One of the skills many people find most challenging is apologising.
It’s also one of the most important skills in business - if not in life. A good apology leaves everyone satisfied and clears a space to move forward. A weak apology, on the other hand, can leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the recipient - a lingering resentment and belief that you were simply trying to look good, rather than take responsibility for whatever required the apology in the first place.
A powerful apology does four things:
A powerful apology does NOT:
Some years ago I was in a media conference with a leading advertising agency. A reporter asked the GM why the agency had recently lost a big account. The GM began talking about “chemistry” and other meaningless concepts. The MD stepped in and said “we lost the account because we stopped listening.” Boom.
That’s how a powerful apology works. No excuses. No blame. Full responsibility.
Then everyone’s free to move on.
Sometimes word origins can be kind of mysterious. Take dilapidated, which derives from the Latin delapidare, which, as you rock hounds will have guessed, is based on the noun lapis, or stone. Hence lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone, and lapidary for someone skilled at working with precious stones. Lapidation is the term for punishment or death by stoning - and it says something about the modern world that the word doesn't yet have "[archaic]" beside it in the dictionary.
But what does being in a state of disrepair have to do with small rocks?
Nothing, unless you picture someone scattering stones every which way - which is what the verb delapidare means. It's a short hop from that image to the idea of a stone structure (a popular building choice among Latin-speaking builders and shopping mall developers) being gradually dismantled and its parts scattered by the elements until it is, literally, dilapidated.
For this reason, some diehards long maintained that dilapidated could only refer to stone structures (as opposed, say, to ageing bloggers). Let's be straight here and call such people what they are: crazy. They were demonstrating the etymological fallacy, which maintains that the "true" meaning of a word is its original meaning and nothing else. A more persistent example is the view that decimate can only mean reduce by a tenth, as it comes from the same root as decimal (base 10) and did, indeed, once mean reduce by a tenth. That was in the days when one form of discipline among army ranks or conquered hordes was to kill every tenth person to encourage the remaining nine to fall into line. (I know I would.)
But just as disciplinary practices evolve, so does language. Today decimate means kill, destroy or remove a large percentage of - the opposite, and way more brutal end of the spectrum from the original meaning. Genghis Khan would surely approve.
Your About Us page is one of the most important pages on your website. It's also one of the most abused (maybe not on your website, but certainly on many others).
Far too many company websites use the About Us page to either blow their own trumpet or tell a dull story about how the company got founded and grew to where it is now.
That's a lost opportunity. A great About Us page delivers information the reader wants or needs to know. Do that, and visitors will keep reading - and convert to customers more often.
So how do you write a great About Us page? By downloading our free ebook and using it for guidance and inspiration!
The "ye" in Ye Olde Bookshop and other mildly nauseating names isn't - and never was - pronounced "ye". Our ancestors pronounced it "the".
So why write "ye", ye ask (that second one was the nominative "ye", as in "O, ye of little faith"). I'll tell you. The letter "y" was a printer's adaptation of an Old English character called the thorn, used to represent the "th" sound. It looked like this: þ. "Y" was allegedly the nearest character available in the Roman alphabet, which makes you wonder if our forebears had ever seen the letters b or p.
Popular theory has it that this little gem of a word was coined by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr Seuss, in his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo. That may be a stretch, however. While Dr Seuss almost certainly played a key role - if not the key role - in popularising nerd, the word had been around for a few years already as a variation on nert, which itself was a humorous pronunciation of nut.
In If I Ran the Zoo, nerds are what the Oxford Words blog describes as "small, unkempt, humanoid creature[s] with a large head and a comically disapproving expression". Some would argue that the word's meaning hasn't altered since, but try telling that to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg during the job interview.
Related insulty type words include geek and the rather aggressive nimrod. Geek originally meant a sideshow freak (hence Bob Dylan's lyric "you hand in your ticket / to go see the geek"), which possibly derived from the German geck, to mock or cheat. The modern sense of a social misfit with advanced computer skills dates from the early 1980s. Like nerd, geek has been reclaimed by those who've been labelled with the term, which makes it a kissing cousin of words like gay, dyke, queer and even some racially abusive terms which I won't repeat here.
Nimrod, on the other hand, was the son of Cush, referred to in Genesis as "a mighty hunter before the Lord". How the name became an insult is a mystery, although various theories have been suggested - none of them convincing. Whatever the case, one thing you can be sure of is that if anyone calls you a nimrod today, they're not expressing their admiration for your impressive pedigree.
A couple of days ago I gave a presentation on language to a local seniors organisation. They were a lively, opinionated bunch, which made the morning loads of fun. During the tea break, one woman whispered to me how much she hated her grandchildren's habit of using like as a filler (as in, "I was, like, so bummed out").
Let's get the terminology out of the way first. Like, used in that manner, is called a discourse particle. That's another name for a word that has no direct semantic meaning within the sentence in which it occurs.
But Beryl (not her real name) had no business getting righteous about the ringing emptiness of young people's speech. She certainly is just as guilty as her grandchildren of uttering meaningless words.
Don't believe me? Notice the next time you respond to a question with a sentence that begins "Welllll, ....". Let me tell you, that word well doesn't mean a damn thing. And if you never say "you know", well, you know, you're a better man than me, Gunga Din. I won't bore you with more examples, but trust me when I say the list is, really, pretty darn extensive as a matter of fact.
Discourse particles, which are recognisable words stripped almost bare of meaning, are a subset of fillers, which include sounds that never have lexical meaning in any context, such as your ums, ahs, ers, and so on. Whether they have no meaning at all is debatable. Some researchers say they're devices for giving yourself time to think about what to say next without ceding control of the conversation - a bit like slow drivers who hog the fast lane (but don't get me started). In that case, they certainly perform a meaningful function in speech. And if you're someone who likes to have the last, ah, word, it could be a very useful function indeed.
This modest little word derives from the Old French naperon, meaning small table cloth. When it first made its way into the English language in the 1400s, it became Anglicised - quite reasonably - as napron. And so it stayed for 150 years or so, before becoming apron.
So where did the n disappear to? I hear you ask.
It didn't. Well, not exactly. It simply shifted to the left, as you can hear when someone talks about wearing an apron.
This phenomenon is called false splitting, and it's occurred more than once. For example, a ninkling became an inkling, a nauger became an auger, and that most English of snakes transformed from a nadder to an adder (thank heavens: Blacknadder just doesn't sound the same, does it?).
Mediaeval scribes didn't help. They wrote words so close together that it was often hard to tell where one ended and a new one started. Only an itwit would do that today.
The process can also work in reverse, with n being added to words that didn't originally have one. If you have a nickname, there was a time when what you had was an eke name (eke means additional - hence "eke out a living"). That little amphibious beastie called a newt was originally an eute.
Even proper names aren't exempt. Ned and Nellie are both thought to have emerged from the fond phrase "mine [insert object of affection's name here]". This led to "mine Ed" becoming misheard as "my Ned" and likewise with Ellie to Nellie.
But who would call someone "mine x" in the first place? Someone from before the 13th century is who. Until then, people didn't say my anything - it was always mine (mine wife, mine hovel, etc). When my became popular, mine was still reserved for use in front of words beginning with a vowel - just as we use an versus a today. But listeners began hearing it as my. If they hadn't, today we'd be lauding the Australian folk hero, Ed Kelly, and Eskimo Elle would be the one celebrated in that famous (and largely unprintable) epic poem.
Avocados originate from South America, where the Aztecs called them ahucatl, after their word for testicle. No explanation required there, although one hopes the analogy was based on shape rather than colour.
As we all know, the Spanish eventually arrived on American shores and, as conquering hordes are apt to do, decided that easier than getting their tongues around the natives' word (yes, I know what you're thinking, and shame on you) was using one of their own words which sounded similar. Thus ahucatl became avocado, the Spanish word for advocate.
And there the story could end, but then it wouldn't be much of a story, would it? Another popular name for avocados is alligator pears - again, for obvious reasons, given their dark green, knobbly skin. Now where do you think the word alligator comes from? Well, mis amigos, it's a mangling of the Spanish el legarto, aka the lizard.
Isn't that a nice symmetry? Those rotten Spanish conquistadors mess up a perfectly good Aztec word, then us English speakers take their messed up Aztec word and replace it with another word which is, itself, a messed up Spanish word. Ha! Anyone know the Spanish word for karma?
I was watching Things to do in Denver When You're Dead a while back, when one of the characters said the word sabotage came about from striking French workers' practice of throwing old wooden shoes - sabots - into machinery to damage it.
That was too good a story to ignore. Turns out, though, that it's probably not true. The word was first recorded in 1910, and it certainly does derive from the French sabot. However, the first usages tended towards the meaning "bungle clumsily" rather than "maliciously damage". It's likely, therefore, that sabotage came about because of how difficult it is to walk in wooden shoes elegantly or without making a lot of noise. During World War I, the current meaning took hold and has endured.
Sabot and the English boot both have their roots in the Old French bot. The German film Das Boot is not about footwear but a submarine. (It's also one of the most gripping films you'll ever see.) Foot and footwear fetishism is called podophilia. Careful how you pronounce it.
But I digress.
In more recent years, sabotage has been borrowed and adapted to give us cybotage, the deliberate undermining of computers, networks and other electronic systems. What you would call the act of throwing a wooden shoe at a computer, then, is anyone's guess, but perhaps sabocybotage would do the trick. Remember where you read it first.
Singer Jose Feliciano had a hit in the 1970s with a cheerful song called Feliz Navidad, Spanish for Merry Christmas. My wife, who will never let me near her again when she reads this, misheard the phrase and thought he was singing "Bobby's mummy died".
She had fallen victim to a mondegreen - the mishearing of a lyric in a way that gives it a new, often hilarious, meaning. We've all done it of course. Or so I'm told.
"Mondegreen" was coined by American Sylvia Wright after she misheard a line from the 17th-century ballad "The Bonny Earl Moray". What she heard was:
"They hae slain the Earl O'Moray
And Lady Mondegreen."
The actual lyric, however, was:
"They hae slain the Earl O'Moray
And laid him on the green."
Song lyrics seem to be the most popular source of mondegreens, perhaps because singers tend to worry less about careful pronunciation, which is putting it kindly. Famous examples include "scuse me while I kiss this guy" (real lyric: "scuse me while I kiss the sky" - Jimi Hendrix), and "there is a bathroom on the right" instead of "there is a bad moon on the rise", from Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising". Eventually both Hendrix and CCR began singing the mondegreen versions of these lyrics in concert.
In the 1980s, Maxell tapes produced a couple of classic ads based on the mondegreen phenomenon - check them out here and here.