This Speak Previews® piece looks back at three articles published this year. Click on the provided links to refresh your memory of the originals, and by all means email us with your thoughts and ideas, suggestions and solutions.
"Fatberg," you say? The British said it first, back in 2008, to denote an accumulation of fat and waste material (such as diapers) that can grow large enough to block city sewers. How large can a fatberg grow? At the moment, the record seems to be one discovered in London under Whitechapel Road—130 tons and 800 feet long.
Almost too big to imagine? Then make the statistics/numbers more relatable by placing them in a visual reality. Most articles on this particular fatberg do just that, one describing it as a "blob the size of 11 double-decker buses," and another noting its length as almost that of three football fields. Both comparisons give the reader a concrete image that the numbers themselves usually cannot do. These particular images offer the additional advantage of being easy to verify if a reader has doubts; the dimensions of a double-decker bus and of a football field can be easily compared to those reported for the fatberg.
One of our respondents suggested that communicators take care when translating the abstraction of numbers into something commonly known or experienced. He sometimes checks such comparisons and sometimes finds them inaccurate or misleading. His advice is sound. Take care when you create the comparisons and take care when you interpret them.
We've also received support for our suggestion that business communicators can be more effective when they manage to steer clear of business clichés and "corporate speak." When speakers and writers use normal language, regular language, everyday language instead of jargon, their messages become clearer. This clarity holds whether one is speaking before an audience of a hundred or an audience of five.
Googling the term "business jargon" yields 599,000 results. "Corporate speak," nearly 2,500,000. "Business speak," about 390,000,000. Astonishing! That so many sites address the use of business jargon indicates that it's a topic of ongoing concern. "I expect the topic will never disappear," said Michael Vivion, PhD, ECG Principal. "Specific jargon comes and goes, but it never goes away. It just changes, manifesting itself in new words and phrases. That's unfortunate because using jargon sends a strong signal that the speaker doesn't care enough about the occasion to craft a clear, strong message."
But you do care, right? Let your diction show it.
The logical fallacy of ad hominem occurs when attention shifts from the merits of an argument to the character, behavior, or some real or imagined unsavory quality of the person making the argument. It's the shift of attention that is the ad hominem fallacy. Arguments must be evaluated on their reasoning and evidence, not on the characteristics of the person presenting the argument.
And though an ad hominem fallacy usually takes the form of a personal attack, the fallacy does have a sunnier but equally fallacious form. It occurs when the positive characteristics of an arguer cause others to accept an argument without evaluating its strength: "She's been the board president for about six years, so if she supports the changes, that's good enough for me."
And, last, the ad hominem fallacy is not the same thing as name-calling. You can fling ad hominem statements all day and hurl champion insults all week, but if no argument has been presented, no fallacy occurs. Just incivility.