Thursday, February 28, 2013

Using More Idioms and Colloquial Expressions to Make Your Communications More Interesting and Evocative—Action Item for Foreign-borns As Well As Those Who Manage or Lead Them

This morning, while listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition,” I was thrilled to learn that Christine Ammer has come out with an all-new edition of her book on American idioms and colloquial expressions--“The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms—Second Edition.”

I have possessed a copy of her first edition since 2002, during which time I must have consulted it hundreds of times. It comes in most handy when I am trying to spice up an email or other piece of writing, or an upcoming presentation, with an interesting expression whose meaning I am not 100% sure of. Of course, I also refer to it on those rare occasions when I hear an idiom or colloquial expression that I am not perfectly familiar with.

When I arrived in the U.S. in 1977 from Bombay, I already had a superior command of English because that was my primary language both at home and at work. Yet, I was not able to understand every expression uttered by my professors and fellow-students at Northwestern because American English teems with idioms and other expressions that are unique to this country. And for the same reason, whenever I spoke in class, I must have sounded so very austere, and formal, and alien not only because of my accent but because my speech was devoid of colloquial expressions.

Strongly recommended action items for both foreign-borns and those who manage or lead them:

1. For foreign-borns: From the preceding narrative, it should be obvious to every foreign-born employee that it is in their interest to acquire a good dictionary of American idiom and refer to it frequently. Remember, when trying to “connect” with a mainstream American instantly, it helps if your language is interesting, fun, and pleasing. Merely having the ability to speak English is not sufficient.

2. For managers/ supervisors of foreign-born employees: They, too, should posses such a dictionary and proudly display it on their office bookshelves, even if they are intimately familiar with the idioms commonly encountered in the American workplace,  Why? Because, by occasionally grabbing such a book and making at least a pretense of referring to it with enthusiasm, in full view of the others, they would inspire and encourage their foreign-born employees to acquire their own idiom dictionaries and use them frequently.

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Even You, the Princeton-and-Yale-Educated Sonia Sotomayor? A Most Glaring — and Unforgivable — Mispronunciation by a U.S. Supreme Court Justice

First, my customary declaration for posts on “mispronounced words”: The objective is NOT to denigrate or ridicule someone. Instead, I feature such posts in the belief that if a highly educated person is mispronouncing a particular word, there is an extremely high probability that at least a few of my blog readers are making the same error. In other words, these posts are meant to serve as “pronunciation alerts!

Now, click on the 30-second video clip below and note how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor mispronounces the word chasm [as chaz-um] even though, just seconds earlier, PBS interviewer Gwen Ifill has pronounced it correctly [as kaz-um]. This is egregious! It is unforgivable, considering that chasm is far removed from the category of highfalutin, arcane, or grandiloquent words that were known to and used by only the late William F. Buckley. [Lest you think I am disparaging Mr. Buckley, please know that in my book “The Articulate Professional” I describe him as “a cerebral Olympian” and “a man of Olympian intellect.”]

A reminder why correct pronunciation matters: In the case of Supreme Court justices, you can automatically assume that they are highly educated, else they wouldn’t have made it to the nation’s highest court. [According to Wikipedia, Sonia Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and has a J.D. from Yale Law School.] But, if you were to hear such a glaring mispronunciation from, say, a new acquaintance whose background you know not, you wouldn’t be faulted for assuming that the person is not very well educated or that he or she leads an insular life.

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal


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