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Anyone for ... sock options?

The cutline proclaimed "Employees at Classic Farms keep an eye on tenderfoots learning the art of hauling hay from a field in Smithfield, Maine."

Ay-uh. Will you be making any changes? (More at P.S. below.)

* Two m-words require attention today. M-1: Syndicated columnist George F. Will opines from Washington, "The push for metrification does not merely reflect the government's primal urge to be a bossy nuisance." Save a syllable with metrication, the form of choice at the noun's birth in the mid 1960s.

M-2: Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam writes from Houston that "Neither the nearby four-lane freeway nor the Galleria mall, a metastasized Saks Fifth Avenue spreading over several city blocks, had been built." If Beam's aim was to throw an elbow at Saks, I think he missed; if he wished to suggest helter-skelter expansion by the mallmaker, I say the same. Metastasis (pl.-ses) is a dark-side word, chilling in its portent and elemental terror and clinical detachment: "1. (Pathology) Transmission of pathogenic microorganisms or cancerous cells from an original site to one or more sites elsewhere in the body, usually by way of the blood vessels or lymphatics. 2. A secondary cancerous growth formed by transmission of cancerous cells from a primary growth located elsewhere in the body." (American Heritage III) To write of the cancer of urban decay is one thing; to suggest that SFA is the primary site of a carcinoma, even metaphorically, is not good form. There is such a thing as trying too hard to be different or clever, and I think this is an instance.

* John E. Webber, who is vice president of communications at General Mills Restaurants, Inc., in Orlando, Fla., received a solicitation from a management consulting outfit late last fall. Observing that "It's not only poorly designed and written, it's riddled with typos. And some of the obfuscation is so artfully done I thought someone was pulling my leg. I expected to turn a page and see a big 'gotcha' splashed across it", Webber concluded "It would be a brave communicator who chose this vendor based on this prospectus."

Here are some of his reasons:

* The first two grafs of the cover letter: "Employee stock options and ownership ... motivational initiatives shaping corporate culture, benefit/entitlements, or program of the month? We believe it's the former, and our strategic employee communications management approach has impacted over 300,000 employees worldwide."

All right ... the three points of ellipsis plus that or raise questions about what or which is the former. And I don't know about you, but whenever I see a word like approach ushered in by a quartet of advance modifiers, I get the feeling I should start looking over my shoulder. Question: What image is supposed to ignite in the reader's brain when she reads about all those impacted employees? I don't know, either.

Here follows a random sample of felonies and misdemeanors plucked from the un-numbered pages of the proposal itself:

* "Companies lanuching ... initiatives." One presumes launching.

* "For sock options ...." Surely stock?

* "Our role is advisory, providing objective council ...." Counsel.

* "Identifying and organizing stakeholders from those most effected to those least effected." Affected, two times.

* "The communications strategy is ... for diseminating the intent ...." Disseminating.

* "They recognize the need for a comprehensive communications strategy that would become a seemless part of the overall initiative." Yes, and I seem less and less impressed by this unseamly drivel!

* "Explicitly defining machanisms ...." Mechanisms, or maybe machinations?

* "Providing expert, concentrated advise during ... exersize anniversaries." Make it advice. I am clueless regarding that following phrase.

* "Do-it-your-self communications audits." All by my very own-self?

* "We developed an action plan to assist Pepsi's line managers understand new and complex process models, and facilitate broadbased employee understanding ...." My friend, you are on your own.

High abstraction swathed in passive forms, suffocating circumlocutions, this and more we suffer in this dreadful display of sexless, nerve-numbing, smarmy crap. The really bad news, of course, is that some of it sticks.

To valued correspondent John Webber, I say my thanks ... I think.

(P.S. -- All my dictionaries acknowledge -foots and -feet as standard plurals; the OED concurs. But y'all watch out around talisman and gravamen.)

Alden Wood, 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.
COPYRIGHT 1993 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; evaluation of a solicitation letter
Author:Wood, Alden
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Making electronic communication legal - or at least workable.
Next Article:Linking common threads.

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