Saturday, February 28, 2015

Don’t make things any more complicated than necessary

As shown above, when you make a presentation into a circus, you risk losing your audience. (Facing them also will help).

If instead you can simplify your main point to where it can be presented by drawing three concentric circles on a flip chart, like Simon Sinek did in his 2009 Start With Why TEDx talk, then that’s what you should do.

You really don’t need to overdo it with a three-stage PowerPoint animation sequence. Conversely if you are training radiologists or pathologists how to recognize subtle features on images, you may need a rather long and sophisticated PowerPoint presentation.

At this year’s Grammy awards two nominees for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year were Sam Smith’s Stay With Me and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Stay With Me, with it’s drum heartbeat and church choir chorus won both. That chorus simply is:

“Oh, won't you stay with me?
'Cause you're all I need
This ain't love, it's clear to see
But darling, stay with me.” 

The more complicated chorus for Shake It Off is:

“Cause the players gonna play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, Shake it off.”

The circus image came from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A simple prop and a cruel story

An wooden 2”x4” wall stud might be just what you need to make an abstract concept concrete. In a mis-titled story on February 20th about Public Speaking: Four Attention Getters to Start Your Presentation Sean Buvala explained as his sixth point that:

“....Once, during a youth leadership conference, I dragged an eight-foot long piece of wood up to the front of the room. 

I announced that I came ‘with my two by four’ to speak about how leadership was not something adults practiced ‘at’ youth but rather was done ‘with, to, by and for’ young people. 

I held on to that piece of wood throughout the presentation as the audience learned to say with me, ‘with, to, by, for’ whenever I prompted them. 

Both the content of that speech and the image of me with a huge board in my hand were talked about for many years.”

I suspect part of why the 2x4 stud was memorable is that it prompted recall of another well-known story about a donkey. There are many versions. Here is a brief one:

A man was having trouble with a disobedient donkey he’d recently bought, so he took him to a trainer known for his gentleness, a ‘donkey whisperer.’ That trainer immediately pulled out a long 2x4 and whacked the donkey - right between the eyes.

The man was horrified. “Why on earth would you do that? Aren’t you the donkey whisperer?”

"Yes, I am. But, before I whisper, I first need to get his complete attention."

The image of a 2x4 is from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to do a better job of speech research than the average Toastmaster (by using your friendly local public and state university libraries)

The June 2014 issue of Toastmaster magazine had an article by Margaret Montet titled Don’t Rely on the Web (Visit a library for sophisticated research tools). It’s pretty good, and well worth reading. But, since it’s just two pages long it omits some important information. In this post I will fill in the blanks, and use my location here in Boise, Idaho as an example.


What is your first step in researching for a speech? Do you just fire up a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and look around on the web? That approach will find you oodles of mediocre information. What you really need is less but higher quality information (from books, magazine articles, and newspaper articles). Where will you find it? Why, at your friendly local public library.  

Do you already have a card for your public library? If not, go get one. The Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) at the library is your basic tool for finding books, audio CDs (recorded books), and videos. Library of Congress subject headings sometimes are not obvious to us civilians. Ask a librarian if you need help in finding the right ones. For example Carmine Gallo’s book Talk Like TED is cataloged under both “Public speaking” and “Business presentations” while Business Storytelling for Dummies is under “Communication in management” and “Business communication.” Once you have found an item like a book, you can widen the search by looking under its subject headings.

You can also use your home computer to log in at the library web site and use their set of databases that cover both magazine and newspaper articles. Most state library systems purchase access to a suite of databases for all their public libraries. Here in Idaho that collection of EBSCO Host databases is handled by Libraries Linking Idaho (LiLI). Your taxes already have paid for this, so you might as well take advantage of what you bought.

For newspapers there are Newspaper Source Plus and Regional Business News. For magazines (and newspapers and more) there are MasterFILE Premier, Business Source Premier, and Academic Search Premier.

Some libraries add other databases. Boise Public Library (but not the Ada County Library) also has Reader’s Guide Retrospective from Wilson, a database with searchable access to more than 100 years of citations (but not full text) from 523 leading U.S. magazines covering from 1890 through 1982. It is an excellent resource for historical research. The Boise Public Library also adds the expensive newspaper database from the Idaho Statesman.


How can you painlessly learn to use the library to research your speech? Look instead at the web site for your state university library. Every term they get a fresh batch of somewhat confused students enrolled in their introductory public speaking or communication course. So, they will have either a specific course guide, or a more general guide to communication. Just climb in their wheelbarrow and ride along.

For example, Boise State University has a guide for their Communication 101 course. Their tabbed START HERE page suggests that you first look in the Academic Search Premier database, which is from LiLI and also can be found at public libraries. In that database you can find a magazine called Vital Speeches of the Day that has both well-known and obscure examples. Boise State also has the scholarly Communication and Mass Media Complete database, which goes back about a century. Idaho State University also has a guide for their Speech/COMM 1101 course. 

I suspect that Margaret Montet may have run afoul of the bureaucrats at her employer, whom she did not mention in her Toastmaster magazine article. Actually she works at the Bucks County Community College, and she even wrote one of the library guides for their Comm 110 Effective Speaking course.

An Appendix at the end of this blog post lists example guide web pages at state universities from all fifty states. Others also are useful. For example, a web page at Sacramento City College mentioned that along with the CQ Researcher library database on controversial topics there also is a web site called ProCon. A Colorado State University web page for SPCM 200 Public Speaking has a tab for Example Speeches. 


From EBSCO Host you can do a “federated search” covering multiple databases at once. Databases like EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier have many very powerful search functions that are not at all obvious.

The Basic Search screen is shown above. (Click on the image to see a larger, clearer version). I almost always begin by checking the box under Limit your results to select Full Text. Later on I can always expand my search to include articles that only have abstracts. You can watch their two-and- a half-minute basic video tutorial.

There is a much more detailed 26-minute EBSCO Host video tutorial. Usually I prefer to use their Advanced Search option, as shown above with the pull-down menu revealed to show that I’ve entered the TI Title of an article, Taming hostile audiences.

Some other options include AU Author, SU Subject Terms, and SO source Journal Name. It also is possible to search within either AB Abstract or TX All Text. A Boolean search is built by combining a series of terms connected by AND or OR or NOT. That search finds an article by Tracy, Larry that appeared in Vital Speeches of the Day back in 2005. It also finds a similar article from the February 1990 issue of Training & Development titled Taming the Hostile Audience by Tracy, Lawrence L.

When I click on the PDF Full Text label, I can read and save that article. If I click on the title, I get an abstract showing the Subject Terms: LECTURERS, PUBLIC speaking, ORAL communication, SPEECHES, addresses, etc. I could click on any of those subject terms to widen my search. I also could click on the Authors to see if there were other articles written by Larry Tracy. (Sadly there are not).


If you need more than your public library can offer, research your state university web site and then visit their library on a quiet weekend day (when they aren’t playing football or basketball). Take along a USB thumb drive and a note pad. Also bring coins, and dollar bills to pay for parking and copying or printing.

The mission of state universities includes serving state residents. They will have some arrangement for guests and visitors. For example, at Boise State University an Idaho resident can show a driver’s license or other photo ID at the circulation desk, and get a temporary logon good for an hour of use on one of four desktop PC guest terminals near the reference desk. You can search most of their collection of databases, and save articles on your USB thumb drive. (You can’t get to these databases remotely, since that requires a current university ID card number).

At Boise State you also can use one of the standup terminals near the reference desk to look up the location for older magazines on hard copy or microfiche. Then you can read and copy or print articles.

You probably can even get a library card and check out books. At Boise State they have a free citizen card. Elsewhere it is more common to have to join a Friend of the Library program and pay an annual fee of perhaps $ 25 to $75 (which may be waived if you are an alumnus). Compare that annual fee with the cost of purchasing even a few books, and you will find it is a bargain.    


Public Speaking, The ACA Open Knowledge Online Guide, has a chapter you can read on Research and Library Skills. You also could get William Badke’s book on Research Strategies (5th edition, 2014). He has a web page with a very useful list of Live Links.

Images of a public library, fishing, and a wheelbarrow all came from Wikimedia Commons.


University of Alabama - COM 123: Public Speaking

University of Alaska, Anchorage - Communication and Speech

Arizona State University - COM 225 Public Speaking

University of Arkansas - Resources for Public Speaking

San Francisco State University - COMM 351 Public Speaking

University of Colorado, Denver: Auraria Library - Public Speaking

University of Delaware - Communication

University of Florida - Speech-Language Pathology

University of Georgia - COMM 1100: Intro to Public speaking

University of Hawaii Maui Community College - Researching Speeches

Boise State University: Communication 101

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - Communication 101

Indiana University Bloomington - P155: Public Speaking

Iowa State University - Speech Comm 212

University of Kansas - COMS 130: Communication Studies

University of Kentucky - Communication

Louisiana State University - Communication Studies

University of Maine - Communication Studies - CMJ 103 Public Speaking

University of Maryland - Communication

University of Massachusetts, Amherst - Communication

University of Michigan - Communication Studies

University of Minnesota, Duluth - COMM 1112 Public Speaking

Mississippi State University - Communication Research Guide

University of Missouri - Communication 1200 Public Speaking

University of Montana - COMX 111: Introduction to Public Speaking

University of Nebraska, Lincoln - Communications Studies

University of Nevada, Reno - COM 101 Oral Communication

University of New Hampshire - CA 450 Introduction to Public Speaking

Rutgers University - Comm 380 Public Speaking

University of New Mexico - CJ130 Public Speaking

SUNY Albany - Communications Studies: A Guide to Reference Sources

University of North Carolina - Communications Studies

University of North Dakota - Public speaking

Kent State University - Comm 26000

University of Oklahoma - Communication

Oregon State University - Speech Communication

Temple University - Public Speaking STRC 1111

University of Rhode Island - Communication Studies

Clemson University - Communication Studies

University of South Dakota - SPCM 101 Fundamentals of Speech Communication
(This has YouTubed video tutorials for the EBSCO Communication and Mass Media Complete database).

University of Tennessee Knoxville - Communication Studies 210 Public Speaking

University of Texas - Communication Studies Research Guide

Utah State University - Public Speaking

University of Vermont - Finding and Using Primary Sources - Speeches

Prince George’s Community College - Communication/Speech

University of Washington - Communication Studies

West Virginia University - COMM 104

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee - Communication 103

University of Wyoming - COJO 1010: Public Speaking

Monday, February 23, 2015

What are the most folks in Sioux City, Iowa scared of?

Last Thursday the Sioux City Journal did an online poll that asked What is your greatest fear? and asked for a choice from a list of five possibilities. As is shown above, results were:

1]  33.5% Snakes and/or spiders

2]  30.3% Heights

3]  27.1% Public speaking

4]  5.2% Dancing in public

5]  3.9% Flying

The article showed a pie chart, from which I scaled the angles for the 4th and 5th items. Ranking for the first three items is the same as found in a March 2014 YouGov survey on U.S. adults, where for Very Afraid there were 32% snakes, 24% heights, and 20% public speaking. (In that survey 4th was 19% spiders, followed by 15% being closed in a small space and 14% flying on an airplane). 

The 4th item, dancing in public, was a surprise. I don’t recall seeing it as a question before. It isn’t on the 51-item Fear Survey Schedule II or the 108-item Fear Survey Schedule III, which I’ve blogged about.

Where had that question come from, and was it about a fear of dancing itself, or a fear of being arrested for an illegal act? Back in 1984 the movie Footloose described the fictitious town of Bomont, which had a ban on teen dancing and was based on the real town of Elmore City, Oklahoma. Elmore City relented in 1980, and began allowing a prom. I found that the musical version of Footloose was performed by the community theater of Sioux City back in 2013. Perhaps that had inspired the poll question.    

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A brief free course in effective use of PowerPoint from Dave Paradi

Last month I signed up for Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Effectiveness E-Course. It is free and contains seven useful lessons as follows:

1) Creating a Presentation Outline

2) Reduce Information Overload

3) Planning Your Slides

4) Designing slides so they are easy to see

5) Best Practices for Graphs

6) Using Photos and Images

7) Delivery Tips

Signing up also gives you a subscription to a newsletter, with tips every two weeks.

In lesson 4 Dave discusses how to select effective colors that have contrast, and he has an online Color Contrast Calculator tool.

Not long after reading lesson 4 I saw two great illustrations of how to use and misuse color. Both were in menus for research guides at the University of New Hampshire Library.

As shown above, the guide to First Year Writing starts with white text on a brick red background. When you mouse over a tab the background color changes to sky blue. (Click on the image for a larger, clearer view).

Now look at the research guide for Introduction to Public Speaking course (by the same author). Here the background color for all but the left Home tab is brick red, and the text labels start as a difficult to read sky blue. You have to move the mouse over a tab to get the text to change to a more readable white.

Back in 2010 on this blog I gave a great review of Dave’s first book, The Visual Slide Revolution.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2014 YouGov fear surveys show a fearlessness gap between men and women

The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic magazine had an article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman titled The Confidence Gap (Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men - and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. Here’s why and what to do about it).

In my last post I discussed data on Not Afraid at All (fearless) from a YouGov survey on US fears reported in 2014. (There also was one done in Britain). Now let’s look at gender differences in both surveys. Being fearless is clearly related to being confident. 

As shown above for the US survey in a bar chart, for all 13 situations more men than women were not afraid. (Click on the chart to see a larger, clearer view). On average 11% more men than women were fearless. The largest difference was 25% for mice; the smallest was 4% for dogs. For public speaking 29% of men and 16% of women were fearless, a fearlessness gap of 13%. 

Another bar chart presents results for the British survey. For 11 of 13 situations more men than women were not afraid. For both blood and needles women were just 2% more fearless than men. On average 9.6% more men than women were fearless. The largest difference was 19% for mice (again). For public speaking 26% of men and 14% of women were fearless, a fearlessness gap of 12%. 

What is new about these two surveys is that there were several levels of fear. When they are looked for gender differences have appeared in earlier surveys with yes-no questions, like the 2001 Gallup poll results shown in the above chart. For 12 of 13 situations more men than women were not afraid. The exception was Going to the doctor where 92% of women and 89% of men were not afraid. The largest difference was 27% for mice (yet again).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An optimist’s view - six (or two) things that a majority of American adults are not afraid of at all

An optimist would say the glass shown above is half full, while a pessimist would say that it’s half empty. On Friday the 13th George Will’s editorial in the Washington Post even was titled Curb your pessimism.

Results of surveys about fears usually give the pessimistic version. I did that last October with a Halloween post titled Chapman Survey on American Fears includes both zombies and ghosts. Their general question on phobias was: “How afraid are you of the following?” for twelve situations and it had five possible answers of:

A) Very Afraid
B) Afraid
C) Somewhat Afraid
D) Not Afraid At All
E) Refused (which includes don’t know)

I charted the first three fear categories, the sum of the first two, and the sum of the first three, but omitted the fourth. What does it look like?

As is shown above, a majority (more than 50%) of adults are Not Afraid At All of six things: clowns (80.4%), zombies (77.8%), ghosts (72.3%), the dark (62.9%), flying (57.2%) and blood or needles (50.2%). For another three things almost half are not afraid: enclosed spaces (49.2%), drowning (49.0%), and strangers (48.7%). Coming in last, slightly over a third (34.1%) were not afraid of public speaking.

On January 5th I blogged about Is public speaking universally feared? Of course not! This post adds the other fears from the Chapman survey.

Another chart shows the percentages for the sum of the first three categories - Very Afraid, Afraid, and Somewhat Afraid. It isn’t quite the same as what you’d get by taking 100 percent and subtracting the numbers in the previous chart, because a few percent had refused to answer.

Last year there also were two YouGov surveys on fears - one on American and one on British adults. Today we’ll discuss the American one, which I blogged about on April 2, 2014. Their fear questions for thirteen situations had four possible answers of:

A) Very Afraid
B) A Little Afraid
C) Not Really Afraid
D) Not Afraid At All

As is shown above, a majority of adults are Not Afraid At All of just two things: clowns (72%), and dogs (56%). Blood is third, right at 50%. I don’t know why the percentages are so different from those in the Chapman survey, but they are.

Another chart shows the percentages for the sum of the first three categories - Very Afraid, A Little Afraid, and Not Really Afraid. It isn’t just what you get by taking 100 percent and subtracting the numbers in the previous chart.

When I last discussed the YouGov survey, I also looked at the gender differences. I will cover those in my next post.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Valentine’s Day warning about how Cupid operates

Watch and listen to singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell, the Queen of the Minor Key, tell the story in less than two minutes. Just after Christmas she appeared on a special one-hour episode of Dialogue. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fatal crash of helicopter was due to lack of clear communication

Words matter.

On November 6, 2014 at about 7:00 PM an AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter (like the one shown above) crashed south of Gowen Field (the Boise Airport) in the dark. Both Idaho National Guard pilots, who were senior flight instructors and Chief Warrant Officers, were killed. Last Monday results summarizing the Army accident investigation concluding that it was caused by pilot error were reported in the Idaho Statesman (and Stars and Stripes). You can watch a YouTube video of Colonel Tim Marsano.

Jon Hartway was getting his annual flight evaluation from Stien Gearhart. Part of that was simulating a loss of power to one of the two gas turbine engines. That was to be done by briefly moving a throttle into the “lock-out” position, which disconnects an engine from the transmission that drives the rotor. It is like moving the shift lever of a car with an automatic transmission from Drive to Neutral while still pressing down on the accelerator pedal.

Investigators concluded that instead both throttles were pushed to the lock-out position, and held longer than they should have been. When both turbines began to overspeed, they automatically shut down. So, the helicopter was without power while only 400 feet above the ground. They had only three seconds before impact. It wasn’t possible to determine who locked out which engine. 

But, there had to be a lack of clear communication leading to a tragic misunderstanding. One pilot was in front of the other (not side by side) so they could not directly see what the other was doing with their pair of throttles. 

An image of an Apache helicopter came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Private Label Rights (PLR) articles - Buying content for the price of a gumdrop

An a website with Free Online Articles I found one titled Ten Important Steps to Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking, which is rather poorly written. It opens with an extravagant claim that:

“The fear of public speaking is as common to man as the sun is as common during the day and do not fear, almost everyone goes through the same process day in and day out, but just to be sure, here are some ten important steps to overcome the fear of public speaking.”

In serious surveys that fear really is reported by about one-fifth or fewer adults.

I saw that article reposted on February 4, 2015 by Cyril Malka in Israel, and on December 20, 2011 by Pix Jonasson in Australia (with their names listed as the author).  

The fifth step, which should not include the word always, is to:

“Never always ever lose track of reality, this will help you gauge how well you are adapting to any situation that you are in.”

The seventh step, which should be three sentences, is:

“Take things one at a time, do not take on situations too seriously or you could lose focus and lose track of what helps you draw your strength towards achieving your desired goals and believe it or not, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a key factor that can help you develop that sense of reality.”

When I looked further on Google, I found that an article with that title was included in a CD collection titled 25 Fear and Phobia PLR Articles that was being sold for $2, or just $0.08 per article! Elsewhere it might cost up to $7.

Private Label Rights (PLR) articles are claimed to offer the advantages of:

*  Saving time.

*  Saving money, compared to hiring a writer or buying exclusive rights.

*  Gaining a reputation as an ‘expert’ on a subject while knowing nothing about it.”

I think that you get what you pay for.

Also, compare this article by Alvin Williams from 2014 at LinkedIn on 10 Sure-Fire Steps to take the Fear out of Public Speaking with this one from 2005 by Alan Fairweather. All that has been changed was the name and company from Fred Smith of Smith Associates to Alvin Williams of Open Rivers Pictures, and two spellings from British to American - from programme to program and minimise to minimize. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Randall Munroe imagined possible speeches if the Apollo 11 moon landing mission had not gone as planned

Crisis communication calls for planning ahead. Alternate history is a fiction genre that changes an event and follows the imagined consequences.

Back in 1999 William Safire described how he prepared a speech for President Richard M. Nixon to deliver if the two astronauts who landed were stranded on the moon and unable to return.

Today’s XKCD cartoon also imagined speeches for five other less plausible scenarios:

A) In event spacecraft goes missing

B) In event astronauts abscond with spacecraft

C) In event spacecraft returns with three extra astronauts

D) In event spacecraft hits U.S.S. Hornet, crushing Nixon

E) In event spacecraft accidentally sold for scrap and crushed with astronauts inside

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ready or not, quotative like will be taking over

Like sometimes is more than a filler word. Today’s XKCD cartoon, which is shown above, was titled Quotative Like, and contains the following quotation from the linguist Patricia Cukor-Avila:

"Eventually all the people who hate this kind of thing are going to be dead, and the ones who use it are going to be in control."

 I hadn’t thought much about that language feature, but found an article titled And I’m Like, Read This, by Jessica Love at American Scholar on December 22, 2011 which explained:

“So what’s the deal with the quotative like? Is it just a lazier, slangier way of saying says? Linguists are like, No! The general consensus is that the quotative like encourages a speaker to embody the participants in a conversation. Thus, the speaker vocalizes the contents of participants’ utterances, but also her attitudes toward those utterances. She can dramatize multiple viewpoints, one after another, making it perfectly clear all the while which views she sympathizes with and which she does not. Hear yourself say these sentences aloud: I walked up to Randy and he was like, Why are you late? I was like, Because you gave me the wrong time! You have, in addition to relaying the he-says she-says bones of a conversation, probably betrayed some moral indignation. Randy was unreasonable, and you were in the right. It’s possible to do all this with says, of course, but not nearly as naturally.”

On January 25th in the Boston Globe Britt Peterson discussed how Linguists are like,‘Get used to it!

If you have both hands free, then you can instead use pairs of fingers to make quotation marks in the air like Dr. Evil does for “ozone layer” at 1:15 in this video clip from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. (WARNING - that clip contains the S-word).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Humorist Dave Barry tells tall tales about his visits to wild Idaho

Last year Dave Barry was interviewed at the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference. That entertaining interview was shown in November on Dialogue, a half-hour long Idaho Public Television program.

Along with lots of books he used to write a humor column in the Miami Herald, and back in 1988 won the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism (Commentary):

“For his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.”

You can learn a lot about writing and giving a humorous speech by first reading his columns and then watching how differently Dave tells those same stories, accompanied by many gestures.

At 3:50 he begins to discuss fishing for mythical trout, which was in a 770-word column titled Fear of fly-casting. He makes arm movements both for fly casting and trying to run in waders. Dave tells about having a Fish and Game warden ask for the license that he had left in the car. At 5:22 he adds a new detail - that guy had a little siren on his head.

At 13:10 he begins to discuss tree climbing, which was in a 920-word column titled Dave meets the Death Tree. He gestures with his forearm to show how that tree was at a 45-degree angle.

At 18:10 he begins to discuss snowmobiling with his sons at Smiley Creek, which was in a 900-word column about Getting Stuck on Snowmobiling. At 18:45 his hands move like he’s grasping a steering wheel. At 20:00 minutes he makes expansive arm gestures to show the banks of a river, and how in a movie a snowmobile wouldn’t drop downward as it tries to cross. Reportedly it gets stuck so deeply that removing it requires waiting for global warming.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Missing the boat by botching a quote

On January 15th at the SpeakWell Partners blog Barbara Roche ended a post titled A Resolution for Public Speakers from Mark Twain with: 

“After all, as Twain explains: ‘The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.’ ”

Her version of what Twain said is amusing but incorrect. He actually was talking about the huge difference between lightning and a lightning bug (or firefly). I know because I opened a June 13, 2013 blog post titled Finding the right word (or not) with a similar Twain quote:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

In the Yale Book of Quotations (2006) edited by Fred Shapiro there is a slightly different version of that one (from a letter to George Bainton on October 15, 1888) listed as #38 on page 776:

“The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large matter - it’s the difference between the lightning-bug & the lightning.”

What the heck is a lightening bug? I don’t recall ever seeing an insect that could lighten either weight or color. Would it get under what was on the scale and flaps its little wings? Would it just carry around a little helium-filled balloon? 

When you use a quotation in a speech, you are borrowing thunder from someone else. You have an obligation to your audience (and the author of the quote) to get those words right. Otherwise you’re just creating a fairy tale. Run a spell check, and then manually proofread.

Sometimes a quote even goes from OK to fouled up. On a November 24, 2014 post in her Communication Rebel blog titled How to write a speech for the tweets Michelle Mazur used almost the same misquote as Barbara Roche did, even though she’d previously used it correctly in an April 17, 2013 post on 12 Most Brilliant Quotes About communication From Inspired Minds.    

Images of lightning and a firefly both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Last fall Pittsburgh took the prize for worst accent in the U.S

An accent identifies where you came from. Sometimes it’s best to lose one.

Today is the Super Bowl, so both the Steelers and Pittsburgh get some respect. (Those Steelers won six Super Bowls in 1975, 1976, 1979, 1980, 2006, and 2009).

Most people demean the Pittsburgh accent, which just is spoken in a relatively small geographic region.  Tim Niklas demonstrated it in his Ignite 9 Denver presentation Pittsburghese - A Dialectical Primer. Last fall it was named the worst accent in the U.S.

I grew up and lived in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh for over two decades, so I’m very familiar with it. (My English came from hearing my parents, who grew up in Cincinnati, so I don’t usually speak that way).  But I understand that:

Yunz gwan dahntahn? means Are you going downtown?

Yunz gwan up Murray? means Are you going (shopping on) Murray Avenue?

I’d like an ahrn, a chipchopped sammich ana gumban means I’d like an Iron City beer, a chipped-chopped ham sandwich, and a rubber band.

Yunz is single word version of the Irish English second-person plural “you ones.” Over in Philadelphia they say youse, and in the South they say y’all

The Post Gazette had newspaper articles titled A Fresh Look: Speaking Clearly in Pittsburghese and Is yunz or is yinz ain’t from Pittsburgh? There is an informal Pittsburghese web site, and a serious one, Pittsburgh Speech & Society. Barbara Johnstone even wrote a scholarly book, Speaking Pittsburghese: The Story of a Dialect.

Southern accents didn’t used to get much respect. Lenny Bruce once said that:

“As bright as any Southerner could be, if Albert Einstein ‘tawked lahk thayat, theah wouldn’t be no bomb.’ ‘Folks, ah wanna tell yew bout new-clear fishin-’...”

More recently Jeff Foxworthy joked that when some heard his accent they mentally deducted a hundred IQ points.

In November 2013, Time had an article titled Hey, Y’all: Southern Accents Voted Most Attractive. It reported results from a survey by

Rank and percentages

1st Southern – 36.5% (45% male/28% female)
2nd New York –16.5% (10% male/23% female)
3rd Western – 13 % (16% male/10% female)
4th New England – 10.5% (8% male/13% female)
5th New Jersey –7% (4% male/10% female)
6th Canadian –7% (3% male/11% female)
7th Midwestern – 5.5% (8% male/3% female)
8th Mid-Atlantic – 4% (5% male/3% female)

So, keep that sexy and widely spoken Southern accent.