Are you familiar with “My Fair Lady,” the musical/movie based on the premise that if you can teach a guttersnipe to talk like a lady, she’ll get treated like one?
As a kid, the romantic rags-to-riches, changing places, feel of the piece really appealed to me. And I think there’s still some merit to the basic concept.
True, the markers of socio-economic status are much, much more fluid these days than they were in Victorian England, but even today the way you speak will affect how you’re perceived, and how people will respond to you as a result.
Of course, nowadays we need to include technologically mediated speech as well – in other words, your e-mails, tweets and posts.
These musings constitute a perpetual sort of open mic, and just ask any public figure who’s been caught with her or his mouth open and brain off how damaging those can be.
I, personally, don’t have anything against profanity, but I still feel there are times and places where it isn’t appropriate – like most work situations, unless you’re a cop, sailor, rapper or something like that. In most other circumstances, I think it seems sort of unprofessional, even though it doesn’t offend me.
But bad grammar? That offends me. So does ridiculous spelling. I know text speak has changed the way we write, but seeing things like “R U ready?” really annoys me. And things like “should of” instead of “should have”? That makes me lose respect for someone very quickly.
I don’t consider it nitpicky or arcane. It has to do with chops and discipline, two things I really look for in someone with whom I’m doing business.
There are plenty of other ways in which people can trip themselves up with their tongues. I’ll highlight two – one predominantly favored by women and another done by men.
Take the way women use the word, “Sorry.” We say it all the time, sometimes when we mean “Excuse me” or when we want to clarify something, as in, “I’m sorry but I think I ordered fried eggs,” when the waiter serves us scrambled. This speech habit robs us of power. We sound like we’re apologizing when often our intention is the opposite.
The classic male speech problem is the lack of it, or more specifically, a reluctance to ask questions. Asking a question doesn’t have to mean a loss of power or authority. Sometimes it can prevent mistakes, as in “Did you want those eggs scrambled or fried?”
In the workplace, these two speech habits can break more than a few eggs.
I’m personally trying to work on my tendency to say “Sorry” when I mean something else. Maybe if we all put some energy into clearer communication we’ll all wind up with less egg on our face.
by Danielle Dresden