President Obama and language used stupidly

This is “a teachable moment” according to President Barack Obama.  I agree. This blog is devoted to advancing the art and science of communications, not politics,  so I won’t dwell on the rhyme or reason of the President’s statement made during his nationally televised prime time press conference this past Wednesday which opened Pandora’s box regarding the issue of racial profiling in this country. Suffice it to say that strictly rhetorically speaking, he either knew what he was doing or he didn’t. Given the context, a press conference convened principally to push his health insurance reform agenda – the latest nomenclature chosen in lieu of “health care reform”, as hopefully more effective – this same President who usually measures his  words, certainly should have considered  that his comment would be a pot boiler  and a distraction in terms of staying on message. Giving credit to the President as an astute public speaker, which few would deny, at the time, this was very possibly a “slip of the tongue”; Speaking extemporaneously, even with advance preparation and briefing, does not give much time for reflection ahead of utterance –  so, this public speaking “incident” becomes an excellent example to demonstrate that indeed  communication – particularly verbal communication – is most certainly in many respects an art as much as anything.

The particulars are that in response to a reporter’s question posed late in the press conference asking for the President’s reaction to an occurrence involving the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who happens to be African-American and who happens to be a renowned African-American scholar and who happens to own the home and the property where he was hand-cuffed and charged  with disorderly conduct (the charges were subsequently dropped), the President used the following language – among other language used: he stated that the police officers “acted stupidly”.

There are a number of words which in any language are “charged” with emotion – “stupid” and its variations are in such a lexicon. The word was used as an adverb, a form which modifies the verb “acted” and tells us in what manner someone acted. Like an adjective modifies a noun, like a rose becomes a red rose, an action becomes “stupid”. Now what was attempted to be qualified was the action, not the actor. Unfortunately the word chosen was also in the category of what I call “splatter” words – a word that “paints with a broad brush” so that everything in sight becomes “splattered” by it; so what was imputed by the media, the public in general, and the Cambridge Police Department in particular? Was  the President of the United States suggesting –  that the police officers involved were stupid! “Strong” language –  “stupid” qualifies as “strong” language – is to be used judiciously when warranted. When warranted? When circumstances require such a term for emphasis.

The latest “Special Features” section of this blog, “The Lens”, showcases the pronouncements of none other than the great Mark Twain addressing specifically all matters germane to communications, written and oral – Twain knew a thing or two about public speaking and his work as presented in this section is recommended to you; I want to quote one pithy point here. Twain said: “An adjective habit…once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” He cautioned about using adjectives, and by extension their cousins, adverbs, sparingly – which would then strengthen their impact when they were used. Well President Obama normally heeds Twain’s advice, not peppering his speaking with such words, and therefore his use of the word “stupidly” was reacted to vigorously (whoops there I go as well, you can see how easy it is to fall into the trap).

So what is the lesson to be learned? Choose your words carefully.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/27/president-obama-and-language-used-stupidly/

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Moonwalking for real

40 years ago  this coming week man walked on the moon. Incredible feat (feet)! Today, the grainy video footage has been digitally enhanced through the auspices of a video restoration organization, and the “high def” version is quite a sight to behold. To see for yourself go to: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/hd/apollo11.html

Communication comes in many forms using many means, and has evolved  from Edison’s audio “recreations” as they were called (records) to CGI (computer generated images); certainly we’ve come a long way – including quite literally from the moon.

The point I want to make is that communication technology – at any point in time – ordinarily comes ahead of our ability and full understanding of how to most effectively utilize that technology. We are always just scratching the surface of developing technology. Look at TV – consider what was “on” at the start – basically just radio with pictures (if you don’t count the test patterns which showed up when content was not being broadcast, which was a lot of the time in the early days). We had to learn how to use the new medium, and as we gained an understanding of it, we absolutely altered the way we used it.

The cell phone of yesterday is the smart phone of today. What will come next? Another “giant leap for mankind” undoubtedly.

Today, let’s remember all that has gone before – including the seemingly archaic footage (there’s that “feet” verbiage again) of a man on the moon July 21, 1969 – 02:56 UTC, i.e. Coordinated Universal Time (or July 20, 10:56 pm,  EDT)which without question led to advancements now and in the future.

(This is a Quick Takes post; very brief posts on very timely topics with more detailed discussion to follow as warranted.)

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/07/17/moonwalking-for-real/

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Viral “marketing” – word of mouth in a YouTube world

We are presently experiencing a virtual pandemic. I am not referring to the current Swine Flu, more properly named the H1N1 Flu . I am speaking of viral marketing,  the term itself is relatively recent and started to be used in the mid 1990’s. The term’s imagery is particularly engaging. While it certainly can carry a negative connotation I want to address the ramifications of this “phenomena” as it relates to the age-old concept of “word of mouth” now sometimes referred to simply as “WOM”.  We have all heard this: there is no better form of advertising than word-of-mouth. Among other attributes of WOM, the perceived non-commerical nature of the communication enhances its credibility. One of my basic premisses about WOM in its contemporary manifestation is that technology has spawned a social networking capability that adds such potential impact to word of mouth  that it has or at least is on its way to re-asserting itself as one principal means for driving acceptance/popularity of products, persons, ideas, and “information”.

How did someone or something get notice – positive or negative – historically, let’s say in Rome in 63 B.C. “Word” travelled on horseback or chariot; escapades and episodes were passed from person to person and made reputations, for ill or well. But it wasn’t exactly speedy delivery.

Cicero, the great orator, politician, and philosopher of the period said “Like readily consorts with like”; the idea is that the transmission of a message from an accepted source has both credibility and influence, and is therefore eagerly  shared with others,  because in part, the person who passes it on  wants to be associated with the remark and the party making it.

In viral communication, those who get the “virus” affect going are usually individuals with what has been characterized as high social networking potential (SNP).  There is in fact a whole new area of marketing/public relations activity devoted just to injecting positive “buzz” intentionally through using a viral approach – kind of like seeding a cloud to produce a rain shower.

The Susan Boyle example from the TV show “Britian’s Got Talent” is a textbook study in viral communication and its potential impact. The YouTube clip of her singing in the competition literally spanned the globe with meteoric speed, and due largely to this she has become something of an icon – and rightly so, exemplifying  the adage, “you can’t tell a book by its cover”. Thus the rise of another “star”  born through the power of the Internet.

There are lots of implications for all of this. Does the viral approach to popularizing persons and things have merit or is it a menace? The verdict is yet to be rendered –  by a jury of our peers  –  and the jury is still out.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/05/24/viral-marketing-word-of-mouth-in-a-youtube-world/

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“The Journal of Irreproducible Results”

This is for real. No kidding. The Journal of Irreproducible Results has been around for a long time and is in its 48th year of publication. I always smile when I recall articles from it that I have read in the past. Virologist Alexander Kohn and physicist Harry J. Lipkin founded the journal in 1955 in Ness Ziona, Israel. The journal is dedicated to providing humor with a scientific bent. The Wikipedia entry characterizes the journal’s content as a “unique mix of jokes, satire of scientific practice, science cartoons, and discussion of funny but real research.”  JIR characterizes itself in this way: “JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good .” 🙂

If you want to feel good, go to:  http://www.jir.com/home.html

Happy April Fools’ (also known as All Fools’) Day!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/01/the-journal-of-irreproducible-results/

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