Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vocabulary Enhancement Words: New Edition of “Words of the Month”

The latest edition of Words of the Month,” my free vocabulary enrichment feature, has been online for about ten days. The six featured words, all of which lie within the conversational vocabulary of America’s most articulate (as is the case with all of the words featured in my book, The Articulate Professional-3rd Edition”):

1. enfant terrible
2. sinecure
3. enervate
4. alchemist
5. pensive
6. granular

Here are extracts from some of my favorite examples, all carefully designed to help you implant the word into your conversational vocabulary and use it with confidence:

enfant terrible

-- with reference to the wholesale massacre of precious wildlife occurring in Africa and elsewhere thanks to China’s gluttonous demand for rare animal parts, this author expressing the hope that some Chinese Americans and other moralists will band together to become the enfants terribles of wildlife conservation

-- Martin, who is by far the youngest of our top management team, has really shaken up the establishment—one enfant terrible of a guy!

-- John McEnroe, once the enfant terrible of international tennis; Carlos Ghosn, the enfant terrible of the auto industry; Arnold Schonberg, regarded as the “arch rebel” and the enfant terrible of modern music; Iran’s Ahmadinejad seemingly relishing his role as an enfant terrible by frequently issuing shocking statements

-- movie director Peter Jackson of the “Lords of the Rings” trilogy fame being branded the enfant terrible of the movie industry, thanks to his extracting one-sided agreements from movie studios

-- Silicon Valley being densely populated with potential enfants terribles—entrepreneurs who have devised revolutionary approaches to deliver a particular product or service


-- an ABC report indicating what a sinecure a Congressman’s job has become

-- Jim’s present assignment is a sinecure—it requires very little work and allows him time to play golf even on weekdays

-- Our company founder and CEO has bestowed this company sinecure on young Michael because of the latter’s gifts as an artist and writer

-- I wish I had famed film critic A.O. Scott’s job, where you make handsome money watching and critiquing a few movies a week—it would be a nice little sinecure

-- eagerly seeking a particular job that you believe will be a sinecure and will enable you to live the good life you have long sought

-- the corporate boardroom sinecures enjoyed by some, thanks to their glowing resumes, as in the case of Robert Rubin, former Goldman Sachs co-chair and U.S. treasury secretary, who was paid $150 million for….

-- referring to the fact that Robert McNamara was against the Vietnam War all along but did not speak out against it until the 1990s, a critical Sen. John Kerry saying: “Instead of speaking out when he should have, McNamara retreated to the sinecure of the World Bank” (where he was president from 1968-1981)


-- in a recent appearance on “Face the Nation,” Peggy Noonan referring to the ongoing series of “fiscal cliffs” or cliffhangers as “these dreadful, enervating dramas

-- In my previous job, the backbiting and the dog-eat-dog Machiavellian culture drained me of my enthusiasm and drive—it enervated me, to say the least

-- here in Houston, June, July, and August being the worst months for sightseeing because of the enervating heat and humidity

-- after two failed attempts, I am not sure if I can summon the enthusiasm for yet another go—a sense of enervation has come over me

-- all this leisure and luxury, plus an absence of any sort of purpose in life, is enervating him…he is on a moral decline; then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair warning European nations to wake up from their shallow and enervating lives or risk being obliterated by the stiff new competition from the likes of China and India


-- Arthur Hiller, then-president of the Motion Picture Academy, saying: “What makes films the transcendent medium of expression is the alchemy of collaboration

-- remember, a really successful conference will not come about by some magic or alchemy—you better start planning for it right away

-- once a couch potato, he has now turned into a health and fitness nut, having alchemized his fear of falling ill into a firm determination

--  in an appearance on PBS “NewsHour,” Columbia Professor Klaus Lackner, a pioneer of the emerging “direct air capture of CO2” industry, speaking passionately about how his “commercially viable” technology can literally suck out all the surplus carbon dioxide that has been pumped into the earth’s atmosphere during the past 150 years, and thus alchemize the earth’s atmosphere into that which existed at the dawn of the industrial revolution

-- in the recent Time cover picture of President Obama, notice how the photographer, by deft use of lighting and position of the head, has made his subject appear deep in thought, looking pensive

-- someone who is normally pretty boisterous not asking any questions during a long meeting and, instead, sitting pensively

-- the pensive look in the large, brown eyes of my Labrador retriever; I couldn’t help staring at her because she looked so sad, and lonely—there was such an air of pensiveness about her

-- someone on his 80th birthday locked in a pensive mood, reflecting sadly about his many close friends who had died in their 30s and 40s

-- turning to a Rembrandt that depicts a seated, naked woman, the curator explaining the subject’s “beautiful, pensive expression” by pointing out that ….

-- in the movie “Chariots of Fire,” Vangelis’s music helping endow that opening scene of runners on a beach with an aura of pensiveness


-- the filmmakers of the 2012 movie “Lincoln” went to extraordinary lengths to imbue the film with authenticity, displaying an obsession for detail at the most granular level

-- even on relatively minor assignments, my new boss Iris asks questions in a very specific and granular way

-- the top management has finally leveled with us and addressed the issue with granularity, giving us precise reasons behind their stunning decision

-- after a meeting with the CEO, an exasperated manager telling her colleague: “He is much too involved in the granularity…in the microscopic aspects of everything that’s going on”

-- before we begin the brainstorming, could someone please make the definition of the problem more concrete, more granular?

-- during a Congressional hearing involving a case of corporate malfeasance, an executive professing innocence, saying that he was operating at too high a level to be granularly involved in the alleged actions; police investigators grilling a suspect, demanding more granular information

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Answer to the Quick Quiz of Three Days Ago

To make sense of this post, you need to first read the previous one, which asks you to identify the mispronounced word in a 19-second video clip.

Next, my customary declaration for posts on “mispronounced words”: The objective is NOT to denigrate or ridicule someone. Instead, I feature such posts out of my 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.

Answer: The mispronounced word is momentous which, in the video clip, Hari Sreenivasan is heard pronouncing as moh-MEN-choo-us instead of moh-MEN-tus. 

Likely cause of the stumble?  Regular viewers of PBS NewsHour know that Hari Sreenivasan’s enunciation is immaculate. So, in my judgment, the pronunciation screw-up was the result of a typo. The person who typed up the headlines for Mr. Sreenivasan to read must have thought that the last part of the word momentous is spelled similar to presumptuous, sumptuous, etc. 

No spell-checks at PBS?

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quick Quiz: Identify the Mispronounced Word

This is an easy one. Click on the 19-second video clip below, which is an excerpt from a recent (January 3) reading of that day's news headlines by PBS NewsHour regular Hari Sreenivasan. Can you identify the mispronounced word? And why do you think it occurred?

Answer in my next post.

© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Single Word That Can Markedly Impact a Discussion; Paraphrasing Joan Miro’s famous utterance “I Want To Assassinate Painting”

First, a Very Happy New Year to my readers.

Second, greatly inspired by the Spanish painter Joan Miro’s famous proclamation in 1927 that he was going to “assassinate painting,” (something I learned about only a couple of months ago, while watching a previously recorded CBS “Sunday Morning” segment presented by Rita Braver), I am today launching a new series of posts featuring single words or phrases that can help inject force or vigor into your important statements or arguments during a meeting.

Now, note that in uttering the above statement, Miro meant that he wanted to radically change art and go about it in a militant manner. So, the moment I heard this highly unconventional usage of the verb assassinate, i.e., assassinating a thing instead of a person, it occurred to me that this common word lent itself to forceful speaking during meetings because of its evocativeness and inherent power.

An example of how you could use it: Supposing you are a marketing exec or manager and determined to make wholesale changes in the (dumb?) current strategy / merchandising methods that were implemented before you came on the scene. Well, you could begin your announcement with a smile, saying “To paraphrase the great Spanish painter Joan Miro [pronounced zhoo-AHN mee-ROH], we need to assassinate the current strategy” (or “assassinate the way our products are being merchandised….”).

Indeed, in the six to eight weeks since watching that CBS segment, I have excitedly suggested this usage of assassinate to several of my clients and audiences, and the idea has resonated wildly. Many have reported back triumphantly, saying that they’ve employed it to good effect… that the term has turned heads and been subsequently mouthed by other meeting participants.

Example of its use by an executive at Subsea 7: Here is how this powerful action word was used by one of my clients, Jeremiah Gilbreath--General Manager of Subsea 7’s i-Tech unit, who is constantly trying out fresh verbal expression to make his points penetrating (and also keep the discussion lively when things are getting soporific or droopy)--during a recent meeting to vehemently decry a current practice or mentality and urge change: “We need to assassinate (pregnant pause) the temptation (or assassinate the knee-jerk response) of leaving it to the project managers to sort out...”

Note Jeremiah’s laudable use of the pregnant pause to give emphasis to the word assassinate, thus ensuring that it did not escape anyone’s attention.
© Copyright 2013  V. J. Singal