobia: fear of weakness 2. Astrapophobia: fear of lightning 3. Ataxaphobia: fear of disorder or untidiness 4....
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Don’t bury the lede: Put crucial i...

“Burying the lede” is the failure to mention the most important, interesting or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first few paragraphs. In corporate communications, “burying the lede” means you’ve failed to highlight the most important or actionable items at the beginning of your message. Let’s say you are writing an email to all employees about a change to your organization’s health care plan. You wouldn’t begin the email with facts and statistics about the rising costs of health care or about the current turmoil in the health care industry....
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Words we almost misspell

Writers and editors with long and varied experience, it’s safe to say that we are all exceptionally strong spellers. We can recite English spelling rules and their exceptions. We’re the ones who challenge words in Scrabble. Even the written words that appear in our dreams are spelled correctly. There are very few words that give us trouble—except for those that we almost misspell. Last week I used the word “piecemeal” in a text, and for a brief second I asked myself whether it was “peacemeal” or “piecemeal.” Below are a few of these problematic words,...
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Test your ice cream vocabulary

We have entered the dog days of summer. Here in Texas, we fully expect it to be toasty this time of year, but this summer has been torrid. I walked outside after work yesterday, and even my eyes felt hot. So begins our obsession with ways to keep cool: spring-fed swimming pools, cold saunas, smartphone fan attachments and ice cream—pounds upon pounds of ice cream. The average American eats more than 23 pounds of ice cream each year. June is the highest production month, though production stays strong through August to meet the summer demand. Along with demand comes...
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9 misunderstood words and how to use the...

How often do you spot words that are used improperly? Maybe it’s “can” instead of “may” or “less” when “fewer” would be correct. Usage mistakes are common and can damage the credibility of your message and your organization. That’s why it’s important to know your definitions. Below are nine words with misunderstood and misused meanings. How many have you been using correctly? (Definitions and usage guidance came from Oxford Dictionaries, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.) 1. Complement Complement means to add to or complete. It can also mean the...
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3 improv exercises to improve communicat...

Inspiration comes to those who seek it. My most recent “ah-ha” moment came during an educational seminar my organization hosted for our physician clients. The topic was how to use improvisation techniques—spontaneity, collaboration and flexibility—to improve communication with patients and staff members (in my case, with co-workers and loved ones). In the same way that word games can improve your writing, improvisation techniques can improve your conversational and listening skills. Practice the techniques below with a partner and then try them at home or...
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21 alternatives to “opportunity...

Do you ever feel that you’re so acculturated in marketing and PR-speak that you use it in your non-work life? I recently attended a wedding in which the couple wrote their own vows. The groom began his recitation with this sentence: “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to marry you today.” To put this in perspective, the groom is an entrepreneur who lives and breathes marketing and client relations. So although that statement not surprising, it does speak to the pervasiveness of phrases such as, “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you,” and,...
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11 ways to say it politely

As an unabashed word nerd visiting the United Kingdom, I was instantaneously struck by the differences between British English and American English (“luggage enquiries” versus “luggage inquiries” at the airport), but also by the general politeness of the country’s public signs. Whether by poetry, pun, or understated word play, these communicators know how to get their message across firmly and politely. Below are a few examples: “Please queue here.” “I’m a bin. Drop your liter in.” “Be a mate. Don’t block the gate.” “We have a selection of...
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Enough with the fluff

We know it when we see it: A writer’s attempt to sound smarter or make an article longer by adding fluff phrases. I estimate that these phrases make up at least 30 percent of the content I edit. The problem with all this fluff? It drives our readers away because many of them strive to read as little as possible of the messages we publish. Unnecessary phrases add to the noise readers are trying to filter out. Below are a few fluff phrases that — in most cases — can be eliminated from your content: As a matter of fact As you may already know At the present time/At...
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11 quotes to share in your email signatu...

Though they’re necessary for professional communications, long email signatures can be annoying. They’re even more annoying when attached to personal emails. I’ve seen personal email signatures with made-up titles, homages to alma maters, tributes to sports teams and, inevitably, quotes. The problem with quotes is that they can be hit or miss — meaningful to some, contrived to others. Here are a few interesting, off-the-wall and thought-provoking quotes to consider for your email signature. 1. “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” — Neil...
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Improve your writing with story prompts

Played any writing games lately? One of my favorites is Storymatic, a game that uses a series of cards to generate story ideas. With each turn, players draw two character cards, such as “a butcher” and “the object of a secret crush,” along with two object cards, such as “a flat tire” and “a secret hiding place.” The goal is to combine all four elements into one story. The person with the most creative story wins. Playing these types of games helps me think creatively and stretches my storytelling skills. So I thought it might be fun to play a few rounds of...
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Fun with corporate jargon

Corporate communicators spend countless hours dealing with jargon. We delete it. We replace it. We enforce style guide rules related to it. We argue about it. Managing jargon is a staple in many careers. Sometimes it’s fun to embrace jargon. Below are 20 outlandish examples of corporate jargon that could be used when speaking with co-workers, or with your boss, or at just the right moment during a meeting. (Terms come from the Urban Dictionary and The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary.) 1. Anecgloat—a story that makes the speaker look good. Before every department...
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13 French terms for writers

Not many of us may realize that around 45 percent of English vocabulary is of French origin. We use words such as art, establish, genre, liberty and perfect every day without realizing they derive from French. Below are some French expressions related to writing and literature. How many of these can you work into your content? (Definitions from Wordnik and Oxford Dictionaries.) 1. Avant-garde— radically innovative or cutting-edge movements in art, music, or literature; a person or group of people who invent or promote new techniques, especially in the arts. JRR...
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Fortify your writing with strong nouns

By now, the writers and editors who read PR Daily are familiar with the advice to use strong verbs. They are the powerhouse of your sentence, and choosing clear, active verbs instead of throwaway ones will improve your message. What about using strong nouns? The same rules apply. In addition to using nouns that are clear to the reader, use specific, descriptive, concrete words, instead of general or abstract words. For example, we will most often use the word “house” to describe a house, but when appropriate, we could also use shack, shanty, lean-to, chalet, cabin,...
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10 nouns I wish were verbs

As writers and editors, we are the experts and enforcers of style and grammar at our organizations and for our clients. We are often the first ones people call when they have a language question. And more than once, we’ve been asked to settle disagreements about corporate style. But sometimes even the enforcers like to break the rules. And that brings me to this week’s post. Using nouns as verbs is usually frowned upon in formal writing. In fact, it’s one of corporate communicators’ biggest writing pet peeves. (As in, “Send me a detailed outline and I’ll...
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A corporate communicators guide to busin...

In corporate communications, TLAs (three-letter acronyms) are everywhere. Not only do we use our own department acronyms (NFP), but also acronyms from accounting, human resources, legal, and IT. Of course, we use acronyms to save time. It’s much faster to say (or write) CPC than “cost per click.” Unfortunately, not everyone knows what CPC means, and if an acronym is not initially defined, its meaning can get lost. Below is a list of common business acronyms and their definitions. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start. ABC...
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Thought-provoking quotes from “Str...

Always a little behind in my TV watching, I recently finished the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a cross between the “The X-Files” and “Freaks and Geeks,” with a smattering of “Red Dawn,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “It” and “The Thing.” The dialogue, foreshadowing and pacing make the show a writer’s dream. The ‘80s references, the soundtrack and the atmosphere make it pure fun. Here are a few of my favorite quotations from characters in the series: 1. “Mornings are for coffee and...
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How to rein in your runaway projects

April marks the beginning of “presentation season” for our marketing department. It’s a two-month period when we focus on a mammoth project that once sucked up time and resources all year long. At my company, we produce an array of presentations for staffers to use when meeting with their various clients. There is a new business presentation (for prospects), an account services presentation (for standard clients) and several line-of-business presentations for specialized clients. We work with different departments and different sets of stakeholders for each...
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How to begin a difficult conversation

Despite having read “Crucial Conversations” (McGraw-Hill) more than once and attending countless presentations on delivering bad news and managing conflict, I’ve never been very skilled in this area. I dread these types of personal interactions, and I’m ashamed to admit that I do what I can to get out of them — at home and at work. But recently I was in a situation where I could no longer avoid a difficult conversation. So I did what many other writers, PR pros and corporate communicators would do: I treated the conversation as a writing assignment. What started...
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5 reasons to eliminate jargon

Jargon is a beast that many writers battle regularly. I made the following edits to the first paragraph of an article for my company’s website. The article was written by one of our in-house cyber security experts. Original sentence: “Cyber criminals are using a spectrum of attack vectors—ransomware, phishing attacks and other malware infections—to obtain illicit access to electronic protected health information (ePHI).” Revised sentence: “Cyber criminals are using a spectrum of techniques —ransomware, phishing attacks and other malware infections—to obtain...
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13 quotes to share with your marketing-c...

Sometimes, a great quotation is all you need to get inspired. Whatever form your department’s shared board takes—an idea board on Pinterest, a marker board in the conference room, a bulletin board in the break room, or a channel on Slack—here are a few great quotes about writing to share with your team: “A sentence should never be cruel and unusual.” —William C. Burton, attorney “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.” —Winston Churchill “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” —Ray...
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20 phrases writers will never utter

Whether it’s because we write for a living or because we write in a corporate environment, corporate communicators have idiosyncrasies. We balance arbitrary demands of clients and executives with the need to craft clear and concise messages. We argue that lazy corporate verbs such should be banned from our company publications. We correct grammar in the books that we read out loud to our kids. We catch typos everywhere—even when we’re not looking for them. In deference to every eccentric writer out there, here are 20 phrases no writer would ever say: “The hyphen...
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How do you define collaboration?

It sounds like a silly question—one you might be asked during an employee training session. It could be a question in a job interview or something your teenager Google searches at the last minute before debate class. How do you define collaboration? As corporate communicators, we all know what collaboration is. We also know—after years of painstaking experience—that collaboration is often more effective in theory than in practice. At my company, there are certain people who refuse to work together, and there are others whose attempts at collaboration lead to meeting...
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11 posts for PR pros

“I am surprised to see how much I have written; with stories, even a page can take me hours, but the truth seems to flow out as fast as I can get it down.”—from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.   Having recently published my 300th blog post, I can now say with assurance, “I wrote a blog about that once,” whenever my colleagues bring up random discussion topics. Below are a few posts of mine that might be useful to corporate communicators and PR pros: Does a friend or loved one have trouble with hyphens? Heading off hyphenation headaches Have trouble...
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8 more logical fallacies to avoid

It’s great to have the courage of your convictions, but you need more than that to put forth a winning argument. In last week’s post, I offered 11 logical fallacies and why it’s important to recognize them in what we see, read and hear. Such fallacies weaken arguments; employing them can make you and your organization less credible. Here are a few more logical fallacies to be aware of: 1. Anecdotal evidence Using personal experience or an isolated example instead of a valid argument or compelling evidence to state your position; often used to dismiss...
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11 logical fallacies to avoid

In a time of fake news, “alternative facts,” Newspeak, and attacks on credible journalism, I’ve focused on teaching my kids how to recognize logical fallacies in what they see, hear, and read. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning that weaken arguments. Once you start looking for them, they’re shockingly obvious. How many of the following logical fallacies can you spot in one day? 1. Ad populum — arguing that because “everyone,” “Americans” or “the majority” thinks or does something, it must be true and right. Example: Whether Earth is flat or...
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What “Would You Rather” do?

On long car trips, my kids will often play “Would You Rather?” If you haven’t played, the game poses a question beginning with, “Would you rather…” and then offers a choice between two good options or a choice between two equally unattractive options. Answering “neither” or “both” is against the rules. With my kids, their questions mostly involve superpowers (Would you rather be invisible or be invincible?); eating things (Would you rather eat a bug or moldy bread?); and school activities (Would you rather be in the science lab all day, or in art class...
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There’s a journal for that?

My youngest sister is in graduate school, earning her PhD in neurobiology. She is surviving the “publish or perish culture” and her team’s work has been published in a number of research journals. This week, I was reading one of her papers when I became intrigued with the titles of the academic and research journals in her citation list. It seems there’s a journal for every topic, no matter how obscure or specialized. So I set out to find exactly how obscure and how specialized, and these are the journal titles that I found. Antipode (offering a radical analysis...
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13 inspiring quotes from Westworld

The winter months are a great time to catch up on TV series and movies that you never had time to watch. During my recent break, I discovered “Westworld .” “Westworld” is a western/science fiction series based on Michael Crichton’s original 1973 screenplay. The show is a writer’s dream. It features well-written, quick-witted, pithy dialogue. Literary allusions are everywhere as characters routinely quote Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Mary Shelley. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the series: 1. “These violent delights have violent ends.” —...
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21 hilariously mangled metaphors

Let’s look at a figure of speech that—when used incorrectly—can leave your readers dazed and confused. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object by comparing it to another unrelated object. Our workplace had become “Westworld,” but with sloppy programming. When used correctly, metaphors help us paint pictures with words, adding depth to our writing. When used incorrectly, the result is quite the opposite. Here are examples of mangled metaphors: That’s a kettle of fish of a different color. You’ve buttered your bread, now lie in it. Never...
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5 signs you’re a bad listener

Ask anyone if he or she is good listener, and that person will invariably say yes. However, research shows that most people overestimate their skills in this area. How do you know if you’re a good listener? I assess listening skills when I interview candidates for employment by asking this question. Ideal answers include, “I turn off my inner voice and focus on the person I’m listening to,” or, “I focus on that person’s words only.” Someone who does this probably has the traits of a good listener. Many of us don’t do turn off our inner voices or focus on...
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6 tips for new writers

Writing is not an easy task. I’ve been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and I still struggle. At least once a week, someone will catch me in a writer’s stare, focused intently on a blank screen, unable to call up the right words. I’m always looking for ways to improve my skills, so I often jump at the chance to help others with their writing. In helping my kids with their English homework or my sister with her fellowship admission essay, I hone my knowledge by offering advice that I haven’t tapped into for years. In the interest of helping...
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How busy should writers and editors be?

As the December holidays approach, it’s now even easier to fall into a trap of being too busy. It’s the trap in which “busy” is the default response whenever you ask someone how they’re doing, even if it’s a result of self-imposed deadlines and activities. Author Tim Kreider most adeptly described this trap in a New York Times opinion piece from 2012: “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety,...
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15 language and literary facts to liven ...

You made it through Thanksgiving without having an awkward conversation about politics or witnessing your in-laws have a meltdown over pumpkin pie. But now it’s December . . . all those holiday office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, soccer team potlucks to navigate. What — if anything — is it “safe” to talk about? How about language? Below are 15 little-known facts about the English language that can liven up a dull conversation or steer a volatile exchange into calm waters. The English language has 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 distinct sounds,...
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Punctuation — making it up as we go

The world of style and usage can feel like the Wild West. Nouns becoming verbs and literally not meaning literally add to writers’ confusion—along with cooked-up punctuation marks such as the interrobang. The interrobang, The Guardian reports, is a non-standard punctuation mark—?! or !?—used at the end of a sentence that asks a question in an excited manner; expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question; or asks a rhetorical question. Here are a few examples: You’ve written a hot bestseller and quit your day job?! The IT department said “no”...
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8 ways PR pros can remember names

Would you rather write your next article on a typewriter — or go to a networking function and try to remember the names of everyone you meet? Pass me the bond paper. I’m horrible with names. I shake hands with someone, the person says his or her name and within 10 seconds I’ve forgotten the moniker. It doesn’t matter if I’m meeting a new neighbor or my counterpart at one of our competitors—the name does not stick. As PR and communications professionals, we know the importance of building rapport and maintaining relationships with clients. It’s not always easy...
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9 gift ideas for readers and writers

Now is the perfect time to find a gift for the writer or bibliophile on your holiday shopping list. Surprise the person in your life who silently corrects your grammar and argues heatedly (and correctly) that “log in” (as a verb) is two words and not one: Give them a present that promotes their linguistic prowess. Here are eight ideas: 1. “Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics” I subscribed to this journal as a birthday present to myself and have not been disappointed. Each quarterly issue features word games, puzzles, proofs, cartoons and more. You...
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There’s a word for that?

Considering that there are an estimated 250,000 distinct English words, those who love to write about words have a plethora of material. Favorite articles I’ve written include words that describe words, confusing word pairs and words that make writers swoon. Let’s continue our exploration of that linguistic trove and look at terms that make us say, “There’s a word for that?” (Definitions below are from Oxford Dictionaries Online, World Wide Words, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.) Abibilophobia: The fear of having nothing to read. If I can’t get to the...
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50 alternatives to the word “disas...

In this exponentially long election cycle, we’ve heard it all — especially with regard to rhetoric. Bluster, braggadocio, misstatements, lies, deflections, words that aren’t words, and mixed and mangled metaphors have littered the messages with which we’ve been bombarded. One word stands out as having been flung around the most: “disaster.” Over the past 16 months, this word has been tossed around more haphazardly than dirty clothes in a dorm room. It’s been so overused that it’s lost its meaning. The English language offers a multitude of alternatives to...
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11 of literature’s best closing li...

First sentences can make or break even the most brilliantly crafted article. Lead sentences are often the deciding factor in whether readers keep reading. This is why we writers struggle so desperately to find the perfect opening lines. Closing lines are a different story. They’re not nearly as troublesome for corporate communicators—but in fiction, an author’s final lines can provide closure, leave readers hanging or take the story in an entirely new direction. For inspiration, here are a few outstanding closing lines from literature: 1. “But, in spite of...
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10 IT terms for PR pros to know

Understanding the language of our co-workers in the IT department is half the battle for PR and marketing pros. I’ve been in enough meetings with marketing, PR and IT professionals to see the pattern. Those on the marketing or PR side make a request. Those on the IT side respond using terms no one else understands. When asked for clarification, the IT folks continue to use unfamiliar terms. It’s frustrating for everyone. To help ease the aggravation, below are frequently used IT terms, along with their definitions (courtesy of Gartner IT glossary). 1. Agile — a...
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3 questions corporate communicators shou...

Corporate communicators, does this exchange sound familiar to you? Co-worker: “We need a flier.” You: “A flier?” Co-worker: “Yes. We need to get the word out about all the latest online courses we are offering. We want to create a flier to go with the membership renewal letters.” You: “How many fliers are currently mailed with the membership renewal letters?” Co-worker: “There are three other fliers.” You: “So, this would be a fourth flier.” Co-worker: “Yes.” You: “And you want the flier to list the titles of the online courses that we...
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21 fortunes for writers

I’ve always thought it would be fun to write the fortunes found in fortune cookies. I’m not nearly clever enough to come up with, “The fortune you seek is in another cookie,” or, “It would be best to maintain a low profile for now,” but see what you think of these: Leo Tolstoy handwrote War and Peace by candlelight. Use the singular “they.” Go on. Try it. Hypergraphia: A compulsion to write, sometimes uncontrollably. Every time you misuse an exclamation mark, a puppy dies. Clarity begins at home. Read what makes you happy. It’s all fun and games until...
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7 quick rules for commas

There is probably no more controversial punctuation mark than the comma. Give three editors the same paragraph, tell them to add commas, and you will end up with three paragraphs in which the commas are all used differently. The Chicago Manual of Style sums up the issue quite nicely: “Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.” Keeping this in mind, here are seven general guidelines for using comma. 1. Use a comma after opening dependent clauses or long adverbial phrases. Here’s an example: “If our click-through rate...
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35 commonplace words that PR pros misspe...

This week, I set out to answer a simple question: What are the most difficult words to spell in the English language? I quickly discovered that I should re-frame the question: What are the most difficult, commonly used words in the English language? There are plenty of obscure, impossible-to-spell words. These are words used at national spelling bees, such as stichomythia or succedaneum. However, when was the last time you used “succedaneum” in a press release? Below is a collection of commonplace words that people misspell the most, based on a consensus from online...
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8 activities to jump-start your creativi...

“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper [or a blank screen], and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.”—Neil Gaiman We’ve all been there. Unable to call up the right words, we stare blankly at our screens and grow increasingly frustrated. What would happen if we let the blank screen win? Instead, we can work on other tasks related to our assignment, but not the writing itself. Would we have more success when we returned to the writing later on? Let’s find out. Here are eight related tasks to try: 1....
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Famous writers and the sports they playe...

Inspired by the Olympics and the daily displays of athleticism and achievement, I began wondering what sports (if any) some of my favorite authors played. I made quite a few surprising discoveries. Jane Austen As a woman of the regency era, Jane Austen “was not expected to unduly exert herself while exercising.” Swinging, playing hoops, see sawing, archery, and bowls and nine pins were the “acceptable” sports and were the ones she most likely would have played. (Source: Regency Ladies at Play) Agatha Christie While living in South Africa, Christie was introduced...
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How many of these rhetorical devices do ...

In an election year, it’s tough to tune out all the pervasive and invasive political messaging. It’s on social media, newsfeeds, TV, radio, pop-up ads that you can’t close fast enough. Although I’m not particularly interested in politics, I am intrigued by the ways candidates use rhetorical devices in their messages. Many of us are familiar with the more common rhetorical devices, such as hyperbole, allusion and analogy; others are more obscure. Next time you hear a political message, see if you detect any of these rhetorical devices. 1. Allusion— an indirect or...
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Beware of fallen rocks: a wording conund...

There’s no easy way to admit this: Sometimes I obsess about word use in the most ridiculous ways. A recent example of this involves a road sign that I pass every day on my commute. The sign says “Fallen rocks,” and it’s on a section of highway surrounded by short cliffs. Over the years, rocks and boulders have fallen from the cliffs, and those rocks and boulders now sit on the side of the road. Occasionally, rocks will still fall from the cliffs, so the sign is there to warn motorists. The issue I have—as well as the reason I’m writing this post—is that I...
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29 interesting word pairs that differ by...

During a recent trip with my kids, we started playing word games to pass the time in the airport and on the plane. A new game we came up with was to start naming pairs of words that differ by only one letter. We came up with quite a few simple word pairs, such as cat/bat; rate/date; purr/pure. But the game made me wonder about longer word pairs and how the one-letter difference changed the meanings in interesting ways. After several searches through online dictionaries, Scrabble dictionaries, blogs, and an article from Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics,*...
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7 more perplexing word combinations

Continuing our look at confusing word pairs, here are a few more to pay attention to. Don’t let these trip you up. 1. Garnish and garner Garnish—to decorate or embellish; to decorate food. I never know if you’re supposed to eat the garnish. Garner—to gather, collect or accumulate; to gather into storage. We garnered our books and created a library of science fiction and 19th-century literature. 2. Incredible and incredulous Incredible—difficult or impossible to believe; astonishing. The number of roadblocks we’ve experienced with this project is...
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8 confounding word combinations

Look-alike and sound-alike words continue to bewilder many — even those who write for a living. I recently had trouble explaining the difference between “epigraph,” “epigram,” “epithet” and “epitaph.” (More on those later.) To cut down on the confusion, I demystify eight perplexing combinations. 1. Accede and exceed Accede means to agree to a request; to give consent. I will not accede to your request to put a video of dancing kittens on the website. Exceed means to be greater or more than something; to extend beyond or outside of. The results from our...
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Quiz: commonly misused or misspelled wor...

I’ve written more posts than I can count about confusing word pairs, words that are hard to spell and words that aren’t really words. Instead of another article about usage, let’s see how you fare with a quiz. Read the list below and make note of which words or phrases are incorrect—either from misspelling or from misstatement. Check your answers at the end. Definitions and usage guidance came from Oxford Dictionaries, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster. Alterior motive Augurs well for the project Brussel sprout Caddy-corner Center around Conversate Coursing...
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Write it out — 41 ways to express frustr...

I’ve had a rough time at work over the past couple of weeks: roadblocks, stonewalling, purposeful lack of communication, siloed behavior. It makes me long for the days when my job just involved writing and editing. Let me correct some serial commas—please. I thought I would try a little writing therapy. Below are idioms and words that describe the frustration I’ve felt lately. I’ve been “at my wit’s end” and “in a stew,” but I’ve also felt bewildered, incensed and riled. How many of these can you relate to? At your wit’s end At the end of your...
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8 resources for finding that perfect wor...

I once worked with someone who used the word “secure” continually. He would write: • “We need to secure advertisers.” • “Have you secured a printer for the annual report yet?” • “I’m not feeling secure about our chances of securing this contract.” I often found myself correcting his writing and replacing “secure” with alternatives such as “obtain,” “get,” “acquire” and “find,” but he was set on the word “secure” and would often change it back. The importance of varying our words to keep readers interested cannot be...
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49 unbeatable words for the game “...

Anyone who spends time with kids knows their patience is truly a virtue. Whether it’s standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for food at a restaurant, kids complain about being bored within milliseconds. Mine are no exception. Rather than reflexively pulling out my phone to keep them entertained, though, we often play an old-fashioned game of “hangman.” In case you don’t remember, the game goes like this: One player chooses a word and the other players try to guess it by asking which letters it contains. Every wrong guess brings the guessing players a...
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6 ways communicators can say “no&#...

Between staffing constraints, workloads and outlandish demands from clients and executives, communications pros are universally overworked. We’re increasingly being asked to do more with less, but sometimes we have to say “no” to a project or offer that cannot be accomplished. Here are six ways you can decline politely, but firmly: 1. Just say “no.” This is easier said than done. I once worked in a department where the director told her staff that they couldn’t say “no” to anything. Many of her employees organized parties and ordered refreshments along...
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Why use “utilize” when ̶...

Most corporate writing is full of weak, meaningless verbs. Consider “implement,” “leverage,” “disseminate,” “promulgate” and the most impotent verb of them all, “utilize.” Like many PR Daily readers, I’ve spent much of my career translating corporate-speak into clear, comprehensible English. I’ve changed “utilize” to “use” more times than I can count. No matter how many times I explain that “use” is preferred—that it’s simpler and less pretentious—someone insists on using “utilize” because it “sounds better.” The “bigger...
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10 writing quotations from “I Capt...

Last summer I had a “where have you been all my life” experience with Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel, “I Capture the Castle.” The book details the story of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her outlandish family, who live in a broken-down castle in the English countryside. In addition to telling her story, Mortmain is also working to perfect her writing skills. The reader is captivated by her narrative, quips, and insights as she chronicles her struggles to properly pen her thoughts. Below are a few quotations from the book to which most writers can relate: 1. “I...
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How to write clearer copy

There are several techniques used capture the attention of your readers, who will likely give your message 10 seconds before they leave your website or delete your email. In previous posts I’ve written about the importance of “starting with the why” and “not burying the lede”—two important techniques that writers should employ. “Burying the lede” refers to the failure to mention the most important or actionable items at the beginning of your message. “Starting with the why” means that you state the reason up front, so everyone understands the purpose of...
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Just say “no” to double nega...

Writers and editors know to avoid double negatives in formal writing. You would probably scramble to correct a sentence like this on your company website: “The facility will not allow no more visitors after 10 p.m.” However, double negatives still exist. The sentence below came from a press release sent by a federal agency: “It is not uncommon for a firm, based on its own appropriate evaluation of potential suppliers and raw material, to change the source of a raw material after the device has been cleared by the FDA . . .” This sentence could be improved...
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26 Latin phrases and expressions

In a scene from my favorite TV show, “Freaks and Geeks,” teenager Lindsay Weir has been caught skipping class. In trying to justify her delinquency, she says, “Daddy, I skipped Latin.” He replies, “Oh. Well, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to learn about that. It’s only the building block of our language.” Whether we realize it or not, Latin terms are everywhere in business and corporate communications. Below are some common ones, along with their translations and definitions (definitions are from Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries): 1. A priori...
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Hilariously misplaced modifiers and othe...

How many of you snicker when you see a sign that says something like this: “Caution heavy pedestrian traffic” In a previous PR Daily article, I wrote about modifiers and why their location in a sentence is important: When used correctly, modifiers add interest and depth to your writing. When modifiers are used incorrectly, the reader may not understand the details of the sentence. A misplaced modifier occurs when a word or phrase is placed too far from the word it describes. Because of this separation, it’s not clear what is being described in the sentence. They can...
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19 of literature’s best first line...

I recently reorganized my books. As I took the titles off the shelves, dusted and reordered them, I was struck by how much I had loved reading them. It was like spending time with every friend I ever had. Whenever I find myself struggling with a writing project, I turn to fiction for inspiration. By revisiting all the books I love to read, I found inspiration in their opening lines—enough to get me through any writing project. Here are several of my favorites: 1. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with...
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17 unconventional words to describe peop...

In the words of author Philip Pullman: “People are too complicated to have simple labels.” We are all guilty of superficially labeling people. We like to take shortcuts, make assumptions, classify and categorize. English is full of words that capture the depth and breadth of the people in our lives. Below are 17 such words. How many do you recognize? 1. Ailurophile: A person who loves cats. My mom prefers “ailurophile” to “crazy cat lady.” 2. Bel-esprit: A person of great wit or intellect. My favorite bel-esprit is John Oliver. 3. Cognoscente: A person with...
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11 simple rules for capitalization

As writers and editors with years of experience in the corporate communications fun house all have stories about the crimes against the English language that we encounter. My latest crime story involves capitalization. I have documents to edit filled with words that shouldn’t be capitalized—such as “federal,” “state,” “statutes,” “cyber,” “laws”—but are uppercase. I have documents to edit filled with words that should be capitalized—such as “West Texas” and “Supreme Court”—but are not. When did random capitalization become acceptable?...
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9 troublesome word pairs

Confusing word pairs are everywhere. I’ve been writing about them for years, and I had thought I had the topic well covered. Apparently I don’t. Here are nine more pairs to pay attention to: 1. Can vs. may Use “can” when referring to the ability to do something. Example: “I don’t think your brother can make you unconscious just by looking at you.” Use “may” when asking for permission to do something or when referring to the possibility of something. Example: “You may not throw knives at each other.” Example: “Your excessive use of exclamation...
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11 examples of exclamation-point abuse

There’s a “Seinfeld” episode in which Elaine breaks up with her boyfriend over his failure to use an exclamation point. If you don’t remember it, Elaine’s boyfriend had written down some phone messages, one of which said that her friend had a baby. Elaine found it “curious” that he didn’t think someone having a baby warranted an exclamation point. “Maybe I don’t use my exclamation points as haphazardly as you do,” Elaine’s boyfriend tells her: I’ve had several conversations recently about the overuse, abuse, and misuse of exclamation points. These...
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How do you deal with nitpicking co-worke...

If you’ve had co-workers and execs who think they can complete communications tasks better than you do, you’re not alone. Though from a designer’s point of view, a comic from The Oatmeal titled “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” chronicles the pain that know-it-alls inflict on PR pros and communicators. Projects can easily get derailed when executives, managers and random co-workers feel obligated to make changes to your work—all so they feel like they’ve done their job. How many times have you heard something like this? · “I made an A in my college...
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Famous writers’ idiosyncrasies

Corporate communicators can be an eccentric bunch. Whether it’s because we write for a living or because we write for a living in a corporate environment, we all have idiosyncrasies—and may develop more as we continue to pen phrases. We balance the sometimes-unreasonable demands of clients and executives with the need to craft messages that are clear and concise. We argue with others about which lazy corporate verbs should be banned from our writing. We correct the grammar in the books that we read out loud to our kids. Throughout my career in corporate communications,...
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17 words about words

There are an estimated 750,000 words in the English language —but the average college-educated American has a vocabulary of up to 80,000 words. That leaves hundreds of thousands of undiscovered words. Let’s explore words about language and writing. How many of these do you know? Definitions are from Dictionary.com, Urban Dictionary, Wikitionary and Oxford Dictionaries: 1. Cheville: an unnecessary word used to complete a verse. 2. Cledonism: avoidance of words thought to be unlucky. 3. Epeolatry: the worship of words. 4. Hadeharia: constant use of the word...
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6 great things that happen when you brea...

Deviating from the rules can be a liberating experience. As writers and editors, we frequently enforce style, grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines within our organizations or for our clients. However, we also know that it’s occasionally necessary to disregard those same edicts. Here’s what can happen when we break writing rules: 1. Your sentences flow better. Take the rule of never starting a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, nor, for, yet, so). Doing so has always been frowned upon, but “and” and “but” are two of the most useful devices for...
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12 quotations that perfectly describe th...

To get an idea of what it’s like to write for a living, turn to those who can turn a phrase. Now that he’s in his teen years, my son and I have been having more serious conversations about his choice of career. (“More serious” means he no longer wants to be an astronaut paleontologist.) We’ve spent a lot of time talking about writing careers. From corporate communications to book editing, there are plenty of career options for people who love to write—but I also want him to understand what it’s like to write for a living. Here are a few quotations from...
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5 tips for writing recruitment ads

Looking for someone to join your corporate communications team? Maybe you need a graphic designer or a copywriter. Of course, the person you’re looking for must not only be talented and creative, but must also fit in with your team. Recruiting can be tough. But there is a way to make the recruiting process easier — a way that uses your expert writing and strategic communication skills — crafting a well written, descriptive, and creative recruitment piece. Here are some tips for writing recruitment copy. Personalize it This may seem obvious, but let people know that...
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6 ways to practice better writing

“Practice as if you are the worst; perform as if you are the best.”—Jaspher Kantuna Although I’ve been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, refining my abilities is something I still struggle with. Despite my dedication to the craft of writing, I’ll have moments when I stare at a blank screen, unable to call up the right words. Sometimes, I’ll go back to something I’ve published and wonder what the heck I was thinking when I wrote it. Writing is a process of practicing, honing and perfecting. Here are some ways to sharpen your skills: 1....
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10 terrific terms to delight word lovers

Like other word nerds, I love to collect quotes about the power of words. Those of us who make a living from words appreciate their power to convey even the most subtle shades of meaning. For example, I love that although they are all synonyms for “arrogant,” the words “pretentious,” “ostentatious,” “haughty,” and “preening” each have different meanings under the surface. Here is a list of some of my favorite words, along with insights on their shades of meaning. Nonplussed— bewildered or unsure of how to respond. I always think of nonplussed as that...
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50 alternatives to the word “excit...

We’ve all seen it, and we’ve likely done it. Beginning a press release with, “Today, Noddles Company is excited to announce the launch of its new Noddle 6.0 product,” or using a quote from the CEO that states, “We are excited about this new partnership with ABC Associates,” is becoming tired. It doesn’t matter what’s being announced—“excited” is the go-to verb among communications professionals. For example, “Today we are excited to announce a new award for outstanding achievement in the field of press release writing excellence.” Make it...
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How to use the ellipsis

In a world of texting and snapchatting, everyone is trying to say more with less. We abbreviate, we truncate, we punctuate—all to communicate using the fewest characters. In my own texting, I use ellipses excessively: “While I’m thinking about it … can you please check that link.” “Doctor’s appointment …10 a.m. … Wednesday.” I’ve even caught myself misusing the ellipsis at work. Wait a minute, did I just write: “I can’t make today’s meeting …too many other meetings …can we reschedule?” in an email to my boss? My overuse...
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The 8 parts of speech: A refresher

Can you name the eight parts of speech? I remember that there are nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions, but what’s the eighth? Interjections. Oh, yes! It’s been way too long since I’ve watched “Schoolhouse Rock” As professional writers and editors, we sometimes focus so much on word choice, sentence structure and clear writing that we may forget the basics. Here’s a review of the eight parts of speech: 1. Nouns Common nouns refer to a person, place or thing. Proper nouns refer to a specific person, place or thing. Proper...
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9 stellar quotes from “A Christmas...

One of the holiday traditions in my house is to read “A Christmas Carol” to my kids. We read it because no matter how many movie versions you see of this classic, nothing compares to Charles Dickens’ style and storytelling. Now that my kids are older, this will likely be the last year we read it together. In honor of the master and this yuletide staple, here are nine powerful quotations from “A Christmas Carol” (minus Tiny Tim’s wisdom): “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” “But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the...
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23 words and phrases with odd plural for...

The rules of English spelling can be baffling. Writers and editors see it daily. I recently had to check the spelling of “prerogative” because it couldn’t possibly be spelled “prerogative” (it is). One area of spelling that is particularly challenging: finding correct plural forms. They can trip writers up, because they’re difficult to spell and difficult to pronounce. Below are 23 tricky plurals: antennae asterisks attorneys general axes (plural of axis) bases (plural of basis) courts-martial culs-de-sac diagnoses dos and...
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8 gifts for the writers in your life

There’s still plenty of time to find that perfect holiday gift for your special wordsmith. However, some people are harder to shop for than others. What can you get the person who already has subscriptions to all the major style guides and worn-out copies of “On Writing” by Stephen King and “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss? Here are eight ideas: 1. “1000 Totally Unfair Words for Scrabble & Words With Friends: Outrageously Legitimate Words to Crush the Enemy in Your Favorite Word Games” For a writer, there is nothing worse than being...
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15 posts for any occasion

You know you’ve arrived as a professional writer when your friends can talk about random topics and you can say “I wrote an article about that once.” I’ve found myself saying that a lot this week. So below are a few of those posts . . . posts for any occasion or discussion topic.   Need to beat someone at Scrabble? 57 words you may not have known you could use in Scrabble Wondering what the singular form of “scissors” is? 39 plural forms that might confuse writers Not sure you spelled “idiosyncrasy” correctly? 50 words you need to stop...
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Phrases to cut from your writing

Writing can often be improved by excising unnecessary words and phrases. Many writers use “crutch phrases” when they’re not sure how to start a sentence or how to connect two sentences. They’re often seen in corporate emails and copy: As many of you are already aware, performance reviews will start next week. The phrase “as many of you are already aware” is meaningless and doesn’t add anything to the sentence. The phrase can be removed, allowing you to jump straight into the sentence: “Performance reviews will start next week.” Here’s another...
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3 websites corporate communicators shoul...

Only four hours after I submitted my last post to PR Daily on writing and language sites you should know about, a friend told me about a few other sites that should have been included on that list. As a follow up, here are three more useful sites for corporate communicators. These aren’t writing sites per se, but they potentially can make your work life easier. Askwonder.com Described as “your personal research assistant,” Wonder allows you to ask a question and within six hours, you will receive an email with detailed answers and resources from a Wonder researcher....
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7 writing and language sites you should ...

As a medical writer, I often end up spending more time researching an article than I do writing it. In that research, I often discover new online sites and tools. In this week’s post, I share some lesser-known online resources that can help make your writing, editing and researching tasks easier. Plainlanguage.gov This site was developed by the Plain Language Action and Information Network, which is a group of federal employees who support the use of clear communication in government writing. The site includes humorous examples and resources on thinking about your...
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5 reasons for PR pros to be thankful

A close friend recently was diagnosed with hypertension. This is surprising because he’s 39, fit, works out every day, eats healthy, doesn’t drink or smoke, and has no family history of hypertension. His physician concluded that the likely cause of his high blood pressure was stress at work. With PR being one of the most stressful jobs in America, a lot has been written about how to reduce stress on the job. One strategy that I find the most helpful is to practice gratitude. When I’m stressed at work, I take a break to think about what I am most grateful for in my...
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How misplaced modifiers muck up your mes...

As a self-professed word nerd and grammar wonk, I am always looking for fun ways to teach my kids about grammar. Our latest grammar lesson occurred when my son and I were listening to the novelty song “Purple People Eater.” Me: So the song says, “I’m a one-eyed, one-horned flyin’ purple people eater.” Does that mean the monster is purple or that he eats purple people? Him: It means he’s purple and he eats purple people. The lesson here was about modifiers and why their location in a sentence is important. When used correctly, modifiers add interest and...
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17 more made-up words

It can be fun to take a break from writing, editing, and corporate communicating to play with words. I love to read and write about words that others have invented. Put aside that press release and let’s have some fun with these made-up words:   1. Afterclap: the last person to clap at a performance or event. I know Alison is proud of her daughter, but does she have to be the afterclap every time? 2. Askhole: a person who asks too many pointless, intrusive or obnoxious questions. I’m never going out with that askhole again. 3. Beerboarding: extracting...
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4 lessons corporate communicators can le...

I’ve never been overly fond of sports metaphors, but I recently discovered how much you can learn about communications by watching my son practice soccer. My son’s soccer coach is an ideal communicator. He’s firm and direct when he’s teaching the team new skills, but also supportive as they practice what they’ve learned. He encourages the boys to try new things and provides candid feedback about their efforts. Coach Marcus also does all this with an audience of highly competitive, yet easily distracted nine-year-old boys. Below is advice he gives from the...
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5 ways to push past writer’s block

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon on a bulletin board above my desk. It shows a kid who’s just built a sand castle. An adult standing next to him says of the castle, “It’s brilliant.” But the thought bubble from the kid says, “Then why do I feel like such a hack?” This week, I feel like a hack. I’ve struggled to complete the simplest writing tasks. Who was it that said, “I hate writing, but I love having written”? Rather than stare blankly at my laptop and grow increasingly frustrated, I reviewed my previous posts on overcoming writer’s block and...
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Is there a stronger alternative to “impa...

“Impact” as a verb . . . go ahead, roll your eyes accordingly. Last week, we had a request to change the verb “affects” to “impacts” in a headline. The requestor thought “impact” was the better choice because it was a stronger verb. Original headline: Recent court decision affects physicians. Requested headline: Recent court decision impacts physicians. Once we explained that using “impact” as a verb is not proper usage, we were asked if there was stronger verb than “affects.” The alternatives were: Recent court decision concerns physicians. Recent...
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Improve your writing with precise and me...

I recently met a fellow writer at a party. But she’s not technical writer, a PR pro or corporate communicator. She’s a food critic. I was immediately curious about her approach to writing. As a medical writer, I would be at a complete loss if I had to describe how something tastes. I simply don’t have the command of adjectives and adverbs required for that type of writing. She told me that in her work, she’s very attentive to how the food tastes and how it’s cooked, and she’s very deliberate in how she describes the food. She also said that it helps to have a...
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17 complicated medical terms and their s...

I’ve written before about the value of using simple words in place of complex ones. The use of complex terms interferes with comprehension and frustrates your readers. But when it comes to medical writing, using simpler terms is not always possible. Medical terminology is notoriously complicated, given the Latin and Greek origins of many medical terms. Then there are the eponyms (words derived from someone’s name), such as listeriosis or Guillain–Barré syndrome. Below is a list of complicated medical terms and their simpler explanations. (Definitions from Medline...
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Is exclusively using “he” a ...

This week, I was asked to fact check and update one of my company’s older publications. The content had been written by a freelance writer who was now retired. The information in the piece was still valid, so it didn’t appear that there was much for me to do. Then I read this sentence in the introduction: “The author recognizes there are as many female doctors and patients as there are males. The use of ‘he’ includes both masculine and feminine genders. It is not meant to offend the reader but rather to avoid a cumbersome writing style.” Hmmmm. I have...
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11 corporate terms and what they mean to...

I once worked for a company where the HR department insisted that we use the term “full-time equivalents” instead of “employees” or “staff.” They’d say, “Our full-time equivalents are our most valuable asset.” To HR staff, the term “full-time equivalents” has a specific meaning, so that’s why they use it. To corporate communicators, “full-time equivalents” is just another dehumanizing HR term that we advise HR staff not to use. (Same with “human assets” or “human capital.”) Below is list of other such corporate terms and what they...
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