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Language items from before 2009:
T'wer me poorly toe
of Madeline Reid's recent poems The art of, um, speaking clearly
Not finding a
Toastmaster club Oral tradition
The sight metaphor
your audience Speaking Skills
to be terribly vague
A new leadership
theory Metaphor The science of team
long thread Defense
of SO Grammar
there are easier ways The
snowclone, an eggcorn and a Cupertino Word Wars Forget
the logic A Child's
Christmas in Wales
I have noticed a change in British
speech in the 25 years since I lived in England. Older people sound the
same as they did and are quite easy to understand. Younger people speak
much faster than they used to and also with less clarity. Harry also
noticed this, independently.
I finally remarked on this to someone and they referred to the change
as 'Estuary English'. This variety of English fits well with what I
encountered except that descriptions of EE do not seem to mention the
rapid pace of speech, the first thing that I noticed. EE is described
as something between Cockney and BBC-Oxford-Queen's-Received English.
What seems to be driving this change is that EE doesn't appear to carry
a class label. It is used by young well-educated financial wizards in
the City of London when they want to sound informal and by less
education members of the working class from East London when they want
to sound formal and proper. It is also a way for youngsters outside of
southeast England to lose their regional accents without sounding too
It is also noticeable, that television is using mild regional accents
more commonly than they used to. It is most noticeable in news readers
and characters in advertisements. I don't remember ads with regional
accents years ago, other than for comic effect, but now it is normal
for the actors to appear to be from somewhere: Liverpool, Birmingham,
Manchester or even London. This appears to allow them to be more
credible stand-ins for the viewer than if they sported an elocution
When I was here before, brown and black people tended to speak with
foreign accents (or with Received English accents but rarely with
regional accents). It used to be something incongruous that the small
children of immigrants spoke in broad regional accents, while their
parents had Indian, West Indian, West African etc. accents. Now these
children have grown up and are the majority of the brown and black
people in many places. They still have the regional accents they
acquired as children and have also acquired a tinge of EE.
So the class, region and ethnic language barriers are becoming weaker
and the generation ones greater. That's 'brilliant' as the English say
me poorly toe
I heard myself say, "T'wer me poorly
toe." I could not believe that I had become so at home with the
Coventry dialect. I had missed a day of work. I was explaining that I
could not walk because of an accident earlier in the week when I had
dropped a steel beaker on my foot.
It was bad enough that I had used an adverb for an adjective. 'Poorly'
was used to mean specifically sick as well as generally not good. In
its sickness meaning, it was an adjective in Cov. 'He was poorly last
week.' Then there was the toe instead of toes or foot. If I had been
talking non-Coventry English, I would have said 'sore foot'.
The 'me' instead of 'my' was very Coventry. Like 'us car' instead of
'our car', pronouns are pretty fluid in many of the English dialects.
This is less so than a few hundred years ago but it is still there in
the background. The t' is something I can't really pin down. Is it a
very short 'it'? I doubt that. I believe it is just a nondescript place
holder - something to stand in for a subject in the sentence.
Why 'were' instead of 'was'? Again the dialects were somewhat weird in
the verb 'to be' department. Have you ever noticed that 'is', 'be' and
'was' do not sound like grammatically variations of the same word? This
is not like adding an 'ed' or changing the vowel (sing, sang, sung). A
number of distinct verbs 'to be' were amalgamated higgilty-piggilty to
make our current verb. The 'were' like the 't' is just a place holder.
In fact 'Twer' may be a single word place holder and therefore not
grammatically the same as 'it was', a two word place holder.
So when I heard this sentence come out of my mouth, I was halfway
horrified at my bad grammar and half proud at sounding like a Coventry
kid. It did start my thinking about pronouns.
If you look at any book on grammar, there are bits and pieces on this
and that and then a lot about pronouns. My little grammar crib book has:
7 pages on nouns
7 pages on pronouns
13 pages on verbs
5 pages on adverbs and adjectives
7 pages on conjunctions, prepositions and clauses
By this reckoning about 20% of our grammar has to do with a little
group of words that stand in for nouns. (A short list - I, you, she,
he, it, we, they, me, her, him, us, them, my, mine, your, yours, his,
her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, myself, yourself, himself,
herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves, who, that, which,
what, whose, whom, whoever, whomever, this, all, any, both, each,
either, everyone, none, one, several, some, someone, neither,
everybody, few, many, several, most, nobody, something, anyone - and
maybe this many again of more obscure ones.) It is amazing to think
that perhaps a fifth of all the grammatical mistakes that are made
involve this little group of words.
English once had cases (subjective, dative, genitive, accusative,
instrumental). The nouns, adjectives, articles and pronouns carried
grammatical endings for these cases. All this has been swept away. What
is left is a fossil, a cut down group of only three cases (subjective,
objective, genitive) is used only in a few (by no means the majority)
of pronouns. The other parts of speech have lost case markings
entirely. Our language no longer needs these distinctions but we keep
them around just in some pronouns. Further, in so many dialects, even
those rules have never been respected. If people continue to make
mistakes with pronouns then it is probably because the rules are often
not needed for accurate meaning. That is the way it is with language -
never all that logical.
This brings me to my repeated diatribe about grammar pendants who try
to force the language into their ideal of a LOGICAL system. They will
never manage it, so they might as well give up. Communication is about
clear meaning and not about empty logic. If a rule is actually needed
it will be respected; mistakes will be few; it will not be set out in
grammar crib books. If a rule is not needed it will be a problem to
anyone who tries to enforce it. People will say things anyway that
makes their meaning clear.
Favourites of Madeline Reid's recent poems
time for me to tidy my life
peace with difficult in-laws
generations of relatives
my treasures and decide
would like them in their houses
of what nobody wants
a garage sale
the sewing just started
suitable dress to wear in the casket
ahead for the funeral
more often to God so He'll know me
an eternal heavenly existence
if I find computers there
know I've gone to hell.
can be put away
closet where they can't be adjusted,
where nobody talks of them,
and kept safe from alteration.
time someone brings them out
warped as though they'd been in prisms,
or dirtied depending on the mood
the people who actually lived them.
darkens as it ages or lightens,
us choose to our satisfaction,
our determined reaction.
a picture can't hold the past in place.
look to the horizon and want to see more.
need to know what's beyond the edge
far down through hidden space
my future's already set.
rising sun doesn't reveal
hidden views to night time visions
to east below the limits of daytime sight
the journey through continuous light.
walk blindly towards the distant rim
along, moving ahead afraid
direction on a path I do not know
for invisible answers to guide me.
need to preview what's meant to be my future
cannot trust the universal powers
lead me into safe tomorrows and on
life's purpose fulfilled, my time is gone.
identified and named
centuries of dreamers
of my childhood are perceptions
person I've become.
like wind and tides
directed and staged
words in painful cycles
love and broken promises,
blame and shame
floods, scorching fire, earthquake
whole world erupting.
reminders fill each day
sobs echo at night
burdens bubbling up
out thoughts false and true
elusions swirling askew
pain that won't let go
more than years ago.
cold and solid cast
discolored veins in marble slabs
me in a maze without an exit
I dare to walk the pathway
the labyrinth of walls I make of blocks
quiet place of honest view
haven I'll find among the rocks
I can shape my life anew.
on the carpet
out of reach
edge pieces to start a pattern
build a picture
sorted matching shapes
bits of color spread
form landscapes behind my eyes
for familiar sounds
cupped my hands to hold
treasures of the past
they fit into the illusive image
The Art of, um, speaking
by Josie Glausiusz
Sometimes when we aren't too sure what we, uh, intend to say, we, um,
pepper our speech with all sorts of strange sounds. This is a universal
habit: Americans say uh or um,
the Spanish eh, and the Japanese eeto
A pair of psychologists now report that, far from distracting the
listener, these seeming nonsense sounds improve the clarity of speech.
Herbert Clark of Stanford University and Jean Fox Tree of the
University of California at Santa Cruz find that conversation carries
two simultaneous streams of information. The first is the actual
content of the words. The second-the uhs and ums-signals
the pace of the speaker's thoughts. After analyzing hours of recorded
conversation, the two researchers discovered that uh
tends to precede a minor pause in talk, and um a
major one. More surprising, Clark finds that um-sprinkled
talk is easier to comprehend, perhaps because the filler sound alerts
the listener that an unusual word or idea is on the way. But woe betide
the politician who allows such terms to intrude. "When I say uh
in conversation, I'm saying 'I'm not ready to go on.' If you're a
public speaker, you don't want to be telling your audience that," Clark
says. A case in point: Not a single uh or um
appears in the recorded inaugural speeches of American presidents
between 1940 and 1996.
From Discover Magazines
Not finding a Toastmasters Club
One of my firm resolves was to visit a few
Clubs and report back on how things were done over here. Well....
I found clubs in many parts of England but not exactly where I was.
Everyone was an alternate week club that had evening meetings. They
were awkard train rides, and so, to get to and from the evening
meetings without a stay-over was impossible. So I thought I would visit
the one in Cambridge because I intended to stay there for a week or so.
In the end, for other reasons I went to Cambridge late and for only a
couple of days. Of course, these were not the days of meetings in that
I did think for a few moments that I had cracked it. There was an entry
for Toastmaster in the Nottingham phone book and I could make it to and
from Nottingham in an evening. So I phoned and after much confusion,
the man realized that I was a member of a Toastmaster Club. "Oh", says
he, "I'm not that kind of Toastmaster, I'm a real one.
I make my living by being a town crier and a host at large functions
for towns and cities."
I will be back in England and still intend to do some club visiting.
I was so happy to hear that BLT and Not-Just-Us got their well deserved
the tsunami a couple
of years ago, I was struck by a number of stories about primitive
people escaping the waves by running immediately to high ground while
the educated (even scientifically educated) did not or even ran out
onto the beaches when the sea retreated prior to the high waves coming
in. It appeared to be folk stories, advice from elders and tribal
traditions that saved the primitive.
In the case of tsunamis, the lessons could have been re-enforced every
hundred years or so. But how long can an event be held in an oral
tradition? It probably depends on how big the event was. Troy was found
by following an account by Homer written long after the Trojan War. Is
it possible that the story of the flood was transmitted orally for 4000
years between the flooding of the Black Sea and the invention of
writing in Mesopotamia when the Gilgamesh poem was set down? Here is
one almost as old, about 3800 years.
A meteorite crash took place about 4000 years ago. The iron meteorite
fell from east to west over what is now Estonia, broke into at least 9
pieces and they hit earth in the island the Saaremaa and perhaps the
surrounding Baltic Sea. It left craters and would have caused an
explosion as powerful as a small nuclear bomb. Forest fires and
probably usually high waves followed the crash. The event would have
been visible around the Baltic coast in Finland, Russia, Poland, and
There appears to be accounts of the event in the folk traditions of
Finnish, Baltic and Scandinavian peoples. From these it can be reasoned
that the event happened at night. The accounts fit well with the
scientific determination of the trajectory, appearance and aftermath of
The Kalevala epic was compiled in 1835 from oral poetry collected in
the Finnish and Russian areas where Karelian (a language related to
Finnish) was spoken. The story was beloved by Tolken. It contains an
account of the meteor crash that had been worked into a morality lesson
by the early story tellers; do not be careless with dangerous objects
but take your responsibilities seriously. However, despite over 150
generations of oral transmission before it was written down, it remains
a recognizable description of the crash. It goes to show how much
accurate detail may lie hidden in very old oral sources.
The 47th chapter of the Kalevala epic
Narrator: The night was dark. The Sky-god Ukko decided to shed more
light on earth.
Ukko struck to make a fire,
Struck a white-hot lightening fire.
From his flaming sword he struck it,
As the sparks did fly and sputter;
Fire hit against his fingers,
Sputtered sparks from sacred fingers,
High above aloft in heaven,
On the starry plains of heaven.
Narrator: He entrusted the care of the fire to the maid of air, for her
to form and shape.
Into a new moon to form it,
Into a new day to shape it.
Narrator: But this did not turn out well.
Inbi rocked the baby fire,
Back and forth the little white one.
On her hands she held the fire,
Fire fell from butterfingers
From the fingers of the guardian.
Narrator: The catastrophe followed.
Heaven torn and lacerated,
Sky vault became perforated;
Fire tore through sky like blizzard,
Sped and crashed along the cloud line,
Through nine heavens it descended,
Through six spangled vaults of heaven.
Evil deeds it then accomplished,
Cruel deeds it perpetrated:
Burning up the daughters' bosoms,
Tearing at the breasts of maidens,
And the knees of boys destroying,
And the master's beard consuming.
And of all its deeds most evil:
Burned the baby in his cradle.
Went on burning many uplands,
Many uplands, many bog-lands,
Crashed at last into the water,
In the waves of Lake Alue:
And the fire rose up flaming,
And the sparks arose all crackling.
Three time in a night of summer,
Nine times in a night of autumn,
Roared up to the height of spruce trees,
Sprang up high against the shore-banks
With the strength of furious fire,
With the might of angry white heat.
Even threw the fish on dry land,
Heaved the perch across the beaches.
I firmly believe that
speakers should concern themselves with making listening to their
speeches easy for the audience. It is can be hard and tiring work to
listen to someone and good, enjoyable speakers are those that make
listening a treat rather than a chore.
An Australian researcher has been working on the effort required to
learn. John Sweller's cognative load theory is based on the limited
amount of short-term working memory available. We can only juggle of
few things at once in our mind and only for a shortish period of time.
However we have more than one type of working memory that are somewhat
independent (the two we are interested in now of the ones that hold
visual pictures and hold language structures).
So it is possible to increase the useable working memory by presenting
a diagram and the verbal explanation simultaneously. This would be
compared to a verbal explanation without the diagram or a diagram with
any explanation required being written as text at the bottom of the
diagram. It is much easier on the learners to have a diagram and talk
you way through it.
But if the visual and verbal channels are giving the same information,
this has negative effects, the reading and listening interfere with one
another, making it harder for the learner to get the message. It is
actually faster to learn something by either reading or hearing it than
it is when the learner reads and listens simultaneously.
This spring there was a lot of discussion in journals and forums about
what this meant for the use of PowerPoint presentations. Sweller was
quoted as saying, "The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a
disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram,
because it presents information in a different form. But it is not
effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is
putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to
understand what is being presented." There was an instant reaction from
a lot of people who did not like this message, and were proud of their
Still, you have been warned - PowerPoint may be a negative visual aid.
The sight metaphor
the last couple of
years, I have been thinking about metaphors - thinking about their
place at the root of our language. Lately my interest is in the sight
Sight is one of the most powerful metaphors. Like the journey metaphor
which is based on actual movement with its intention, muscular effort
and attainment of a goal, so the vision metaphor is based on the actual
use of the sense of sight. We see from the time we are born and
therefore we can base early, deep metaphorical structures on this
ability. What we know of our surroundings we receive through our
senses. It is natural that we connect perception of things around us
with knowledge of them. As sight is the most favoured of the senses,
the most common metaphor for perception and therefore knowledge is
sight. So seeing becomes knowing, thinking, understanding.
This does not mean that the other senses are not sources of metaphor
but sight is the main source of metaphors about knowledge. Sight is a
distance sense (like hearing and smell) and therefore gives knowledge
of things removed from us. We can use sight (or hearing if we are
blind) to create a three dimensional model of the space around us. With
hearing some action is required by the objects being perceived - they
have to vibrate, or resonate, or echo to produce sound. If they are
inert then they are invisible to sound. But sight sees inert objects.
Sight also has the advantage of light traveling in straight lines to
give a more accurate model of space and the objects in it. Sight is an
instantaneous picture too, whereas smell carries prominent traces of
the past and sound lingers as vibrations die away. Sight is gives a
snapshot of a short period of time. These characteristics of sight are
carried in sight metaphors.
The word 'see' has as many meanings describing thinking and
understanding as it has with the sense of sight. These 'dead' metaphors
show how long our language has used the sight metaphor. Think of the
use of these words and phrases in contexts which have nothing to do
with vision: blind spot, foresight, vision, seer, perspective, view,
viewpoint, lookout, image, imagine, envisaged, hindsight, revision,
short-sightedness, long-sighted, rose coloured glasses, blinkered, line
of sight, shadow, light, darkness, clarity, mind's eye, visionary,
insightful, seeing is believing, see with my own eyes, enlighten, light
of the world, illusions, insight, more than meets the eye, coloured by,
dim wit, bright idea, illustrated, flash of genius, clear explanation,
bright eyed, blindfold, see into the heart, see though, opaque, sketch,
focus, transparent, blurred, obscured, lost sight of, keep an eye on,
out of sight, light of day, project, reflect- and many hundreds more.
Plato used a sight metaphor to illustrate our knowledge of ideal forms
when he told of the shadows on the wall of the cave. He was, no doubt,
not the first teacher to construct an elaborate sight metaphor.
There are a number of variations on the simple theme that seeing equals
knowing. One is the light/dark motif. When we have light we see and
therefore we know, but when we are in the dark, we are in doubt and
ignorance. In order to see and therefore to understand something it
must be illuminated. This adds to (but is probably not the only source
of) the metaphorical association of light with good and dark with evil.
Another theme is that if seeing is knowing then the mind must act like
vision. Understanding is like seeing. What does this imply about how we
think? Sight is the most removed and abstract of the senses and carries
the least emotional content. It is not interactive. We are the subject
and the world we see has objects. We can view those objects without
affecting them. Our sight is objective, therefore our thought is
Further, if we see something and understand it, then it must really
exist. Seeing is believing. If our sight and therefore our thinking is
objective and if sight equals existence then we can look again at
Descartes' separation of mind and body. Introspection can be seen as
viewing ourselves with our 'mind's eye'. He could have said, "I see my
thinking with my mind's eye and therefore I know myself and therefore I
exist." He didn't think that the little man watching the TV screen
inside his head (metaphorically speaking) was an optical illusion based
on the sight metaphor.
There is a theme around the differences in what we see depending on
where we stand. We can see the world and therefore understand it from
various viewpoints, each one giving us a view. These different
perspectives are the source of disagreements between people. And there
is a belief that these arguments can be resolved with more careful
viewing on everyone's part. It is as if we used the metaphor in the
sense of: the world is what it is objectively; if we look at it
carefully we know it for what it is and therefore all careful viewers
should have the same knowledge of the world.
By connecting the sight metaphor with the journey metaphor, we get the
notion that what we see ahead of us is the future. If we are a seer or
someone on the lookout, we can foresee what is coming. More
importantly, if we are a visionary we can create the future. And it
follows that we can also look back on the past and view it in hindsight.
There are (like with the journey metaphor) more particular and
elaborate versions of the sight metaphor. They are based on mirrors,
peep holes, microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, panoramic vistas,
cameras, visual arts, movies, visual illusions, computer screens and so
Sight metaphors are also based on the notion that the eyes are like
windows, that colours are like moods, that various shapes and textures
have non-visual meaning. These do not have the strong motif that sight
equals knowledge. It is almost coincidence that they also involve sight
because their roots are in other experiences.
Using 'vivid' language on speeches can be 'seen' as the use of a sight
metaphor to encourage more use of 'shining' examples of metaphor in
order to 'focus' your audience on your 'brilliant' 'visions'.
We do not
experience time in a direct
way, in the way we experience movement, gravity, space, light, matter,
saltiness, thirst, music etc, all those things that are perceived by
our senses, internal monitors, and muscular movements. Time is a
constructed concept and therefore we learn it though the metaphors
embedded in our language. No doubt our brains have an in-built
inclination to construct the time-concept based on the continuum of
future, present and future but their different places in our
consciousness of planning, experiencing and remembering. Despite this
in-built inclination, we only understand time as metaphor.
example, we think of the future in front of us and the past behind, and
this is true of most languages. But there are languages that put the
past in front and the future behind.
In English we have various ways to think of time. It can be a landscape
that we move through. We are in the present, as we passed an event it
changes from being in the future to being in the present as we pass
through it and finally in the past. On the other hand we can be
stationary and time can move past us. Now the event passes us rather
than us passing the event. In both of these metaphors the difference in
speed can be constant or variable. Time ticks along at its unchanging
clock speed or it is dependant on our attitude to events; it flies or
drags. Both of these metaphors are similar to the basic
movement-journey-goal metaphor. Time takes on the characteristics of
space and movement in space. So we have: the time is coming, the time
is gone, we go forward to next week, we look back on last year, a time
will quickly be upon us.
In some cultures this space-like time dimension is an infinite straight
line but in other cultures it wraps around to be a cyclic time, similar
to the seasons repeating.
Or we can think of time as a container that holds a set of events. This
is an extension of the basic container metaphor. Our measurement of
time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years encourages
this metaphor. This gives phrases like: during spring, while I was
away, all of this afternoon, meanwhile we wait.
Another interesting metaphor for time is as a resource, something we
can obtain and use or lose. This differs from other resource or
commodity metaphors in that we cannot hoard or re-use time. We have
some particular bit of time as a resource only once. We have time, find
time, waste time, use time, lose time, spend time, give time, take time
and so on.
English is a language that carefully marks the tense of verbs, but it
is less particular with other distinctions of verbs. Languages vary in
how clearly various qualities are marked. Some languages are always
very clear about the aspect of a verb but the tense can be more vague.
Not so in English; an action is placed in the past, present or future.
Every time we speak of time we have to use some metaphoric model for
it. The one we choose can help or get it the way of what we are trying
When speaking, the tense of statements puts the audience in a
particular frame of thought. Talking in the future encourages planning,
less constrained decisions, more acceptance of change. Talking in the
present forces immediate decisions and actions but brings to the fore
smaller pros and cons to confuse larger important considerations. It
gives a more short-term evaluation of outcomes rather than the
long-term evaluation that is encouraged by talking in either the future
or past. Talking in the past strengthens status quo arguments and
emotional appeals to nostalgia, grief, guilt, and pride. In creating an
argument, it is a good idea to try it out on different time settings to
see which is more effective.
Switching around too much between statements in the past, present and
future can be tiring on the listener, although it can be used to give a
sense of important concepts that are inevitable no matter what the
circumstances. This can be very effective unless you lose your
listener's attention in the confusion. A sentence like, "Remember that
tomorrow you will feel sad to the moment you depart." has one jumping
from the past to the future to the present before the final meaning is
clear. This sort of sentence can be the straw that causes someone's
mind to wander. But a sentence like, "Our parents tried to do it, we
can do it and our children will thank us for it." gives a timelessness
quality to an argument.
If we are trying to get a charitable response, we would avoid putting
our audience into a selfish mood with a time-is-resource metaphor. But
if we are trying to appeal to efficiency and professionalism we might
find this metaphor helpful. Get the audience to hear the clock ticking
if immediate response is needed.
If the future is to be inevitable then time should be passing by a
stationary observer but if a new course is need then the observer
should be moving through the time landscape, that way a difference path
can be taken into the future.
If you want to be a little poetic with your time metaphors, think of
the concrete examples. Think of the sands of time in the hour glass,
think of where the sun is in the sky, think of the candle burning down,
think of midnight's deadline and the eleventh hour, think of a new
spring or a new morning, think of something in its infancy or prime or
old age, think of the tick-tock, think of spinning prayer wheels, think
of rock strata. Get the metaphor concrete and memorable.
You are stuck with a metaphoric time so use the metaphor that suits you
best and use it creatively.
Love your audience
There is a piece
of advice that
would-be speakers often encounter. We are told to imagine that the
audience has cabbages rather than heads or that the audience is sitting
in its underwear or even less. In other words, the advice is to deal
with our fear by reducing the credibility or importance of the
audience. This has always struck me as one of the most
counter-productive pieces of advice around.
There are two important reasons why this is bad advice. First, it does
not work as well as the opposite approach which is to find ways to like
and value the audience. Second, any belittling of the audience will be
sensed by the audience and reduce the effectiveness of delivering our
It is true that fear is the main problem in becoming a speaker. The
fear is natural, real and predicable. It will not go away until it is
faced and conquered. Our minds have a very deep-seated reaction to
being the center of attention, of have a large number of eyes on us, of
being the only person in a group that is standing and speaking. Being
in this position produces a fear reaction whether we find it logical or
not. And further, while we are exposed to the eyes and ears of a large
group of people, we go on to expose our ideas, hopes and beliefs.
Ours bodies have two basic ways of dealing with fear and they detract
from good speaking. We can flee and we can hide. Just when we need to
be more animated, expressive and communicative, our bodies are
compelling us to do the opposite. Speech volume goes down, expression
in the face and voice is suppressed and the body becomes rigid. Now we
can not only be fearful of the original situation but also fearful of
The basic way to overcome fear is to make the situation that triggers
it more ordinary, to repeat the encounter in safe and predictable
environments, to slowly and continuously confront as much fear as we
can conquer until we are comfortable in most speaking situations.
(Recall TV programs on overcoming fears of flying or spiders -
repeatedly more realistic encounters with the fear.) One thing that
makes this process easier is to remember that we want to be able to
speak, we want to communicate with our audience and that our audience
wants to hear from us. The audience is not the enemy; communication
with the audience is the whole point of the exercise. Do not ridicule
the audience in your mind because, in the long run, it is a less
effective way of conquering fear. Instead find ways to increase your
positive feelings for the audience.
There is another reason not to ridicule the audience in your mind.
There is a very good chance that it will show and make the audience
less receptive to what you have to say. When we are speaking, we are
trying to create a good relationship with the audience so that the
audience understands our message, our humor, our knowledge etc. If our
audience senses negativity, arrogance, and insincerity (and non-verbal
clues will give these feelings away) they will resist understanding us.
Be patient and positive in overcoming fear.
to be terribly vague
I clipped this long ago from somewhere - it is not my creation. Hope
you can avoid this sort of construction.
reasoning When a reason is the same as the object being
explained. Thus, no explanation is offered.
Example: We are giving small raises because we are not giving large
Empty Statements Descriptions which add little to
Example: Our profits are better than they seem.
I think To state that the following is one's own
speaker protects the firm by stating something as his own opinion.
Also, the opinion is accurately stated even if the opinion is poor. No
promise or commitment has been made. The statement must be assumed to
be an honest opinion. Few would disagree that it is an opinion.
Example: I think raises will be good this year.
List of rhetorical questions Unanswered queries
vaguely outline what is not being said.
Negative declaration Giving a statement about what
is not the case. The statement that something is not the case does not
say what is the case.
Example: Our president will not be fired. This does not imply the
president will not leave the firm. He may retire, quit, pursue a better
offer, change careers or be forced out.
Opposite qualifiers When a description contradicts
Example: A small box which is large on the inside.
Proof by example The listing of supportive anecdotal
Giving cases where something has happened does not prove the line of
reasoning. Anecdotal evidence can be interesting but rarely reliable.
Statements of desires A statement that something is
hoped for does not imply any action is to be taken to ensure the
Example: I want us all to be happy with our compensation.
Vacuous Reasoning When a non explanative statement
is given as a reason.
Example: Since this is this year, our sales are good.
- Jade Goody versus Joan Bakewell? No contest
by Cristina Odone in The Observer March 4 2007
Plato knew he was on to something. Boys and men in Athens - and further
afield - clustered round the Academy, eager to show off their oratory,
debating skills and general knowledge. Some had literary pretensions,
others academic ones; many simply wanted to learn.
Through the ages, that intellectual hunger became suspect; among
middle-class Britons, it was regarded a character flaw.
No more. Today, 'conversazioni' are held in schools and church halls
from Aberystwyth to Arbroath and debates take over theatre auditoriums
from Notting Hill to Nottingham. Learning is in - and intimate. Through
Intelligence², a debating society founded four years ago that regularly
attracts 800 ticket-buyers, and turns away 500 more, or Miller's
Academy of Arts and Sciences, which opened its doors last December and
draws a weekly audience of 50, the lawyer, the housewife and the
accountant can meet cerebral pin-ups over drinks or spar with them in
question-and-answer sessions. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens,
Joan Bakewell and Andrew Motion take part: here is a chance to attack
their arguments, defend their positions, fawn, up close and personal.
Moreover, ticket in hand, there is no audience, more a feeling of being
on an almost equal footing with these heavyweights.
Ask some of the architects of this intellectual renaissance what they
attribute their success to and they'll tell you 'television'. Both John
Gordon, co-founder of Intelligence², and Ioana Miller, who co-founded
Miller's Academy with husband Martin, blame the ever-shrinking number
of intelligent television programmes for middle-class hunger for ideas.
AJP Taylor's lectures or Brian Walden's disquisitions on political
greats gave way long ago to Jade Goody's effings and blindings. This is
not the kind of entertainment from which you can winkle the amusing
anecdote that impresses a dinner party or the little-known fact that
shows your friends you've been improving your mind.
Like all middle-class undertakings, the new intellectual pursuit is
highly competitive: you don't just attend a lecture or a debate -
everyone else must know you have done so. When Ioana and Martin Miller
decided to expand their academy to Somerset, they were delighted to see
that its genteel inhabitants were vying with one another to be among
the 'founding members' of the new society.
When there is queue-barging and scuffles breaking out over tickets to a
'conversazione' between AC Grayling and the editor of the Salisbury
Review, you know the life of ideas is not spent.
Britain may not have reached the Platonic ideal yet, but plenty of
Britons know what that means now.
New leadership theory
In a recent issue of Mind there is an
article by Platow, Haslam and Reicher that gives some interesting
information on leadership. Here is my summary in point form.
1. Past ideas about leadership centered on the traits,
methods that define good leaders. Leadership was about motivation or
domination of followers.
2. Their new idea is that leadership work to understand their
and engage the followers in a dialogue about what the group stands for
and how it should act. Leaders have the ability to shape what followers
actually want to do.
3. 'Social identity' is the part of a person's sense of self
defined by a group. This is what allows people to act together as a
group: reach consensus, coordinate action, share goals.
4. In a group, the person who best represents the social
distinctness and superiority over other groups, will have the most
influence within the group. This is why a particular set of traits or
behaviors is not the key to leadership. The traits and behaviors have
to fit the particular culture of the group being led and therefore vary
from group to group.
5. Good leaders mold social identities of the whole group
If leaders can control the definition of identity, they can change the
"The most effective leaders define their group's social identity to
fit with the policies they plan to promote, enabling them to position
those policies as expressions of what their constituents already
believe. In the Gettysburg Address, which begins, "Fourscore and seven
years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation,
conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are
created equal," Abraham Lincoln strongly emphasized the principle of
equality to rally people around his key policy objectives: unification
of the states and emancipation of the slaves.
In fact, the Constitution contains many principles, and no one
stands above all others, according to historian Garry Wills in his
Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That
Remade America (Simon & Schuster, 1992). Nevertheless, Lincoln
elevated equality to a position of supreme importance and made it the
touchstone of American identity. After Lincoln's address, Americans
interpreted the Constitution in a new way. As Wills writes of the
Gettysburg audience: "Everyone in that vast throng of thousands was
having his or her intellectual pocket picked. The crowd departed with a
new thing in its ideological luggage, that new constitution."
The last project I
was working on
before leaving my clubs (Park Place, BLT, Not Just Us) was a study of
metaphor. This followed on from the study of non-verbal aspects of
communication. Speeches on gestures, voice, expressions, postures etc.
had been given many times with different lengths and emphasis so that I
had a family of presentations and many ways to create additional ones.
I was starting similar work on the verbal side of communication -
metaphor was the first subject I tackled. Not many of my toastmaster
friends heard my presentation at the May TLI. I have included it in
The form here is my timing notes. As many of you know, I create a
speech in my head without writing it down until I have all the main
points lined up, the examples and illustrations chosen and many of the
words and phrases in place. I know how long I want it to be - that
translates into a certain number of pages typed in capitals, double
spaced in 10 point etc. I then write the speech down and pull it or
squeeze it until it fits into the right number of pages. This is the
first and last time the speech is written down. I then start to create
a short list of words and phrases and shorten it progressively until I
have 10 or so words. These are written large enough to see from a
distance and left on the podium stand so that I can glance at them if
necessary. So the only record I ever have of my speeches is the timing
notes on my computer. I have removed the all-caps to make it more
Alan Kay said, "A picture is worth a thousand words but a metaphor is
worth a thousand pictures." Well, I have been thinking about metaphors
ever since the truth of that remark settled into my head.
So, today we are going to take a journey and see what we can find out
about metaphors. There……I used the journey metaphor. Now you can expect
a starting point and a destination, a path that is one of many,
progress along the path, obstacles along the way, a mode of transport
and on and on. I have given you a way to organize what I am saying. On
the other hand, I could say that metaphor is the key to understanding
many things about language. This is another well-used metaphor, the
container metaphor; it implies that something valuable is not available
until you have a key to unlock its hiding place. Now you would expect
me to explain some new concept about language and how the idea of
metaphor helps to illuminate it. Oh Oh, there I have used the light
metaphor. Now I am asking you to interpret that I say as if I was
shining a light on something that is in the dark. Actually if you
really try to speak without using any metaphors, you will find it
Let me give you a little road map for today's presentation. Our journey
will show that metaphor is important in speaking because (1) it gives
fast accurate communications (2) it is very effective communication (3)
it is natural communication and (4) it is creative communication.
First a little definition: I am not just talking about what
strictly, grammatically a metaphor but all the metaphoric devices or
figurative language forms such as simile, analogy, allegory,
comparison, parable and proverb etc. The idea is the same, just size
and complexity differ. One thing is described in terms of another.
Our first stop is fast and accurate communication. Suppose someone is
teaching me something about the way a computer works. They could try my
patience with explanations of binary arithmetic, transistors etc. Or
they can talk about 'addresses'. I know that word and I get out my
mental map of the postal system. I can understand almost instantly,
because I know how letters are delivered, that each piece of
information in the computer has a unique named location.
If we think of people as having a cupboard filled with maps of this
that and most everything, and by and large our maps are similar for the
same concept. We can now converse quickly and clearly by both referring
to our version of the map we are using. We keep the structure more or
less the same but we rename some of the points. It is really difficult
to imagine how much time and frustration is saved by using this device
When speaking, finding an appropriate metaphor can be the most
important thing you do to make the communication work so that the
listener goes away with a memory of what you said and a positive
attitude. Their patience has not been tried by difficult descriptions.
Stop number two is effective communication. What makes people change
their minds? They come to see things differently. They start to use a
Here is an example. After 9/11 the Americans took to using the metaphor
of war for their situation. They saw the 'war on terror'. The Europeans
had had recent terrorist problems (IRA, Red Brigade, Etc etc.) and so
they saw the situation in terms of both politics and crime. One group
looked outside their societies and wanted protection by their army. The
other looked within their borders and wanted protection by the
What these countries did with very similar threats was different and
the difference was due to a difference in metaphor. If you want to
change someone's mind about something - you have to change the mataphor
they are using to think with.
Great speeches that have great effects use great metaphors: Churchill's
iron curtain, King Jr's promissory note, and TC Douglas' mouse land.
What a great metaphor does is to establish rapport with the audience by
reference to shared culture, to appeal to the emotions of the audience
by the colour and feel of the metaphorical vehicle, and to assist
understanding by supplying a conceptual model.
If those that believe in legal abortions are ever going to convince
those that don't or vice versa, then one or the other will have to find
a new metaphor. The current metaphors just roll off the opponent's
back. The pro-life metaphors do not ring true to the pro-choice side
and the pro-choice metaphors do not ring true to the pro-life side.
If you want to be convincing and want to be an effective speaker, you
need to find metaphors that have the right emotional appeal to the
audience, metaphors that work with your audience.
Stop number three is an examination of how deeply natural is the
If you look up the word 'go' in the dictionary, there are 35 distinct
but related meanings like: depart, travel, point, in harmony, moving
etc. Most of these are what is called dead metaphors - metaphors that
have been used so often that they became permanently part of the
meaning of words. They are not longer metaphoric but they were once
upon a time. 'Go' is even used as a grammatical helper. 'I am going to
read that book', has 'go' implying a future intention (like the
destination of the journey, maybe).
In fact a look through the dictionary shows that dead metaphors are a
prime source of word meanings. These metaphors are dead, not because
they are no longer used, but because they are used so often that they
are not metaphoric any more. We no longer hear the metaphor and
therefore we come to feel a literal meaning instead.
The importance of metaphor has dawned on linguists. It is not just a
few of the 100 or so rhetorical devices used in our languages. The
metaphor is one of the most important ingredients of language. To
understand language, you have to understand metaphor. There is an
explosion of scholarly interest in figurative, poetic, metaphoric
language. Why? Because of the continuing interest in computer software
that will communicate with humans in natural languages. This great
prize has been just around the corner since the 50s (like a pot of gold
at the end of the rainbow). The quest has sparked interest in a great
many areas. Now it is the turn of metaphor to be interesting to the
It turns out that metaphor is more than a figure of speech, more than a
way in which word meanings are coined, more than an effective
communication tool. It is a key to how our minds work. As the scholars
put it, "Metaphor is a conceptual rather than a linguistic entity." We
use metaphor to think. Let us take our computer address example. We
understand computer retrieval in terms of the postal system. But we
originally understood the postal system in terms of the journeys of
letters. The address was the destination. But the journey metaphor is
just a special case of a very deeply understood idea of movement. A
child learns about movement by learning how to do it and then can build
on that skill to nest thousands of metaphors. When I say, "we are on
the right track here". You can get out your train metaphor map which
was built on your journey map, built on your movement map, which was
built on actual movement. In all these related maps: states are
locations, changes are movements, causes are forces, purposes are
destinations, and means/methods are paths. All can be traced
us having intentions and moving to achieve those intentions.
If you take the sum total of the metaphoric maps that we share, that is
our culture. To communicate, people have to share a language and that
means they have to share a culture. They have to share sources of
metaphor: Cinderella, income tax, gravity, 1812, Rockies, Bart Simpson,
slap shot, the call of the loon, parade, the Good Samaritan and so on.
The fewer shared concepts, the more difficult the communication. That
is why metaphor is now a hot topic. In order for computers to converse
with us, they will have to be given the ability to create and
understand metaphor and that means they will have to be given the
components of our culture. They need the maps and the skill to
Whether we like it or not we think and we remember and we understand
and we communicate in metaphor. The trick is to find the most useful
Now we come to our final stop, creativity. We use metaphor in
invention and discovery, in fun and entertainment and in poetry and
One form of joke is the mixed or inappropriate metaphor. "We will not
be stampeded into stagnation." "Solar technology cannot be introduced
overnight." Comedians often use metaphors to point out the
ridiculousness of a situation. They get a laugh.
Poets use metaphor. In fact, some say that it is the most identifying
aspect of poetry. Frost took the old and maybe overworked 'journey'
metaphor and made it new and interesting in the Road not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Metaphors are often called Poetic Language. It is not surprising.
Poetry is compact, it is concrete and it has emotional power. These are
also the attributes of metaphor. Metaphors have a sharpness of detail
and concreteness of expression with layers of emotional context. Poets
use metaphor to achieve so much meaning with so few words.
Of course orators use metaphor.
Many whole books are based on a complex analogy. Again the journey
metaphor is the bases of Pilgrim's Progress, the Odyssey, and countless
When we use a metaphor we are sometimes shown new aspects of the
situation or of the map we are translating with. Thus a scientist makes
an analogue between water flow and electrical current. He understands
electricity in a wire as if it was water in a pipe. Later some other
scientist is try to understand the hydrodynamics of ship's hulls, and
finds it is easiest if he thinks of it using an electrical analogy. So
it goes, new theories and insights often come from using new metaphors,
or using old ones backward.
To sum up: to be a better speaker - use metaphor, use metaphor and then
use more metaphor. Choose your metaphors carefully. Use a metaphor that
is easy to follow and comfortable rather than obscure, but not one that
is boring and passe. Use a metaphor that really encapsulates what you
want to say, one that fits well. Use a metaphor with the right
emotional appeal, positive or negative, and which resonates with the
audience. Use a metaphor that is entertaining or beautiful -treat your
audience to a little inventiveness and not the same old same old.
Toastmasters material advises us to use vivid, concrete imagery. One of
the best ways to do this is to use metaphor.
Now we are at the end of our journey and I would like to hear your
comments, contributions and questions.
Science of Team Success
body of research shows that groups can systematically enhance their
By Steve W. J. Kozlowski and Daniel R. Ilgen
From the July 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind
"Houston, we've had a problem," were the famous words that announced a
crisis onboard Apollo 13. Halfway through Apollo's
mission to the moon, one of the spacecraft's oxygen tanks exploded,
putting the lives of the crew in grave jeopardy. A group of engineers
from NASA was hastily assembled. Their mission: invent a way for the
crew to survive and to pilot their damaged vessel back to Earth. The
engineers were successful, transforming a potential disaster into a
legend of effective teamwork.
Human history is largely the story of people working together in groups
to explore, achieve and conquer-and in our modern world the role of
teams is only growing, spurred by globalization and the enabling factor
of communications technology. Teams do not always play the role of
hero, however. They have also been implicated in many political and
military catastrophes, including the U.S. government's sluggish
response to Hurricane Katrina, the failure to prevent the tragedy of
9/11 and the explosion of NASA's space shuttle Columbia.
Given the centrality of work teams, it is more than a bit remarkable
how much our society's perspective is focused on the individual. We
school our children as individuals. We hire, train and reward employees
as individuals. Yet we have great faith that individuals thrown into a
team that has been put together with little thought devoted to its
composition, training, development and leadership will be effective and
successful. Science strongly suggests otherwise.
We recently reviewed the past 50 years of research literature on teams
and identified factors that characterize the best collaborations. It
turns out that what team members think, feel
provide strong predictors of team success-and these factors also
suggest ways to design, train and lead teams to help them work even
Unfortunately, although society places a great value on teamwork, the
way organizations make use of teams often runs against known evidence
for what works-and even against common sense. For example, it seems
obvious that teams need sufficient resources to enable members to
accomplish their goals. Still, in this era of downsizing and cutbacks,
one has to question the wisdom of many managers who believe that more
can always be accomplished with less.
Consider, too, that organizations typically reward people with
salaries, bonuses and promotions based on individual performance rather
than team performance. These rewards can often inhibit team members'
willingness to work together and help one another, even when the
success of the team depends on it. Such success requires a delicate
balance between meeting the goals of the team as well as those of the
individuals who populate it. Research on goal setting, cooperation,
competition, conflict and negotiation contributes to a better
understanding of how people remain in teams and work together.
Indeed, a crucial question that should be asked before putting a team
together is whether you need one at all. Some businesses recognize the
importance of teams and promptly restructure every task so that it
becomes a group responsibility, even when the assignment is something
that could be done easily by an individual working independently. The
result is a team that is more likely to impede performance than enhance
it. Another question is, What type of team structure is required? The
task of some teams is such that their employees can function
independently for long stretches and occasionally confer and pool their
results, as with a team of salespeople working in different geographic
regions. Others, such as surgical teams, require a high and constant
degree of coordination.
The job assigned to a team also determines the primary focus of
activities, and how well the individual members complete their related
duties determines the team's efficiency. That is why team studies have
turned to an approach known as organizational psychology, which focuses
on the task as central to understanding the dynamics of teamwork and
team performance. (In contrast, a traditional social psychology
perspective focuses more on interactions among peers, and the work
merely serves as the context for those exchanges.) As mentioned before,
the task sets minimum requirements for the resource pool-the
constellation of knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics
(such as personality, values)-that is available across team members.
The Collective Mind
One of the most important things a team brings to a task is what its
members think, the relevant information they carry in their heads. This
knowledge can include a mastery of the tools they use and an
understanding of the task at hand, its goals, performance requirements
and problems. Some knowledge may be shared by all workers, whereas
particular members might have specialized skills or know-how. The
ability to access and use this distributed expertise efficiently is one
characteristic of successful teams.
A 1995 experiment by psychologist Diane Wei Liang, then at the
University of Minnesota, psychologist Richard L. Moreland of the
University of Pittsburgh and Linda Argote, professor of organizational
behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, nicely demonstrated
how team members benefit from their collective knowledge when they
learn together. These researchers trained college students to assemble
transistor radios either alone or in groups of three. A week later the
subjects were tested with their original group or, for people who
received solo training, in newly formed groups. Members of groups that
had trained together remembered more details, built better-quality
radios and showed greater trust in fellow members' expertise. People in
newly formed groups were less likely to have the right mix of skills to
complete the task efficiently and knew less about one another's
With a different group of collaborators, Argote studied the effect of
individual turnover on another chore, making origami birds. Again,
groups of three trained together and were given six time periods to
make as many paper products as possible. The groups with turnover
produced significantly fewer folded creations than groups whose members
stayed constant, suggesting aspects of group knowledge were being lost
when people were replaced.
In an interesting twist, organizational behavior expert Kyle Lewis of
the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin
found that the development of a team's ability to access distributed
knowledge required face-to-face interaction. In groups that
communicated exclusively by phone or e-mail, this skill did not
emerge-an observation of increasing importance, given the rise of teams
that operate remotely and coordinate sometimes only through computer
interactions. It should prompt concerted efforts to understand the
reasons for such barriers and explore whether web-cams,
videoconferencing or other technologies that allow people to interact
will help overcome this problem. For now, the best solution may be to
guarantee some face time for team members throughout their project.
Beyond an understanding of the nuts and bolts of any given project,
another cognitive influence on team effectiveness is the emergence of
an overall objective, mission or strategic imperative of the
group-something psychologists call the team climate. The powerful
effect of climate on the real-world impact of teams is well
established. For example, one of our groups (Kozlowski's) showed that
high-tech businesses whose engineers agreed on the objective to stay
technologically up-to-date showed improved performance and had more
employees pursuing continuing education and displaying positive job
attitudes. Several studies across many industries have shown that when
a team has absorbed a mission statement that values customer service,
this attribute predicts customer satisfaction. Likewise, when a team
agrees that the objective is safety, the result is more
safety-conscious behavior by team members and a reduction in the rate
Ties That Bind
Climate emerges in groups with strong ties among their members. For
example, team members who have a good relationship with their leader
tend to share climate perceptions with their boss and co-workers. Teams
that have frequent informal social interactions also show greater
consensus on climate than those that do not.
Part of the glue that binds people to their bosses or to one another is
emotional. Although less is understood about how emotional state
affects team performance than about cognitive influences, it is clear
that how teams feel can drag down productivity or boost it up-or
otherwise complicate it. For example, a shared positive attitude can
reduce the number of absences in teams and lower the likelihood that
people will leave the group.
But there are hints that good moods do not always lead to good
outcomes. Social psychologist Joseph P. Forgas of the University of New
South Wales in Australia, for example, asked teams to hold a discussion
after they watched happy or sad videos and found that greater divisions
arose in the groups that were given a prior "feel good" stimulus.
It also appears that team members tend to change their moods in
concert. Social psychologist Peter Totterdell of the University of
Sheffield in England and his colleagues had nurses record their moods
each day at work over a period of three weeks. They found that the mood
of different teams shifted together over time. Totterdell has measured
a similar convergence in the affect of teams of accountants and cricket
The fact that emotions move in this lockstep way has led to a concept
of emotional contagion, the idea that emotions within teams are
transferred from one person to others close by. In a well-controlled
laboratory study, professor of management Sigal Barsade of the Wharton
School of the University of Pennsylvania investigated the effect of
emotional contagion on team process and performance. The research
involved using a drama student posing as a research subject whom
Barsade trained to participate with a happy, optimistic attitude or an
unpleasant, pessimistic one. She found that this one person's behavior
did lead to group-level changes in emotion, both for positive and
negative affect. Although the scientific study of how mood influences
performance of the individual and the team as a whole is still in its
infancy, this area promises to yield important insights.
Works Well with Others
Finally, whatever the task, the way people perform, or do, the work as
a team makes a profound difference. The important elements here appear
to be general teamwork skills that are not specific to any particular
task. Some of the research in this area centers on bad behaviors that
degrade team performance and spirit-dealing with "free riders," for
example, who rely on other team members to do their job and thus
contribute less than their fair share. This type of disruptive behavior
can be limited by requiring that contributions be visible and members
There are also many positive ways in which the best teams act that give
them an advantage: individuals are aware of one another's performance,
provide backup coverage for members, set goals, coordinate their
actions, communicate effectively, make decisions, resolve conflicts,
and adapt to changing circumstances and new ideas. A key point is that
this learning process can be a dynamic one that helps to shape and
improve the team over time-and team leaders can play a major role.
Prior to action, for example, the leader can help set team learning
goals commensurate with current team capabilities. During action, the
leader monitors team performance (and intervenes as necessary). As the
team disengages from action, the leader diagnoses performance
deficiencies and guides process feedback. This cycle repeats, and the
complexity of learning goals increases incrementally as team skills
accumulate and develop. This kind of feedback loop has been shown to
reliably improve team thinking and performance.
Work from Kozlowski's group, however, has found a trade-off in the type
of feedback provided and the resulting performance. Feedback directed
to individuals yields higher individual performance at the expense of
team performance; team feedback yields better team performance at the
expense of individual performance. If both types of feedback are
provided, both levels of performance cannot be maximized. The findings
indicate that team designers need to be mindful of precisely what they
want to be salient to team members and should design supporting goal
and feedback systems accordingly. Such systems may need to be adaptive,
shifting the balance depending on current needs.
One reason that achieving the right level of feedback is so important
is that teams learn best while doing. In some cases, notably in the
military and in aviation, this on-the-job training can be supplemented
with sophisticated and realistic simulations of combat missions or of
takeoffs and landings. This virtual training approach is starting to
find applications elsewhere, such as in medicine, although in most
cases the best place to develop team skills is on the job itself.
General teamwork proficiency turns out to be one area where classroom
training appears to make a strong difference, perhaps because these are
generic skills not related to a specific job. Accordingly,
semester-long college-level programs that significantly improve
students' knowledge of generic teamwork competencies have been
developed. Nevertheless, encouraging work by one of our teams (Ilgen's)
has demonstrated that knowledge of these team competencies can improve
significantly with only 30 minutes of individual training.
Although these skills can be taught, they rarely are-and few formal
experiences to impart generic team-process and leadership experiences
are available. If such courses are provided at all, they tend to be
very late in the educational process-in college courses or in
professional programs such as business school, for example-and these
courses are usually geared toward imparting factual knowledge rather
than building skills. We sampled a number of well-known M.B.A. programs
and found that fewer than half listed a course devoted primarily to
leadership or teams.
Furthermore, although it is not uncommon for educators from elementary
school through college to include assignments organized around group
projects in which students may display teamwork and leadership
behaviors, attention is usually on the group's output-a report,
for-example-with little or no attention placed on guiding the nature
and effectiveness of the team process.
If teamwork were taught along with reading, writing and mathematics,
and if these skills were ubiquitous, there would be enormous benefits
to students and society alike. For now, though, it is often only after
a great triumph or tragedy that the importance of teamwork is drawn
into the spotlight. Ironically, these occasions focus largely on
singling out individuals for reward or to assign blame, as the case may
be. Despite literally thousands of studies that show much can be done
to design teams properly and to ensure they do their jobs well and get
better as time goes on, the question rarely turns to how the successes
can be replicated or problems avoided the next time around. We think it
is just a matter of applying the science.
A Multiple-Goal, Multilevel Model of Feedback Effects on the Regulation
of Individual and Team Performance. Richard P. DeShon, Steve W. J.
Koz-lowski, Aaron M. Schmidt, Karen A. Milner and Darin Wiechmann in Journal
of Applied Psychology,
Vol. 89, No. 6, pages 1035-1056; December 2004.An Evaluation of Generic
Teamwork Skills Training with Action Teams: Effects on Cognitive and
Skill-based Outcomes. Aleksander P. J. Ellis, Bradford S. Bell, Robert
E. Ployhart, John R. Hollenbeck and Daniel R. Ilgen in Personnel
Vol. 58, No. 3, pages 641-672; Autumn 2005.Enhancing the Effectiveness
of Work Groups and Teams. Steve W. J. Koz-lowski and Daniel R. Ilgen in
Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol.
7, No. 3, pages 77-124; December 2006.
morning I read my
favourite items on the Web. One of them is The Guardian's Comment is
Free. On Jan 15 there was a little article by Aleksandra
Lojek-Magdziarz which made me mad enough to read the comment thread,
all 699 comments, and it took me all morning. From being angry, I
became more and more entertained and was finally laughing so hard that
I couldn't speak tell Harry what I was laughing at.
Ms. Lojek-Magdziarz has had several other articles in Cif before, all
critical of some aspect of British life: drinking, multi-culturalism,
anti-Catholic feeling etc. This time she took on the English
the English language. Although many Cif readers were already annoyed by
her previous carping, she might have had some support if she had not
picked a terrible example to illustrate her article. She said, "Then
recently, a journalist friend of mine admitted that he had never heard
the term "instrumentalisation", and informed me with unchecked disgust
that he thought it ugly." I thought her friend was right and I was not
Everyone thought it was ugly - not one person defended the word. Almost
everyone agreed that it was actually not an English word as it wasn't
in the dictionaries. They could not agree on what its meaning was
(scoring music, measuring with instruments, judging by utility). It
became clear that there was a Polish word (instrumentalizacja) that was
thought by Poles to have come from English. It was decided that it was
a common word on the Continent, probably some sort of philosophy or
sociology jargon word and maybe used in the States (but probably not
even an official word in American English). But 'whatever', it was
definitely ugly, ugly, ugly. Her other examples did not fair any
better. The vocabulary discussion enlarged to include other words that
were not used by A L-M.
As these words were being thoroughly examined, there were
nitpicking grammatically every error in her English. And then emails
nitpicking the nitpickers, followed by emails nitpicking the
nitpickers' nitpickers. Anyone that stood up against the horizon to
make a grammatical point was shot down by someone. I enjoyed
immensely, as I have a real distaste for language pedants.
Through all the discussion, there appeared to be some agreement:
- language standards probably were slipping,
- good English uses as few simple words as possible rather
than many long and obscure ones,
- in oral English French/Latin words sound formal and snobbish
compared to Anglo-Saxon words,
- there is no 'high' English like High German or Academy
but many different (equal) Englishes with their own official or
- to speak as A L-M suggested would be completely
But as well as these ideas, there was a discussion of which pub was
cited in one of the emails. There were jokes. Joseph Conrad, being
Polish, appeared fairly often as well as a number of authors who were
famous for their simple powerful English. Some of the comments were
from other Poles in England and English in Poland so some of the jokes
were bilingual (including correction of the grammar in the string of
swear words). I finally got one of the jokes, "Aleksandra
Lojek-Magdziarz, aka Hiacynt Wiadro", and immediately knew that wiadro
must be Polish for bucket.
When I finished, I felt that two things had not been said in the 699
comments. I wanted to make the point that people always think the
language is going down hill. We spend 15 years of so learning the
language, then 15 years of so creatively changing it, and then the rest
of our lives complaining about the next generation's changes to the
language. The complaints are in Egyptian hieroglyphics and every
language since. I also thought that 'so' had not been defended against
'thus' with enough passion. A L-M said, "In this new Newspeak I came
across "thus" reconstituted as "so", the passive voice replaced with
the active and long, beautifully constructed sentences reduced to
strands of factually correct words, stripped of all the spirit of
elegant English I've always adored." But, when I tried to write my
comment, they had closed the thread - damn!
Following on from someone saying that 'thus' was a better word than
'so', I must give my defense of a very interesting word.
'So' has a number of meanings only one of which could be replaced with
thus: extent, degree, manner, size, resulting in, following, in order
to etc. It is a useful little word with a vague meaning, but usually
one we use very precisely when it is in context. So there!
One use of 'so' I find especially endearing. Many people use 'so' to
begin and to end a story or comment. It is a kind of signal meaning,
'Give me the floor and don't interrupt me because I want to say
something and it is my turn'. Even the people who do not use this
introduction seem to understand it and respect it.
Many people, not always the same ones that begin with 'so', will end a
story or comment with 'so'. It is also a kind of signal meaning, 'I've
said my piece and you can now accept it or argue with it.' It signals
the end of someone speaking and invites someone else to start.
So…I think it is great to have this little unobtrusive signal as a
polite way to have order and civility in conversation….so.
Here is part of Seamus Heaney's introduction to his translation of
"…I was therefore lucky to hear this enabling note almost straight
away, a familiar local voice, one that had belonged to relatives of my
father's, people whom I had once described in a poem as 'big voiced
I called them 'big voiced' because when the men of the family spoke,
the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness,
phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a
dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as 'We cut the corn to-day' took
on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it. …. I therefore
tried to frame the famous opening lines in cadences that would have
suited their voices, but that still echoed with the sound and sense of
Conventional renderings of 'hwaet', the first word of the poem, tend
towards the archaic literary, with 'lo' and 'hark' and 'behold' and
'attend' and - more colloquially - 'listen' being some of the solutions
offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle
'so' came naturally to the rescue, because in the idiom 'so' operates
as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and
narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for
immediate attention. So, 'so' it was:
So. The Spear-Danes
in days gone by
and the kings who
ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those
princes' heroic campaigns."
argument between writing
dictionaries that record the way words are used (descriptive) and
writing a manual specifying how words should be used (prescriptive),
has long ago been won by the descriptive school. Why then are
grammars prescriptive? The bulk of English grammar is hardly recorded.
Most books of grammar ignore the bulk of the language and just discuss
those areas where there is controversy and they usually do this in a
prescriptive, this-is-right-that-is-wrong way. Recently the first
comprehensive descriptive English grammar has been completed. To take
its place with The Oxford English Dictionary, we have The Cambridge
Grammar of the English Language, about 1800 pages of pure linguistic
You might think that the prescriptive grammar police would fade but as
I write this, it is National Grammar Day in the US. All the grammar
police have risen to the occasion. What are the justifications used by
those laying down language 'laws'?
1 - Many people believe that the language is in a terrible state; it
needs to be improved; it needs to be protected from further slides
downhill. But language is a tool. If it will not do a particular job,
people will change it. Change is by-and-large not taking the language
down but improving it so that it can do new jobs, old jobs better and
shed what is no longer needed for any job.
2 - Many people believe that if two ways of doing something exist than
one must be right and the other wrong; there is always a right way.
Therefore, the different ways in which English is used around the world
come down to one right way and thousands of wrong ways. It then becomes
important to stamp out all the wrong ways. Of course, the idea that
everything has one and only one right way is a bit ludicrous.
3 - Then there is the attitude that I had grammar beaten into me and so
should you. It is like the senior student that wants to lord it over
the freshman because of the treatment he got when he was a freshman. It
is proper that grammar is not easy and that you have to work at it.
Nothing that is easy is worth anything. If you don't have good grammar
(sic), you are lazy and just don't care. If you have good grammar, you
are worth and have earned respect.
4 - Another attitude: English is not a really classy language and it
should be brought into the mold of Latin, which has a sort of
perfection. Anywhere English grammar can be shoehorned into the forms
of Latin grammar, it should be. Latin grammar is the archetype.
5 - There is a lack of acceptance that every different dialect of
English can have different grammar as well vocabulary or pronunciation.
There were, maybe still are, dialects where 'aint' was good usage.
6 -Finally here are the final two: the one that I can almost agree with
and the one that makes me the angriest. I agree with criticism of
constructions that are ambiguous. If an utterance is ambiguous without
actually intending to have a double meaning, then in a sense the
grammar is wrong.
7 - The one justification that I hate is an appeal to logic. For
example: in real life, the double negative is never actually understood
to be a positive. Logically two minuses may be a positive but
grammatically two negatives are not a positive. Logic does not enter
into the choice between a negative and a double negative. There are
languages that routinely use double negatives. (Do doubt they have
grammarians who complain that single negatives are illogical - one part
of the sentence is contradicting the other.)
I do believe there are patterns that we all use to construct our
utterances, and these are the real grammar of our language. If we break
these patterns, our sentences sound awkward and may even grate on
others nerves. However, most of these patterns (or rules or principles)
are not taught and we use them without being aware of them. It is only
in a book like the Cambridge Grammar that we are likely to see them
explicitly written down. It is the patterns that matter and not any
arbitrary appeal to some spurious logic.
Here for some fun is the most amusing grammar pet peeve I have
encounter in a long time. From Grammarlog - (we're not neurotic, just
"I've lived in the North East of England for nearly eight years, and at
some point in the last four or five, I began to notice what I assumed
to be a quaint dialectical turn of phrase. Let me give you an example:
Tom: "Two sausage rolls and a steak bake, please."Greggs member of
staff: "That's seven pence please, pet."Tom: "Here you go: the exact
change."Greggs member of staff: "Thanks now."
Erm, I'm sorry? Thanks now? Why explicitly thank me now? Is there a
regional need for temporal clarity and has it embarrassingly passed me
by? Should I thank someone later or earlier in certain social
….If you hear it, correct it."
Can you believe that the superior twit that said that was for real?
The Wikipedia entry for 'Runglish' contains the following
humourous conversation between to Russians showing off their English.
"Excuse me, which watch?"
"To whom how..."
Excuse me, what
time is it? - A
Russian would say 'which hour?' in Russian and so uses that
construction in English But the word for 'hour' is very similar to the
word for 'watch' and the wrong one is used.
About six. - The same word in Russian can be translated as 'about' or
'near' and the wrong translation is used.
So late? - The same word in Russian can be translated as 'such' or 'so'
and the wrong translation is used. 'Much' is used in place of 'late'
because the Russian is thinking in terms of hours rather than time.
Perhaps for some (but not for others). - In Russian there is a phrase
meaning 'perhaps for some' that literally translates to 'to whom how'.
Have you graduated from MGIMO? - MGIMO is a Moscow university of
international relations. This is the joke, the two graduates of MGIMO
recognize each other by their English. The same Russian word is used
for 'graduated' and 'finished' and the wrong translation is used.
But of course! - The phrase 'you don't even have to ask!' is shortened
in Russian to just 'ask!'.
So the conversation becomes:
Excuse me, what time is
Perhaps for some…
Have you graduated from MGIMO?
But of course!
This reminds me of
living in a little
basement room in Saskatoon when I was training at St. Pauls. Harry was
visiting and overheard the girls in the next room and started to laugh.
They were going 'to shtoru to buy shooseh'. The English word 'store'
lost its article 'the' and gained the case marker in Ukrainian needed
after 'to'. It also had its 's' made 'sh' to sound better in Ukrainian.
The English word 'shoes' was also declined with the appropriate
Ukrainian case marker.
things I learn late. Here I am in
my late sixties and I have just realized that I view punctuation
differently from others. In particular, there is now a discussion of
commas - how there are too many commas being used - how commas are
being used ungrammatically. "Wow", I think, "what have commas got to do
I thought of the period, semicolon and comma as marking pauses or
discontinuities in pitch or volume of speech. Some strings of words
only make sense, in the way I want them to make sense, if there are
breaks of some sort at particular places. I agree that the breaks,
whether they are pauses or discontinuities, tend to fall at the
boundaries of grammatical entities - clauses and the like. This didn't
mean to me that they were primarily grammatical marks because our voice
changes or we pause at those same boundaries. Even the period mark,
which is reserved to a large extent for ending sentences, seemed to me
to be used in that a-grammatical function because it marked the most
distinct break. And if you wanted to fudge whether you were starting a
new sentence or not, then the semicolon could be used instead of the
period. It was the same type of break though.
the little comma was not reserved
for any particular grammatical use but to help the reader with the
pattern of the speech that they should say aloud or hear in their
heads. The dash could be used if the comma was not a sufficient mark of
discontinuity. How wrong could I be about this?
When I was young, I assumed that the written language was a heavy,
awkward, inexact way of recording and mimicking speech. It was speech
that had the beauty and the power. Because writing was so limited it
had some conventions to help it. For example, everything had to be
packaged as sentences, even though sentences are far from universal in
speech. Over the years, I have come to see the written language is a
separate language with a slightly different frequency of words in its
vocabulary, slightly more complicated patterns of grammar, more
explicate in using words to mark emotions, irony, sarcasm etc, and less
eloquent in its use of sounds and rhythms.
But I never went back to examine the use of punctuation as a separate
writing-thing as opposite to an attempt to reproduce speech. Now I find
that there are 11 or so distinct grammatical uses for the comma. They
are a rag-bag group with little in the way of an overall theme. They
more or less correspond to where commas would be placed to mark
discontinuities and pauses, but instead of following that logic, they
are stated as grammatical rules.
Now that there is a third language, typed on computer and phone keys
but structured with oral forms, I am curious about how punctuation is
going to evolve in this setting. Maybe grammarians will just ignore the
third way. After all oral grammar is almost totally ignored.
Hopefully there are easier ways
There are large assemblages of writing
and speech that are used in linguistic research. One is the Mark
Davies' Corpus of American English at Brigham Young University. It has
360 million words in its database categorized into the years 1990 to
2007 and into source types: spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper,
academic. There is also a British National Corpus and maybe others for
all I know.
I ran across this research tool in a blog called Language Log. Here is
the original post. The question was: which is the more common use of
the word 'hopefully'. Is it used more to characterize the
speaker/writer's position as in, 'hopefully, he has started' meaning 'I
hope that he has started'? Or is it used more to modify some word with
the meaning 'in a hopeful manner' as in, 'he started hopefully and
eagerly'? It seems that the easiest way to get an answer to a question
like that is to go to a corpus and ask the database. What a lovely idea.
In case you are curious by now the answer is that 'it is hoped that' is
a more common meaning than 'in a hopeful manner'. The frequency of the
'in a hopeful manner' use was: in spoken 0%, in fiction 62%, in
magazines 10%, newspapers 8%, academic 3%. So the answer is that except
for fiction writing, 'hopefully' usually means 'in a hopeful manner'.
No doubt linguists have been using this tool for a long time. Silly me;
I thought that when linguists gave figures like this, they had spent
months combing publications themselves. Of course, they would still
have to look at the context to see which meaning the word had but that
would take a few days at most rather than a few months. How
embarrassing for someone who dealt with databases for so long.
Someone once gave me some advice on
how to improve my spelling - learn to think of the word in your mind
with all its vowels and consonants clearly pronounced. Just think of
the word that way, not actually say it that way. This helpful person
(for it was useful advice) pointed out that most vowels in English are
sort of a short quiet nondescript 'uh' sound and that does not help to
remember which letter is used in writing the vowel. Also, this person
thought that the worst dialect of English for doing this was in the
Canadian prairie although all Englishes are pretty well littered with
the little 'uh' vowel.
Now I have learned a name of this little sound. It is the schwa - the
only phoneme with its own name. It is found in most languages, but in
English it is the most common vowel. Its symbol is an upside down e.
But in normally spelt words it can be any vowel (or combination of
a as in adept or about
e as in synthesis or taken
i as in pencil or decimal
o as in harmony or eloquent
u as in medium or supply
y as in syringe or sibyl
It is used for the unstressed vowels in multi-syllable words,
especially if the syllable has no consonants. It also occurs in words
that have no stressed syllable such as the little 'grammar' words
(auxiliary verbs, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, prepositions). If
these words are stressed for emphasis, then the schwa sound is replaced
by the normal vowel.
o is a schwa in the word 'of' in 'What kind of music?'
oe is a schwa in the word 'does' in 'What does it cost?'
Interestingly, when English is taught as a foreign language, students
need a lot of help with hearing and using so many schwas.
It turns out
despite people predicting
that texting was going to destroy English and that children were no
longer going to be learning how to write and spell - well what do you
know, the opposite is happening.
Results from a Coventry University study of pre-teen children showed
that there was a positive link between skill in texting and skill in
standard English. It worked both ways. The more the children used
abbreviations in their text messages than the higher their scores in
standard reading and vocabulary. And on the other hand, the better
children were at spelling and writing than the more they used textisms
when messaging. The younger they were when they received their first
phone than the better their school English scores. I think this
research is published in a book called Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 which I have
not seen yet.
This data should not really be surprising. It is easy to think of why
this would be so:
- before you can write abbreviated forms, you have to know how
to write standard forms,
- before you can simplify the spelling of words, you have to
know some phonetic rules,
- before you can play with writing, you have to be able to do
it in the standard way,
- if you are interested in either texting or standard English,
it will spill over into the other,
- if you are going to text to a variety of people (from
to grandmas) you have to have sensitivity to the recipient's use of
- the more writing is used (both kinds), the more is the
motivation to develop skill at it.
I was interested in the phenomenon of texting for other reasons. I was
interested in a form where the product was written but the thought
process was oral. I was curious about what would happen to its grammar
etc. I was also interested in a form that was minimal - how would
people communicate when everything they said had to fit on a tiny
little screen. Oh, don't we live in interesting times. Well, lol.
What's a snowclone, an eggcorn
and a Cupertino?
are probably ofay with
spoonerisms, malapropisms, Freudian slips, and oxymorons. But do you
know about snowclones, eggcorns and Cupertinos? The the LanguageLog
the place to go to keep up with such things.
The collecting of snowclones started with the observation by a man
called Geoffrey Pullum, "If the Eskimos have N words for snow, the X
surely have M words for Y." As it happens Eskimos do not have a huge
number of words for snow. But the idea of a pattern giving birth to
many clichés is real. There is now a web database just for snowclones.
The latest addition appears to be 'My kingdom for an X'. The shortest
may be 'Xgate'.
There is also a web database of eggcorns and the concept has also been
popularized by LanguageLog. Eggcorns are now spellings of words based
on mishearing their pronounciation, especially if they are defended as
being correct because they are felt to be more logical than the
original. Eggcorn can be said to be a better word of acorn because it
is an egg shaped seed. I like 'mute point' for 'moot point' - makes
sense to me.
LanguageLog probably popularized the term Cupertino, although I am not
sure because it is something that started in Europe. Apparently the EU
had a spat of the city Cupertino appearing in their documents from the
automatic correction of misspellings of cooperation. The word Cupertino
now stands for all sorts of words that appear in document due to a
rouge spell checker correction. Spell checkers are particularly hard on
proper names, such as Muttahida Qaumi which often became Muttonhead
There is something that makes me extremely angry. I
feel it as a personal insult to me even if it is directed at someone
else (even at someone I dislike). What makes me angry is when a
criticism is made of someone's language in a rude and unnecessary way.
By unnecessary criticism I mean that the critic understands perfectly
well what is being said and the emotional flavour of the statement. In
other words, the communication was successful but the listener is
pretending that they had difficulty understanding it.
The rudeness shows when the critic implies that their language is
better, purer, more educated, less laughable or more logical then the
speaker's. There is something particularly unfeeling about someone who
thinks more of some imagined slight to the language then a very real
slight to an actual person.
Anne Roberts puts this kind of behaviour in its proper context. She
entertains the audience with extremely rude and personal remarks about
her contestants, their weight, their build, their clothes, their jobs,
their hometowns, their bra size, their marriages or lack of marriages,
and yes, their accents and quirks of speech. Her language remarks carry
exactly the same professional rudeness as her other remarks - they are
all in bad taste in the same way. This from a woman who is short,
skinny, aging, always dressed in black and whose accent is extreme
enough to make her contestants often strain to understand what she is
saying. That's her act and we are informed fairly often that she is
actually quite nice and considerate. Anyone who attacks another's
language like Anne Roberts does,appears to be acting rude on purpose as
Here we have something that is the tool of communication, and
communication is so dear to us. It is also the raw material for art, a
thing of beauty, fit to make poetry. Someone takes this great gift and
uses it as a crude weapon to hit people on the head with. Talk about an
ignorant philistine! Talk about a Luddite!
How I handle my anger is a problem for me. Usually I say nothing. I
feel at the time that saying something will make the situation more,
not less, painful for the victim. I also feel that I should not lower
myself to the rudeness of the critic. Then after a time of holding my
tongue, some poor someone makes me just that little bit angrier and I
dump on them all my pent up resentment. I am a little ashamed of this
lack proportion in my response. I am also not happy that my reaction to
someone criticizing my language is to give them a dirty look, turn on
my heels and walk away. I usually do not speak to them for a while,
saying to myself that they are not interested in anything I have to
say. There have been a couple of people that I never spoke to again. It
is not even that I dislike critics. I generally like critics. I am
fairly critical myself although I try not to be rude in my
None the less, one person criticizing another's perfectly expressive
and communicative language because it breaks some silly rule (often
also a misunderstood rule) just makes my blood boil. I can't
I feel it is an insult to the speaker, to me and to the language.
Forget the logic
Williams in Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, wrote, "Here's
You can't predict correct usage by logic or general rule. You have to
learn the rules one-by-one and accept the fact that most of them are
arbitrary and idiosyncratic."
Isn't that true! I was taught the apostrophe was used to show
possession and to show that something was being left out. I was also a
bad speller and so left school without having a handle on my dyslexia.
There was 'it's'. I assumed that the 'belongs to it' meaning was spelt
with an apostrophe and also that the 'it is' was spelt with an
apostrophe as well. That would be logical and respect two general
rules. Then I realized that one of these meanings was spelt 'its'.
Oh,oh, which one? And why did one of them have to break a perfectly
I thought, obviously, that the more important rule would be respected.
That would be the possessive rule. My logic was impeccable. A number of
words that were obviously contractions did not have apostrophes
(goodbye was not godb'ye although it came from 'God be with ye') but
all possessives seemed to have apostrophes.
But later I found that logic was not that reliable. It was the
contraction that has the apostrophe. So when people say it is only
logical that 'it is' should be 'it's' while the possessive of 'it' is
'its', I say there is no way that this is logical. It is how it is but
let's not pretend that it is logical. Williams' quote puts it nicely -
it is arbitrary and idiosyncratic.
I have yet to meet a rule, that when studied closely, was
actually logical and without exceptions.
Child's Christmas in Wales
When Christmas comes around, I take my
little copy of 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' by Dylan Thomas
read it yet again. I find the language so beautiful and each year I am
surprised that it is still magic. Here is a little bit of it.
"For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the
Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large
moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.
Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie
Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse,
whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was
sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who
liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing
like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they
would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles
jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles
breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among
festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model
man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and
produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.
Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world,
on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack and to pad
through the still streets, leaving huge footprints on the hidden
pavements. "I bet people will think there's been hippos." "What would
you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?" "I'd go like this,
bang! I'd throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and
then I'd tickle him under the ear and he'd wag his tail." "What would
you do if you saw two hippos?" Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos
clanked and battered through the scudding snow toward us as we passed
Mr. Daniel's house. "Let's post Mr. Daniel a snow-ball through his
letter box." "Let's write things in the snow." "Let's write, 'Mr.
Daniel looks like a spaniel' all over his lawn." Or we walked on the
white shore. "Can the fishes see it's snowing?" The silent one-clouded
heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on
the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their
necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying "Excelsior." We returned
home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with
bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us,
their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the
dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then,
at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the iced cake loomed in
the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her
tea with rum, because it was only once a year."