Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Props or not?

The January-February 2018 issue of Speaker magazine contains a useful two-page article by Tim Gard titled To Prop or Not to Prop? In it he lists the following four questions that define an effective prop:

1]  Does the prop and how I use it add value or clarity? 
2]  Will 100% of my audience be able to see it? 
3]  Will the majority of the audience understand it? 
4]  Is there any possibility it will offend someone?

For more about props, look at an April 25, 2017 article by John Zimmer at Presentation Guru titled How to ‘Prop Up’ your next presentation, and a June 26, 2017 article at SlideStore titled
Props for presentation: yay or nay?

An 1899 image of magician Zan Zig came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Toastmasters International misevaluated again

On January 10, 2018 Charles Crawford posted an article at his web site titled Toastmasters Evaluated. I commented on it in a blog post on January 22nd titled Toastmasters International misevaluated.  I found his article because I saw that he had posted about it on two groups at LinkedIn: The Public Speaking group (where it got a comment from me he ignored) and the Public Speaking Network group (where it got 22 comments and 7 replies).

On January 26th he posted a second article titled Toastmasters evaluated (2) which again missed the bullseye. He put it on the LinkedIn Public Speaking Network group under the heading of More on Toastmasters: Delivery or Content?

The obvious reply is both – Delivery and Content. But Mr. Crawford just heard the brief verbal evaluations of the speeches. Then he incorrectly assumed that there was no iceberg beneath that tip of the process. He didn’t do his homework – go to the Toastmasters web site and find out how they do things (and then perhaps why).  

His new article whined as follows (I’ve reformatted to group the paragraphs together into one block of text):

“Two things stood out for me from my utterly unrepresentative sample that nonetheless seems to follow a strict schema used by TM across the world. First there was no discussion at all with the audience (!) about what worked or what didn’t. Lots of rather persnickety pro forma ‘evaluating’, but nothing from those for whom the speech was intended. Second, the ‘evaluating’ skirted away from the Content as such – the logic of the ideas in themselves, and their smart (or not) sequencing in the speech. Instead the focus was massively on the Delivery.  The unhappy result was that the two main speeches of the evening that had involved a lot of work by the speakers went substantively unanalyzed. In one case the speaker eloquently said next to nothing. Therefore what? In the other, the speaker just wasn’t very good at all but trudged home none the wiser as to what was needed to make a big jump in performance. Was that really a good use of an evening? Basically…if you don’t ‘evaluate’ Content, you can’t show speakers how to structure a speech/presentation well! That means having well organized and perhaps unexpected thoughts that are then delivered powerfully. If we look only at Delivery in public speaking, we get Death by PowerPoint – millions of people every week around the world ‘face’ a group and present their ideas’ but BADLY! What a miserable waste of time!”

Most of the evaluation (feedback) in Toastmasters really is written. For each speech project there is an Evaluation Guide page in the manual with a list of questions. In my previous blog post I pointed out that for the ten speeches in the basic Competent Communication manual there are a total of 105 questions, and 35 (or a third) are about content.

How about some advanced manuals, with five speeches each? Two popular ones are Speaking to Inform and Speeches by Management. In the former there are 31 questions and 20 (65%) are about content.  In the latter there are 37 questions and 24 (also 65%) are about content. In all twenty projects there are 173 question with 79 (46%) about content.

Also, the audience at a club meeting is advised to provide additional feedback. The Effective Evaluation publication says (on page 3):

“Even when you are not the assigned evaluator, you are encouraged to give feedback. The more feedback a speaker or leader receives, the more the person benefits. This evaluation need not be as detailed as that of the assigned evaluator, but it should mention something the speaker or leader did well, something that could be improved, and a specific recommendation for improvement. Most clubs provide members with short evaluation forms to fill out and give to the speaker or leader at each meeting, or you can write your evaluation on a piece of paper.”

Mr. Crawford continues (I’ve reformatted again) and finally tells us what he’s selling as an alternative:

“So, question? How in fact to improve? It’s not that TM doesn’t improve you in many ways. It (probably) does if you attend for long enough! But can the same or even far better results be achieved far more easily? Let’s say you do 10 TM sessions over six months. That’s a lot of hours, including the sessions themselves + travel etc. A good speaking teacher/coach can get you to a notably higher level in (say) six hours or just one working day. After that you don’t need to ‘practise’ – you just do it! Not quite as social a way of learning but massively faster. It does all come down to what you want. Cover the basics? Or get REALLY good?”

Back on April 23, 2012 I blogged about Does the cost for public speaking training outweigh the benefits? Mr. Crawford doesn’t say what his coaching costs, so we can’t tell. In that post I described public speaking as a journey you could take several different ways. Taking an introductory public speaking class at a university is like going on a bus tour. Attending a commercial workshop is like hiring a guide with a luxury automobile. Joining a Toastmasters club is like driving your own 4x4 vehicle on a dirt road. And using a speaking coach is like waving down and hiring a taxi. Would you take a taxi from London to Edinburgh, or would you go by bus (or train)?

Also, some Toastmasters from the US will be baffled about why Charles talked about a person attending only 10 sessions (club meetings) in six months. Both of the clubs I have belonged to meet every week (not every other week), and at lunch rather than in the evening, so we’d expect 20 rather than 10. Back on May 2, 2010 I blogged about Everybody does it this way, don’t they? to point out they just do not.

The drawing of an archer came from Openclipart.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

25 questions for Table Topics from Claire Lew

On January 23, 2018 at Signal v. Noise there was an article by Claire Lew titled The 25 most popular icebreaker questions based on four years of data. She described them as get-to-know-you questions for team building. But these also will serve for the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting known as Table Topics. Her questions are:

1.   What was your first job?

2.   Have you ever met anyone famous?

3.   What are you reading right now?

4.   If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

5.   Who’s someone you really admire?

6.   Seen any good movies lately you’d recommend?

7.   Got any favorite quotes?

8.   Been pleasantly surprised by anything lately?

9.   What was your favorite band 10 years ago?

10. What’s your earliest memory?

11. Been anywhere recently for the first time?

12. What’s your favorite family tradition?

13. Who had the most influence on you growing up?

14. What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

15. What’s something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before?

16. Seen anything lately that made you smile?

17. What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?

18. Have you had your 15 minutes of fame yet?

19. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?

20. How do you like your eggs?

21. Do you have a favorite charity you wish more people knew about?

22. Got any phobias you’d like to break?

23. Have you returned anything you’ve purchased lately? Why?

24. Do you collect anything?

25. What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

If you need more, then you can flip them over – from first to last, favorite to least favorite, best to worst, etc. Here are my examples for opening the answers to three of them. For #2, I took a psychology class from Herbert A. Simon, who later won the Nobel Prize in economics. He was color blind. Herb coined the word satisfice. For #23, I returned a motion-sensing nightlight misdesigned to block both sockets to a wall outlet. For #25, my boring real answer is oatmeal to lower my cholesterol. A much funnier one comes from Bill Watterson’s comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, where the little boy Calvin just loves Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin and writing stories for the ear

Earlier this week the writer Ursula K. LeGuin died in Portland at age 88. There were obituaries in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and Scientific American. She was best known for her novels (particularly the Earthsea series), but also rewrote a book about writing in 2015 - Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. Its first chapter starts with:

“THE SOUND OF THE LANGUAGE IS WHERE it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise words make, the sounds and silences that make the rhythms marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depend on these sounds and rhythms. This is just as true of prose as it is of poetry, though the sound effects of prose are usually subtle and always irregular.

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia; they fall in love with musical or impressive words and use them in all the wrong places. Some writers keep this primal interest in and love for the sounds of language. Others ‘outgrow’ their oral/aural sense of what they’re reading or writing. That’s a dead loss. An awareness of what your own writing sounds like is an essential skill for a writer. Fortunately it’s quite easy to cultivate, to learn or reawaken.

A good writer, like a good reader, has a mind’s ear.”

Le Guin also wrote essays. Her most recent collection from 2017 is titled No Time to Spare (thinking about what matters). I read it earlier this month. Much earlier I read her 1979 collection, The Language of the Night (essays on fantasy and science fiction). It contains a 1973 essay titled Dreams Must Explain Themselves about her well-known Earthsea trilogy of young adult novels: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. Her discussion of A Wizard of Earthsea mentions:

“Wizards are usually elderly or ageless Gandalfs, quite rightly and archetypically. But what were they before they had white beards? How did they learn what is obviously an erudite and dangerous art? Are there colleges for young wizards? And so on.

….There are words, like rushwash tea, for which I can offer no explanation. They simply drink rushwash tea there; that’s what it is called, like lapsang soochong, or Lipton’s here. Rushwash is a Hardic word, of course. If you press me, I will explain that it comes from the rushwash bush, which grows both wild and cultivated everywhere south of Enlad, and bears a small round leaf which when dried and steeped yields a pleasant brownish tea. I did not know this before I wrote the foregoing sentence. Or did I know it and simply never thought about it. What’s in a name? A lot, that’s what.

….I said that to know the true name is to know the thing, for me, and for the wizards. This implies a good deal about the ‘meaning’ of the trilogy, and about me. The trilogy is, in one aspect, about the artist. The artist as magician. The Trickster. Prospero. That is the only truly allegorical aspect it has of which I am conscious. If there are other allegories in it please don’t tell me: I hate allegories. A is ‘really’ B, and a hawk is ‘really’ a handsaw – bah. Humbug. Any creation, primary or secondary, with any vitality to it can ‘really’ be a dozen mutually exclusive things at once, before breakfast.

     Wizardry is artistry. The trilogy is then, in this sense, about art, the creative experience, the creative process. There is always this circularity in fantasy. Dreams must explain themselves.”     

Her best-known speech is the commencement address she gave at Mills College in 1983.

I think I first encountered Le Guin via the 1980 film made for PBS from her 1971 novel, The Lathe of Heaven. You can watch it on YouTube.

The image was adapted from a 1939 Story Hour WPA poster at the Library of Congress.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Toastmasters International misevaluated

On January 10, 2018 Charles Crawford posted an article at his web site titled Toastmasters Evaluated. I found it because I saw that he had posted about it on two groups at LinkedIn: The Public Speaking group (where it got no comments) and the Public Speaking Network group (where it got 21 comments and then 7 replies from the author). I was not very impressed by his article, and think he hit far from a bullseye.

Did the author bother to identify what he was talking about? No, he didn’t explicitly mention the name of the organization (Toastmasters International). You had to follow a link to find even that. Did he identify the club he visited? No! (That’s like reviewing an entire restaurant chain without identifying the single location you ate at once). He just referred to it as his “friendly neighbourhood Toastmasters group.” I’m guessing perhaps he lives near Oxford, but that still doesn’t tell me which club. His title really should have been:

My superficial impressions from attending one ninety-minute evening meeting of the [Insert name here] Toastmasters Club.

The important part of Mr. Crawford’s evaluation is in these three paragraphs:

“At no point last night was there any wider discussion or analysis involving the actual audience about what had worked and why, or not. The consequence of having a bizarrely tight choreographed format as part of a wider TM Method is that there is no spontaneity or scope for exploration. Yes, lots of different people get to say something to the group. Applause! But how far are they really saying it well? How might those words have been prepared and delivered differently to far better effect? Is that a good way to learn what’s going on and how to improve? Not really.

The most striking thing about all the evaluating was that (as I saw it) it was largely evaluating the wrong things. The focus was on the superficial form (get a ‘hook’ to start a speech; tell a story; sum up; no verbal fumbles) as opposed to the underlying structure of the argument: the content-in-itself, and how best to convey it. Key problems with some speeches (namely that they made almost no sense or were self-contradictory) were not mentioned.

Likewise there was no proper analysis of how fast the different speakers were speaking, where exactly the speech engaged the audience or lost the audience, and why that had happened. Most of the people who had prepared their speeches did not know how to structure an argument for a speech and had no sense of how many words they needed for the time available, so in different ways control was lost. An easy one to fix, but not fixed last night.

Mr. Crawford apparently thinks that the evaluation process used by Toastmasters is just via an oral discussion It is not. The evaluator gives a two-to-three minute verbal presentation, but he also fills out a written evaluation based on a guide containing a series of questions for that project. Others in the audience also might provide written feedback, and a speaker’s mentor might meet him after the meeting or later to provide verbal and written feedback. Toastmasters has a preprinted Individual Speech Evaluation Form you can purchase. If Mr. Crawford had bothered to do some research by looking around on the Toastmasters web site, then he would have found an 8-page discussion in Item 202, Effective Evaluation. On page 3 of Effective Evaluation it says:

“Even when you are not the assigned evaluator, you are encouraged to give feedback. The more feedback a speaker or leader receives, the more the person benefits. This evaluation need not be as detailed as that of the assigned evaluator, but it should mention something the speaker or leader did well, something that could be improved, and a specific recommendation for improvement.

Most clubs provide members with short evaluation forms to fill out and give to the speaker or leader at each meeting, or you can write your evaluation on a piece of paper.”

Also, the evaluation is NOT just on superficial form but also considers content.  

For example, the basic Competent Communication manual contains 10 projects, with m questions (mq), n of which concern content (nc). Overall there are 105 questions, with 35 (a third) about content:

Project 1: The Ice Breaker (which you can find online) (8q) (1c)

Project 2: Organize Your Speech (9q) (6c)

Project 3: Get to the Point (10q) (6c)

Project 4: How to Say It (12q) ( 4c)

Project 5: Your Body Speaks (12q) (3c)

Project 6: Vocal Variety (13q) (2c)

Project 7: Research your topic (10q) (5c)

Project 8: Get comfortable with visual aids (11q) (2c)

Project 9: Persuade with power (11q) (4c)

Project 10: Inspire your audience (9q) (2c)

Competent Communication Total (105q) (35c)

For Project 9, Persuade with power, four questions about content are:

Was the speaker a credible source of information about the topic?

Did the speaker use facts and logical reasoning to support his or her views?

Was the speech organization effective?

Were you persuaded to accept the speaker’s views?

In his article Mr. Crawford hilariously referred just to “the TM Manual.” There actually are another 15 advanced manuals. Back in 2011 I blogged about how The Competent Communication manual is just the beginning of learning about public speaking in Toastmasters International.   

Toastmasters is completely changing its education program to the new web-based Pathways. This March it will begin to be available both in the United States and Europe. For the Ice Breaker speech you can find the Pathways evaluation form online. It has more detailed criteria which are similar to those in the 2nd edition of NCA’s rubric called the Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form. I blogged about it back in 2010 in a post titled Rubrics and figuring out where you are.

The archery target was modified from an image at Wikimedia Commons.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A list of 16 not-so-memorable quotations


Yesterday’s XKCD web comic by Randall Munroe was titled Memorable Quotes. One of his 16 is illustrated above. Elsewhere there also is an explanation. Three other quotes are:

“Oooh, look at me, I looked up a quote!”

“I don’t do a lot of public speaking, so I looked up a memorable quote to start my speech, and this is what I found. OK, you’re staring at me. Blankly but this whole thing is a quote. I know that sounds confusing, but…you know what, never mind.”

“This quote will be the only part of this presentation you remember.”

The July 2016 issue of Toastmaster magazine had a more serious article by John Zimmer on The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Quotes.

The Pennsylvania winter sunset image by Andrew Crouthamel came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A claim about fear of using public bathrooms that probably is crap

At the Odyssey web site, I found a strange article by Matt Neuenschwander titled The Notable Bathrooms of Kennesaw State University (and subtitled Finding solitude to make a solid). His first sentence claims:  

“Probably the only phobia more common than the fear of public speaking is the fear of using public bathrooms.”

Matt doesn’t say where he found that very curious ranking of fears. It disagrees with results from three magazine articles about the definitive U. S. mental health series collectively known as the National Comorbidity Survey.

A 1998 article about the original National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) found that 30.2% of feared public speaking while only 6.6% feared using a toilet away from home. I blogged about that one in a July 22,2011 post titled Putting the fears puzzle pieces together: social and specific fears in the National Comorbidity Survey.  

A 2008 article about the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication (NCS-R) found that 21.2% of U.S. adults feared public speaking/performance (really stage fright) while only 5.7% feared using public bathroom. I blogged about that one in an October 11, 2011 post titled What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia?

A 2011 article about the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) found that 35.8% feared performing for audience, 24.9% feared speaking in class, and 10.3% feared using public bathroom. I blogged about that one in a June 11, 2012 post titled What social situations scare American adolescents, and what are their top 20 fears?

That Odyssey web article has a date of December 22, 2015, but on Google it only showed up in the last few days.

The bathroom signs image was adapted from one by Hugh D’Andrade at Wikimedia Commons.   

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Insights West survey on Canadian fears from Halloween of 2017

Surveys about fears commonly get reported just before Halloween. One excellent survey on Canadians done by Insights West was reported on October 24, 2017 in an article unfortunately just titled Across Canada, Alberta is ‘Dream Province’ for Halloween Trick-or-Treaters. They surveyed 1,001 adults online (on October 18 to 22) about twenty-seven fears of things or situations, which were:

Being alone
Being the victim of a crime
Confined Spaces
Flying (Airplane/Helicopter)
Needles/Getting shots
Nuclear war
Open spaces
Open water (Ferry/Boat/
Public speaking

They were asked how much they feared each of them:

Very afraid

Somewhat afraid

Not too afraid

Not afraid at all

Not sure

The article reported the sum of percentages for Very afraid and Somewhat afraid. As shown above in a bar chart, the five most common fears were Terrorism 58%, Nuclear war 53%, Snakes and Heights both 44%, Being the victim of a crime 41%, and Public speaking 39%. (The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1%).

We could get even higher results by reporting the Grand sum of percentages for Very afraid, Somewhat afraid, and Not too afraid. As shown above in another bar chart, the five most common fears now were Terrorism 82%, Nuclear war 81%, Being the victim of a crime 77%, Heights 72%, and both Snakes and Public speaking at 69%.

Detailed results were presented in a nine-page .pdf file. Those details include results subdivided by gender (female or male), age (18-34, 35-54, 55+) and region (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan/Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia). I will only discuss the gender results.

As shown above in a bar chart, for females the five most common fears were Terrorism 64%, Nuclear war 57%, Snakes 50%, Being the victim of a crime 49%, and Public speaking 48%, and Heights 47%. A second bar chart shows that for males the five most common fears were Terrorism 50%, Nuclear war 49%, Heights 39%, Death and Snakes both 37%, Snakes 50%, and Being the victim of a crime 32%. (Water/drowning was sixth 30% and Public speaking was seventh 29%. A third bar chart shows all the differences (female minus male). For 23 of 27 fears the percentage was higher for females with the largest difference being for spiders – 42% versus 22%, a difference of 20%. Public speaking was second largest – 48% versus 29%, a difference of 19%. (Here the margin of error is larger +- 4.4%).

Another series of bar charts show the results for those four different levels of fear. For Very Afraid the five most common fears were Nuclear war 26%, Terrorism 25%, Snakes 21%, Heights 20%, and Public speaking 15%.

For Somewhat Afraid the five most common fears were Terrorism 33%, Nuclear war and Being the victim of a crime 27%, Death 25%, Heights and Public speaking 24%, and Snakes 23%.

For Not Too Afraid the five most common fears were Strangers 38%, Being the victim of a crime 36%, Germs 33%, Insects 32%, and a three-way tie between Death, Darkness, and Public speaking - all at 30%.

For Not Afraid At All the five most common fears were Birds 77%, Open spaces 76%, Fish 74%, Clowns 71%, and Dogs 65%. Conversely for Not Afraid At All the five least common fears were Terrorism and Nuclear war 15%, Being the victim of a crime 19%, Heights 26%, Public speaking 28%, and a tie between Death and Snakes - both 29%.

The survey also asked how much Canadians believed or disbelieved in six things. For Believe Completely plus Believe Somewhat the percentages were (as shown in yet another bar chart): 65% for That there is some form of life after death, 57% for Angels, 47% both for Ghosts (of any kind) and Haunted places, 43% for Demonic spirits, 41% for The Devil (or Satan), and just 7% for Zombies.

Yet another series of questions asked how you dealt with these fears in the past. As shown above in a chart, the percentages were: 45% for None of these, 30% for Asked another person to get rid of an insect/bug/spider, 23% for Altered your plans to avoid a thing or situation, 17% for Experienced a panic attack, 14% for Came close to losing it in front of others, 12% for Used stairs instead of an elevator to avoid being in a confined space.    

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What we should call older people, acronyms for their organizations, and their sounds

On January 2, 2018 I blogged about how I am a seasoned citizen, not a senior citizen. Then I discussed that post using the title What should we call older people? at LinkedIn on both the Official Toastmasters International Members Group and the Official Toastmasters International Group. More than a half-dozen comments came in from each group. Some were serious, others facetious or off-topic.

One comment was to call older people what they prefer. I looked around and found two places with almost the same answer. Back on July 8, 2014 there was an article by Ina Jaffe titled NPR survey reveals despised and acceptable terms for aging. She reported that only 43% liked ‘older adult,’ while about a third (33%) liked ‘senior,’ but only 12% liked ‘senior citizen.’ So, the majority didn’t like anything! There is a 2005 8th edition of the AARP Thesaurus of Aging Terminology,  which can be downloaded as a 272-page .pdf file. In their section on Relational Terms there are no entries under Coots, Elders, Geezers, Retirees, Sages, Seasoned Citizens or Senior Citizens. Under Elderly (on page 44) it says to USE Older Adults.

There also was a Dutch magazine article in 2006 by Bert Weijters and Maggie Geuens from Ghent University on Evaluation of age-related labels by senior citizens in Psychology & Marketing magazine whose abstract is here. An earlier full-text working paper version is here. They did a postal survey of 4800 Belgians, ages 40 to 80 but only received 684 responses. Participants were asked to rank five labels on a Likert scale where 1 was negative, 3 was neutral, and 5 was positive. As shown above in a bar chart, 50+ was 3.60, Senior was 3.51, Retired was 3.34, Third Age was 2.66, and Elderly was 2.61. 

Another commenter said he would avoid seasoned citizen, and then complained off-topic that the first ingredient in too many seasonings is salt. But my post had shown a bottle of red pepper flakes –with no salt whatever. Several commenters scolded me for using ANY label, and unrealistically said to only call a person by their name (since they each are unique as a snowflake).

A Canadian commenter said that anyone over 55 can be called a Senior, and further distinguished that 55 to 65 is a Young Senior, 65 to 85 is Senior, and 85+ is Elderly Senior. Page xxii of the AARP Thesaurus of Aging Terminology had very different set of age ranges: Middle Aged is 40 to 59, Young Old is 60 to 74, and Old Old is 75 to 100+. She also mentioned senior discounts.

One way to get lots of senior discounts is to join a group (once you have reached age 50). In the US there are AARP and AMAC, and in Canada there is CARP. AARP was founded in 1958 as the American Association of Retired Persons, and went to just using the acronym in 1999:

in recognition of the fact that many members continue to work full or part time.

AMAC started in 2007 and is the Association of Mature American Citizens. CARP says it is Canada’s largest advocacy association for older Canadians and, of course, formerly was the Canadian Association for Retired Persons.

Try pronouncing these acronyms, and things get funny. AARP sounds like the mealtime noise made by a hungry seal (arp or ahrp). CARP is a both a noun referring to a freshwater fish, and a verb meaning to complain about unimportant matters.   

And AMAC sounds like A Mac, which confusingly would refer to a family of Macintosh computers (iMac, MacBook, Mac Mini, Mac Pro) from Apple.

On page 126 of his novel, Lisey’s Story, Stephen King said:

“What’s the old saying? ‘Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late to dinner.’ “

Paul Cezanne’s painting of a man with crossed arms came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Celebrating 1500 blog posts

This blog just reached the milestone of 1,500 posts, and over 1,242,000 page views. (It had reached 1,000 posts back on December 1, 2014). What posts recently were popular? The Top Five for last month (and week) were:

Not quite my name (December 9, 2017)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

I am a seasoned citizen, not a senior citizen

At her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog on December 31, 2017 there was another silly article by Jane Genova titled The Language of Aging – struggling how we/others should refer to ourselves. She claimed no one wants to be classified as old but:

“Yet there are no alternatives which aren’t loaded down with rhetorical problems.”

Jane based that silly statement on an article from December 29, 2017 in the Washington Post by Laura L. Carstensen titled In search of a word that won’t offend ‘old’ people. Laura said:

“Alternative terms range from distant but respectful to outright patronizing. None of them are appealing to old people. The most widely used are ‘senior citizens,’ ‘retirees,’ ‘the elderly’ and ‘elders.’ Then there are the derogatory terms, such as ‘geezers’ and ‘coots,’ mostly whispered behind closed doors. And there are terms such as ‘sages,’ which frankly go too far in the opposite direction, as plenty of old people are a far cry from wise.”

Clearly neither Laura nor Jane had looked very far or very deeply. And Jane even suggested there should be a contest to come up with a new term! There are other more derogatory terms like the gassy "old farts" and the even worse Yiddish solids "alte kokkers." 

But we don’t need a new term, since “seasoned citizen” is reasonable and has been out there being used for a considerable time. For example, on July 30, 2017 in The Inquirer (Philly.com) Stacy Burling had an article titled ‘Seasoned?’ ‘Lucky?’ Readers join in the debate over what to call older people.

How long has that phrase been around? A decade ago on July 12, 2007 Rush Limbaugh used it in a column titled Seasoned Citizen gets advice on writing book And it appeared in an article by William Ecenbarger on December 22, 2004 in the Christian Science Monitor titled 'Senior citizen' is a euphemism that just doesn't fit. Back in 1984 Mary Lewis Coakley used it as the subtitle for her book, How to Live Life to the Fullest: A handbook for seasoned citizens. And further back in the May 1979 issue of The Rotarian a letter to the editor on page 50 by Wilferd A. Peterson said:

“The other day a friend who is also against the ‘senior citizen’ label called on us. She said she had either invented or run across a title she liked much better. I don’t know who originated it, but I like it. Her contribution was ‘seasoned citizen.’ That suggests a superior person, someone who has been through all the seasons of living, spring, summer, fall, and winter. ‘Senior’ means that someone has attained the honor or a title simply because of his age; it fails to suggest on-going, vital ability as ‘seasoned citizen’ does.”

Another recent article by Adrienne Kavelle on March 29, 2017 in the Somers, NY News (TAP into Somers) titled The ‘Seasoned Citizen’ explained it this way: 

Why ‘Seasoned Citizen’? Think about it—seasoning brings out the best in everything. Aged or seasoned wine; seasoned wood; seasoned food. Seasoning adds more flavor, more zest. To be seasoned is to become more experienced, have more time invested in living and sometimes, even if only by osmosis, learn to appreciate the wonders of the universe; to be saturated with life. That is why ‘Seasoned Citizen’ as opposed to any other title.

A Seasoned Citizen is someone who has lived through events younger people will never know. Someone who has weathered loss and change and should be revered, and not just relegated to the back seat of the car or a 10 percent discount. A Seasoned Citizen has borne the trials of living and has emerged a winner!”

The image shows a bottle of red pepper flakes.

Near the end of her article Laura L. Carstensen mentioned another better term from gardening:

“Last spring, I met Maureen Conners, a fascinating woman who works in fashion technology, an emerging longevity industry (that is, a business providing the needs of older people, including education, travel and entertainment). She uses the word ‘perennials’ to refer to older customers.

Upon first hearing this term, I was startled. The symbolism it connotes is perfect. For one, ‘perennials’ makes clear that we’re still here, blossoming again and again. It also suggests a new model of life in which people engage and take breaks, making new starts repeatedly. Perennials aren’t guaranteed to blossom year after year, but given proper conditions, good soil and nutrients, they can go on for decades. It’s aspirational.”

Stacy Burling’s article also pointed out that we could get more specific:

“Here’s what Bonnie Dalzell, who turned 80 this year, suggested: ‘Refer to those in their 70s as septuagenarians, those in their 80s, octogenarians, those in their 90s, nonagenarians, those who reach 100 or more, centenarians. Those in their 60s will love their ‘label’ – sexagenarians!’  True that, but, selfishly, I don’t want to have to spell septuagenarian more than once a year.”

The table shown above lists all the names for The Genarians by decades from a February 2, 2011 article at The Writer’s Workshop.

For more, see the January 10th blog post titled
--> What we should call older people, acronyms for their organizations, and their sounds.