November 23, 2010

Misplaced Missiles

Lockheed Martin no doubt means its slogan, "We never forget who we're working for," to be reassuring. But here at The Awkward Adverb, we find it cryptic and disconcerting.

As a manufacturer of fighter jets and missiles, Lockheed has sizable contracts with the U.S. military. So does it consider the Pentagon to be the principal entity to please? Or perhaps Lockheed believes it's working for the American public in general? Company shareholders, maybe? The slogan raises a question it doesn't answer. Lockheed's management may know the company's priorities, but the rest of us are left in the dark.

And the slogan raises a disturbing possibility. Does Lockheed have a habit of forgetting who ordered its products? We certainly hope not. We wouldn’t want the company to forget that it was the United States who commissioned that F-16, and not Iran or North Korea.

Lastly, the slogan's grammar is incorrect. The ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition issue is no big deal, but the slogan should be "We never forget whom we're working for." Granted, many consider the use of whom too stuffy for everyday English, but Lockheed isn't going after a happy-hour crowd. The company manufactures dangerous products that demand precision. Since the slogan doesn't reflect care in either meaning or mechanics, it should have been left on the drawing board.

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Are there any slogans you think are badly written? What are they?

October 12, 2010

Gotcha Journalism

A September post on the New York Times' small business blog ran with this title:

Eagle-eyed readers, however, noticed that the URL said, "Social Media Is Easier Than You Think."

Which is correct? "Social media are...," or Social media is...?"

There are two linguistic schools of thought on such matters. One would say that the correct form would be "Social media are...," because media is the Latin-derived plural for medium. Plural words, of course, take "are."

The other side prefers to accept language as it's actually used and believes native speakers are the ultimate authority on what's correct. Since "Social media is..." sounds more natural to many people's ears, it's fine, even preferable. People often speak of media as a singular entity (like government), Latin origins be damned.

Here at The Awkward Adverb, we're not going to come firmly down on one side or the other. We will, however, fault The New York Times for inconsistency. Whatever version its editors deem correct, the publication should stick with it.

This error may be minor in the grand scheme of things, but it's always fun to say "Gotcha" to an august institution like The New York Times.

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Do you think "media" should be considered singular or plural? Can you think of other examples of English usage in which the "correct" version might seem awkward?

August 31, 2010

Banishing the Buzz

Unsuck It, a new buzzword dictionary making some buzz on the Internet, claims to "unsuck" pretentious business jargon into normal English. The online lexicon contains some apt entries of inflated buzzwords that indeed need to have hot air sucked out.

For example, a team player is translated as "helpful employee," a go-forward plan is just a "plan," and the word synergy is unsucked to mean
simply "working together." Computer jockeys who self-importantly claim to be ninjas, rockstars, or wizards are demoted to "adequate programmers." The list contains some new-fangled terms that I hadn't known existed, including timebox, upskill, and adverteasing. Other terms that I had heard before, but perhaps wish I hadn't, are mindshare, ping me, and ideation.

At the same time, Unsuck It doesn't always hit its target. Skin a cat, drop the ball, and drink the Kool-Aid are unsucked on the site, but they are perfectly ordinary English idioms. And I wouldn't consider brainstorm or ubiquitous to be buzzwords. They’re just words.

Still, the greater cause of Unsuck It, to discourage the use of inflated jargon, should be supported. Ironically, if the website becomes popular, unsuck may end up becoming a buzzword that
itself needs unsucking.

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What business jargon drives you crazy? What buzzwords should be banished?