Sunday, October 26, 2008

Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication.

As I sail into the turbulent waters of “The Golden Years,” I see early indications that I may be in danger of turning into a cranky curmudgeon. One such harbinger of incipient curmudgeondom is my increasingly short fuse and impatience when it comes to listening to the banal and inane speech patterns that have crept into our daily dialogue that pollute even professional and business communication. It is the rare hour when I do not find myself inwardly cringing and wincing at some particularly inapt phrase being blithely thrown out by a host or caller to WEEI talk radio, or injected into an otherwise perfectly pleasant conversation. Even the well-educated are not immune from this creeping devolution of daily discourse.

So, I offer my own – very subjective – list of my Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication.

I offer the list to the readers of The White Rhino Report for two reasons. First, I need to get this off my chest, and the readers of this Blog seem to be an appropriate and receptive audience for my rant. Second, it may cause you to take a personal inventory of your own speech patterns to ascertain whether some of these deadly sins of syntax have crept into your own every day speech. Be aware that we are all being evaluated every hour of every day by those with whom we interact. Everything is a test! As an executive recruiter, I am often called upon to make very subjective choices about which potential candidates to present to a client company. On more than one occasion, I have chosen not to put forward a candidate who on paper appeared to have all of the requisite qualifications, but whose speech patterns were so unsophisticated and colloquial that the candidate came across as unprofessional.

Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication

10) “I am trying to make a point. OK?”

It is not uncommon for a speaker, wishing to put forth an argument, to replace a logical chain of propositions with a series of simple declarative sentences, followed by the interjection: “OK?”

“Tom Brady has an infection in the knee that was operated on. OK?

I hear that the Patriots brass are upset that he used a surgeon in California. OK?

Brady many not be ready for the opening game of the 2009 seasons. OK?

I’m afraid we may not make it back to the playoffs. OK?”

Etc., etc.

This Neanderthal approach insults the listener, because it implies that he may need a handhold at each step along the line of the argument being presented. It also reveals the speaker to be woefully inept in crafting a cogent series or propositions.

Don’t fall into this trap. It makes you sound stupid! OK?

9) “Ya know?” or “Do you know what I mean?”

This foible is similar to #10 in that it implicitly insults the listener, and reveals that the speaker may have crawled onto dry land out of the muddy end of the gene pool.

“I got a new job. Do you know what I mean?”

“Ya know, the Red Sox could have won Game 7 if Varitek had just been able to make contact, ya know?”

On rare occasion, I have become so exasperated in listening to this stream of often unconscious verbal Hamburger Helper that I have interrupted the speaker:

“I am going to buy a hybrid car. Do you know what I mean?”

“No, I don’t. I am so friggin’ stupid that I am not capable of comprehending a simple sentence. Please explain what you mean.”

That usually makes the point – and ends the conversation – and sometimes terminates the friendship. I said I was becoming a curmudgeon, do you know what I mean?

8) “. . . , Which is Good!”

Stating the obvious is a sin that will quickly get one labeled as an intellectual lightweight.

“I just looked outside and it has stopped raining, which is good!”

“The number of foreclosures in Massachusetts is down this month, which is good!”

Please! Let the listener decide the moral value, if any, of a simple statement. If you can eliminate this faux pas from your conversation, people may assume you are brighter than they heretofore had given you credit for – which is good! OK?

7) “She was talking to he and I.”

In technical grammatical terms, this construct is called the “compound object of a preposition.” It is rare in English for a noun or pronoun to change cases, but this is one of those rare instances.

“I” is appropriate when the word is used as a subject: “I am writing this Blog piece.”

“Me” is used when the word is an object of a verb or preposition: “Readers of this Blog may write me and respond to me with comments.”

It gets tricky when there is more than one object. Our gut tells us that it does not feel right to use “him” and “me,” because we have heard yokels say: “Him and me went to the picture show!” So, in trying not to fall into that trap, we inadvertently trigger an IED – an “inarticulate expressive device”!

A simple way to figure what is appropriate is to remove one of the objects.

“She gave the book to he and I” or “She gave the book to him and me?”

“She gave the book to I” or “She gave the book to me?”



6) “Can I git?”

I believe I have mentioned this pet peeve in the past in this space, but it still drives me crazy. Dunkin’ Donuts locations may be the sites of the most frequent perpetrations of this verbal idiosyncrasy.

“Can I git a couple of crullers and a large iced hazelnut, extra cream, three Splendas?

I would prefer a simple: “I would like . .” or perhaps “May I please have . . .”

When I hear “Can I git?” I want to retort: “No, you can’t; NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

5) “Can I help who’s next?”

While I am on the subject of Dunkin’ Donuts, I would like to offer the observation that they need to train their customer service people to be a little warmer in their greetings. “Can I help who’s next?” does not cut it for me. It may sound hokey, but I prefer places where I am greeted with a smile and a simple “Hi,” or even, “Can I help the next guest/customer/glutton?”

4) A “Very Unique” Problem

“She was wearing one of the most unique brooches I had ever seen.”

By definition, “unique” means “one of a kind” – there is nothing else like it in existence. So, there cannot be degrees of uniqueness. It is not logically possible for one thing to be “more unique” than another. If you get this concept right, you will stand out among your peers as uniquely articulate.

3) Revert back

“Revert back” is technically a redundancy. Revert means “to go back to” or “to return to,” as in “She reverted to her old tardy ways.” So, the concept of going back is already contained within the word “revert,” and to add “back” is like gilding the lily. It is unnecessary and annoying.

2) “Very, very” or “Right, right, right”

With these final two pet peeves, I am moving into the realm of what I think of as “automatic response” or “knee jerk” verbal fillers. Whenever I hear a speaker begin to use these forms of verbiage, I begin to assume that I had better turn on my “BS filter” because it strikes me as insincere. These are unconscious forms of communication that fail to connect with me on any meaningful person-to-person level.

“This cell phone is very, very reliable, and I think if you buy it, you will be very, very pleased.”

“Right, right, right!”

1) “To be quite candid” or “To be honest with you”

As soon as I hear this kind of language, I check to make sure that my wallet is where it belongs. The implication is either: “Up until now, I have not been completely honest with you, but now I will begin to tell you the unvarnished the truth.” Or, it may imply, “With most people, I tell them what I think they want to hear, but you are special, so I will tell you the whole truth.” I expect the next line will be something like: “What will it take for me to get you into one of my cars and have you drive it off the lot into your driveway today?”

In either case, the sense is that I am now dealing with a person that I cannot completely trust. See Shakespeare:

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

--From Hamlet (III, ii, 239)

So, there you have it: a curmudgeon’s jeremiad lamenting the woeful state of verbal communication in the world today. OK? I would welcome your comments. Do you know what I mean?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Illuminating TV – “Friday Night Lights”

My son, Scott, has very discerning and discriminating tastes when it comes to the arts – music, cinema, theater, TV or the fine arts. So, when Scott tells me I should pay attention to a particular artist or work of art, I have learned to listen and respect his judgment. A few weeks ago, Scott said to me something along the lines of:

“Dad, you know how much I hate sports and how little interest I have in following anything to do with sports. So it may shock you when I say that the TV series, ‘Friday Night Lights’ is the best TV show I have ever seen. I am sending you the DVD’s for the first two seasons. I think you will enjoy them.”

So, I have just finished a marathon viewing of the entire first two season of the show. Scott was right – as usual. This is extraordinary television. The concept is based on the 1990 book, “Friday Night Lights” by Pulitzer Prize winning writer and journalist, H.G. Bissinger. Bissinger spent a year chronicling the phenomenon of Texas high school football in Odessa, Texas. The book spawned a feature film by the same name that starred Billy Bob Thornton. The film was released in 2004, and was directed by Peter Berg, a second cousin of Bissinger.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the translation from film to TV series:

“Once filming on the movie was completed, Berg turned his attention to adapting the story for television. Berg expressed in various interviews following the film how he regretted having to jettison many of the interpersonal topics covered in the book from the film because of the time constraints of a feature film. Creating a TV series, particularly one based on fictional characters, allowed many of those elements to be brought back in and addressed in-depth.”

In my opinion, the biggest difference between the film and the TV series is the breadth and scope of the subject matter. While the film was primarily about Texas high football and how it defines the lives of everyone living in the small town of Odessa., the TV series has a more ambitious reach. While it uses football as the prism through which the lives of each character is viewed, the series is about nothing less than examining and illuminating how we in Middle America raise our sons and daughters – or in some cases – leave them to essentially raise themselves.

The ensemble cast is flawless in their acting and in the interactions with one another. The writing is note perfect – from the many colloquialisms that help to define the characters to the incisive look into many aspects of small town Texas life. The Bible Belt element – both black churches and a white evangelical congregation – is handled with great care and reverence, while giving full freedom to explore the constant tension some of the characters feel between being led by raging hormones or by the Holy Spirit!

The remarkable thing about this show and its overall effect is that I found myself caring deeply about the welfare of each character – even of the rogues, like the oleaginous Booster Club President, Buddy Garrity. The characters are richly drawn and finely nuanced – no white hats and black hats here. This is closer to Dostoevsky than it is to Zane Grey. The line between good and evil – between hero and villain - runs down the center of each character. In the hands of lesser talents, this show and its material could easily have devolved into bathos and soap opera. Instead, it rises to the level of fine art and great television.

In my theater-going career, one of the highlights was seeing the eight and a half hour production of Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickelby” staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. By the end of the play, I felt I had come to know and to care about each character as if they were a long-time friend and neighbor. I had the same sense of intimate connection with the characters that populate “Friday Night Lights.”

The show was renewed for a 13-episode third season; episodes began airing on DirecTV's The 101 on 1 October 2008 and will be rebroadcast on NBC in the winter. If you have access to DirecTV, check it out now. If not, while waiting for NBC to air the third season episode early in 2009, I invite you to catch up on the lives of the denizens of fictional Dillon, Texas by watching the DVD’s of the first two season.

Thanks, Scott.



Big Game Hunters – “The Apprentice” Invites You to Own a Piece of Big Sky Country

Anyone who has been reading The White Rhino Report for any length of time will recognize the name of Kelly Perdew. Kelly is the West Point graduate who won the second season of “The Apprentice” and went to work with Donald Trump as a result of winning the top prize on the show. Since then, Kelly has been involved in a number of entrepreneurial endeavors. It has been fun keeping up with his development as a business leader.

Kelly recently made me aware of a project that he and his family are involved with. I will let Kelly tell the story briefly:

My family and I are selling 15 lots and memberships in a gorgeous hunting/fishing ranch just outside of Great Falls, Montana. I would very much prefer to share this beautiful place with connections or connections of connections than complete strangers.

You can see details about the ranch at:

Potential buyers for our memberships would be those who want that outdoor/hunting/fishing lifestyle.

Because any potential buyers will be neighbors of the Perdew family, they want to ensure that they maintain control of the process of making people aware of this opportunity by using their network of personal contacts. If you, or anyone you feel may be interested, would like more information, let me know and I will be glad to put you in contact with Kelly with my word of recommendation.

Be aware that this offer is only available through December 15, 2008.

Happy hunting!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Swapping Baseball Stories at Fenway - Morgan Magic in the Stands

In the midst of the Red Sox woeful play on the field against the Rays on Monday, I managed to salvage some enjoyment from the game. I found myself sitting next to former Red Sox Manager, Joe Morgan - he of "Morgan Magic" fame. During the 1988 season, the Red Sox fired Manager, John McNamara, and replaced him with Interim Manager, Joe Morgan of Walpole, Massachusetts. Under Morgan the revitalized Sox won 12 straight games, 19 of 20 games, and put together a skein of 24 straight home victories. They went on the win the AL East, and Morgan continued to manage for a total of three seasons.

So, it was a treat to be able to lean over towards Joe and ask questions about the good old days. I listed the Sox starting line-up from when I was a lad, and he made comments about each one - Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom Dimaggio, Ted Williams. He knew them all. We talked about why Ortiz and Varitek are struggling to catch up with the fastball in this series. We talked about why Varitek refuses to give up switch hitting, when it appears he has no chance of getting a hit from the left side of the plate. We talked about Joe's getting tossed by the umpires an average of 3 times a season during his major league career, but 8 times a year in the minor leagues. We talked about Manny's departure, and why it was inevitable. He talked about the fact the he did not expect Youkilis to be as good as he has turned out to be, and that he knew from the first time he saw him play that Pedrioa would be a winner.

At one point Morgan turned to me and asked: "That Bartlett kid at 3rd - who did the Rays trade to get him?" I answered that I thought it was Delmond Young and one or two more players. It was nice to be able to give something back to one with a great baseball mind and a reputation set in stone among Red Sox Nation.

Thanks for all the magic, Joe.

Go Sox!


Mike O’Malley – Keeping the Faith in the Red Sox

My friend, Mike O’Malley, now lives in LA, but he is a die-hard Red Sox fan. You may know him from his CBS series, “Yes, Dear.” Mike’s new series on NBC is “My Own Worst Enemy,” starring Christian Slater. The show had its debut Monday night at 10:00. Mike was not able to be in Boston for the Sox game, and was working, so he was not even able to monitor the game from LA. So, I fed him real time text message updates from my seat in Section 29.

After last night’s tough defeat at the hands of the up-start Tampa Bay Rays, Mike sent the following e-mail message:

It worked last year, so, here it goes again... A mid-week Sermon for the faithful

Just replace "Indians" with "Rays" whenever necessary.
But the sentiment is the same.

Wed Oct 17, 2007 3:43 pm EDT

A mid-week sermon for the faithful

Mike O'Malley, an actor, writer and fervent Boston Red Sox fan, is blogging about the Red Sox during their American League championship series match-up with the Cleveland Indians.

Ah, my fellow Sox fans, I can feel you beginning to drift away on this off-day.

I can feel you trying to disperse your disappointment in the last three games by trying to come up with positive repercussions of a potential Sox elimination on Thursday. You're telling yourself it will be good to have a free weekend without your life hanging on every pitch, a weekend where you can go to church Sunday morning and actually make a choice to not pay attention rather than allowing your baseball-induced narcolepsy to make it for you.

I can feel you retreating into your calendars. Into your long-avoided tasks on your to-do lists. Into and onto travel websites to make your Thanksgiving travel plans. Into your junk drawer, which you will clean while you avoid SportsCenter's multiple showings of another team's champagne celebration. I can feel your retreat into a dark place for Game 5 as you avoid like-minded people to sit by yourself, shrugging your shoulders and waiting to be put out of your misery. I understand the inclination.

So you bright-side the Red Sox losing by imagining having no games to frustrate you, no more late nights, no more muttering about managerial moves to your significant other/friend/dog/sibling/fellow drunk, no more shouting obscenities at your television when your suggested move ends up being ignored and bad things result!!

You can see in the not-too-distant future a life where you're not distracted by men playing a game you gave up long ago. I can feel you imagining a time when you will not avoid your kids, or get around to trying to have kids, or stop acting like a kid by crying when the Red Sox lose. I can see you planning an evening before the fireplace when you'll pop a bottle of wine and actually have a conversation with someone.

I share these dark thoughts. I have the same switch on the wall inside my head. It is a switch that, once flipped, sets into motion an engine of negativity. It has been revving since the Game 3 loss. And since the Game 4 loss, you've been retreating to your emotional work shed, jiffy-lubing your very own doom-and-gloom switch so you'll be able to flip it on at the first sign of trouble in Game 5, and with satisfaction, you will watch the rest of the game as if the Sox losing was a foregone conclusion.

You are familiar with this mechanism, because it has done such a bang-up job at alleviating your predicted disappointment in the past. It tells you that you are tired of placing a disproportionate amount of your happiness in the hands of men who swing a big piece of wood at a moving piece of stitched leather. You're fed up and bothered, bunched-up and spent. You feel ready to deflate your misguided hopes and settle in for some football.

I am here to tell you one thing. Fight that feeling. For at least another day. Stand firm. Tides change with one bobbled ball. Games are won and lost on one pitch all the time. That pitch in Game 5 has not been thrown yet.

Fight the feeling to say things like: "It's good for baseball that two smaller-market teams go to the World Series." Enough about what's good for baseball. Let television executives and the people from Stubhub and the folks who sell throwback jerseys worry about what's good for baseball. Being a real baseball fan is about one team winning. Yours. We root for one team because when things go well, we're the only ones who get to enjoy it.

I never believed in the Curse of the Bambino, in the hex sense. But I did believe in the power of an entire group of Red Sox fans collectively predicting and then willing the worst to happen. It was easy to behave that way. When things got close or tough, or it looked like victory was ours, the bad thing happened so often and in so many maddening manifestations that it became a national joke. But 2004 put that joke in the past, and with it, we should all have discarded the proclivity to bail before the boat has sunk.

Now, there's no doubt we're taking on water. And this is a different
team than 2004. But you, dear fan, have not gone on to root for another team. You were part of the past, the losing and the winning, and your thoughts of belief when Dave Roberts stole second were like the butterfly flapping its wings in Africa that started the hurricane in the Caribbean. Your belief when Roberts stole second were the butterflies that blew Bill Mueller's batted ball past Mariano Rivera's grasp moments later.

I'm no physicist, but it is possible that's true.

Because you, dear fan, matter. You have been there through the most depressing low and the most joyful high. Why not linger with good thoughts for a moment longer? You have it in you to root like hell for Beckett on Thursday. You have it in you to drum up the confidence when Papi is at the plate late in the game. You have it in you to direct some of that belief to the men on your Red Sox roster who need it most right now.

Be not distracted by those Indians fans who are reading this, gloating, laughing, doing their very own rooster strut as they troll the web looking for sad Sox fans while making travel plans for Colorado for the Fall Classic. We know the feeling. Gloating has been something we have written the book on. You can't blame them, they are good and they are devoted.

Summon your very own devotion to your very own Red Sox for one more day. Be not a wounded animal, alone in a corner willing your final breath to come sooner rather than later. Be a believer. Have we been beaten pretty good the last three games? No doubt. Are the Indians hard to hate? Not anymore. Start hating them and their towel-waving antics. Hate their drum, their logo, their unknown stars who will soon leave to play for the Mets or Yankees, and hate them good. Let the broadcasters and national media blush with praise and desire for these oh-so-very-likeable Indians.

Your job, friends, is to hate. Believe and hate. Heck, that's what our great country was built on! Do you not believe in the idea of America?

Belief and hate – two powerful things to get you through Game 5.

Well said, my friend. Keep the faith. Go Sox!

By the way, I watched “My Own Worst Enemy,” and loved the show. It runs opposite Monday Night Football, so it looks like I’ll be missing the first half of a few games this season! Check out the show next Monday at 10:00. I think you will enjoy it.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Boston Area Alert: Ajax in Iraq at the A.R.T. in Harvard Square - Friday Night, Saturday Afternoon and Saturday Evening only

Something extraordinary is happening this weekend in Harvard Square. The American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training is presenting the original play "Ajax in Iraq." Written by Ellen McLaughlin, this play masterfully weaves together Sophocles' tale of Ajax unhinged by his exposure to battle with the experiences of American soldiers in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The two streams of action flow in parallel - like the Tigris and Euphrates - ultimately joining together in a confluence of emotion and reflection.

I saw the play last night, and was deeply moved. I encourage anyone living in the Boston area to make the trip to Harvard Square this evening or to one of the two performances on Saturday.

The Advanced Theater Training group is offering free tickets to veterans. The details of the offer are outlined below:

The American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training invites you to:

Ajax in Iraq inspired by Sophocles's Ajax and the current war in Iraq.

Written by Ellen McLaughlin and directed by Scott Zigler, and performed by the Institute Class of 2009

Zero Arrow Theatre - Corner of Arrow Street and Mass Ave. in Harvard Square.

Performance Dates & Times:

October 9, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m. October 11 at 2:00 p.m.

To RSVP follow the links below:

October 10 at 7:30 p.m.

October 11 at 2:00 p.m.

October 11 at 7:30 p.m.

The RSVP deadlines are:

October 10, deadline 10/9 at 5PM
October 11 peformances, deadline 10/10 at 5PM

Discussions with Ellen McLaughlin will follow the performances on October 10 at 7:30 and October 11 at 2:00.

Please note: This is a student production and it is not to be reviewed.

How does the experience of war affect the common soldier? What do veterans bring home from war? How have female soliders been affected by the war in Iraq? These are just a few of the questions explored in the world premiere production of this new play by award-winning writer Ellen McLaughlin. Using Sophocles' Ajax as a lens through which to view and interpret the current war, McLaughlin's play combines ancient Greece and modern-day Iraq to grapple with these difficult and perplexing times.

Ellen McLauglin is an American playwright and actor for stage and film. Her plays include Days and Nights Within, A Narrow Bed, Infinity's House, Iphigenia and Other Daughters, Tongue of a Bird, The Trojan Women, Helen, The Persians, and Oedipus, all produced in major theatres throughout the U.S. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Great American Play Contest, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, NEA Award, Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the Berilla Kerr Award for Playwriting, and the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant. As an actor, McLaughlin has worked on and off Broadway as well as
extensively in regional theater. She is best known for having originated the part of the Angel in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, appearing in every U.S. production from its earliest workshops through its Broadway run.

This play is so good that it is worth changing whatever plans you may have made for this weekend. You will not be sorry.