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Lawyerly phrase of 'counsel' finds itself hitched to a hip new communi-cause.

Eager to buff your image? Consider a kicky new job title. When the principal of a Massachusetts public affairs and strategic communications firm decided to lighten her workload, she didn't retire; she refocused. Saying she would continue to represent all her clients, and do marketing and new business searches, she breezed that she will act as of counsel to the organization.

Black's Law Dictionary defines the lawyerly phrase as "the counsel employed by a party in a cause, and particularly to one employed to assist in the preparation or management of a cause, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney of record for the party."

Of Counsel...hmmm. It calls for a bit of shape-shifting, no question, but it'd look pretty impressive parked just after your ABC or APR. And it's a lot cheaper than a new Jaguar.

* In CW's June/July issue just past, a reader questioned whether "He took the decision" is preferable to "He made the decision." Now I have recent word from ABC Dan Danbom, manager of executive communication at KN Energy in Lakewood, Colorado:

"Regarding the question on 'making a decision' vs. 'taking a decision,' aren't both wasteful locutions? What's wrong with 'decided'? Same principle for: made a change (changed); made a choice (chose); made a determination (determined);... made up his mind (decided)." Cool! Let's see, now: made the bed (bedded)...

* George Fox, who is HR communications specialist for Union Bank of California, San Francisco, e-mailed me thus in September:

"One of the dangers of writing a word-guru column is that people like me will pore over the contents looking for errors. You made it easy for me in your 'Writing Disorders' column in the Aug/Sept Communication World: a horrible comma splice festers near the top of the second column. (I refer, of course, to 'Keep in mind that the homophones will get you if you don't watch out, witness this message from Mason Cole...Portland, Ore...,') Highly unfortunate when you're upbraiding others for their editorial slovenliness, don't you think?"

On the surface, what reader Fox opines is legit: The comma splice, or comma fault, rule warns, "Do not connect two main clauses with only a comma." But sweep aside the surface flora and fauna and one discovers balanced main clauses. As the Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers notes, "A comma is sometimes used between main clauses not connected by a coordinating conjunction if two clauses are in balance or in contrast."

Another example of balanced clauses: "Good nutrition is not just smart, it's vital." Of contrasting clauses: "Some people eat to live, others live to eat." Tom Wolfe used so-called contact clauses in Look Homeward, Angel: "The theatre was dark, the second show was over." The discerning writer will sense when this style helps the reader and opt for the path less trodden.

* Reader Leila Zogby e-mails her concern about a CW columnist's sentence that said, "Sometimes, employees just need to talk among each other to reach a conclusion..."

She asks, "Shouldn't that be among themselves or with each other? Among sounds strange. Can you clarify?"

Among sounds strange in the citation because it's handcuffed to each other, which is commonly taken to signal an event involving no more than two persons. John Bremner's Words on Words casts this light on the matter:

"If two persons are having a conversation, each is talking to the other; they are talking to each other. If three persons are having a conversation, each is talking to one and to another one; they are talking to one another. The principle seems simple and sensible, but authorities are split on it. For example, 55 percent of the American Heritage [Dictionary] experts accept each other for more than two, and 54 percent accept one another for only two. A stronger case can be made for the acceptance of one another for only two than for the acceptance of each other for more than two. But why not accept the principle?" Bremner adds that "Among should not be used for only two."

Reader Zogby's among themselves is familiar and to the point.

* Most of us know euphemism, substitution of a kinder, gentler word for one that might be thought harsh. Have you run in to its antonym, dysphemism? Examples include shrink for psychiatrist; pencil pusher for superbly skilled print-media communicator.

Alden Wood, APR, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations. His e-mail address is awood@simmons.edu
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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; proper use of words and punctuations
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:763
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