The Ghost of Miss Johnston

We entrepreneurs are a talkative bunch. We love to explain our ideas to anyone who will listen, and we’ll lobby the guy sitting next to us on a plane until he finally agrees with whatever position we’ve taken on our subject du jour. Our penchant as an interlocutor is an integral part of our persona. Care must be taken so as not to dilute the effects of our prose with careless or incorrect jargon, as well as gratuitous statements. All that said, I’m not suggesting that we speak in the stilted tones of a 19th century aristocrat, but merely that we appear to have paid attention (somewhat) in English class during our formative years. Here is my list of possibilities for consideration.

  1. I’ve heard some very bright and educated people use the terms “quite honestly” or “quite frankly.” For example, “Quite honestly, I believe that we are on the right track with that decision.” The implication here is that the speaker is being honest at this moment because he says he is. Does this mean that if he does not add this qualifier to everything he says, that he’s not being honest? Interchange the term “frankly” for “honestly” and the same question can be pondered.
  2. Another cringeworthy moment comes when we hear the following statement, “Her and I went to the meeting.” Or how about, “Me and him are going to meet.” I’ll never forget the steely glare from my seventh grade English teacher, Miss Mary Johnston, when we got this wrong. She made it easy to remember by reminding us to individualize the statement; “She went to the meeting, not her went to the meeting. I went to the meeting, not me went to the meeting. Thus, she and I went to the meeting.”
  3. The next was a favorite of my mother-in-law – or should I say it caused her to go ballistic whenever she heard the word used incorrectly. “Where are you going to or “Where is the cake knife at?” I think she emphasized this so much while she was alive that I became deathly afraid that she might stab me with that cake knife if she ever heard me use the prepositions “to” and “at” to finish a sentence.
  4. Here’s one that I hear surprisingly often. A “picture” is not a “pitcher.” I’m not sure how there’s confusion surrounding the fact that a pitcher is someone who throws a baseball or is perhaps a container from which liquid is poured, and a picture is a photograph or a painting.
  5. I’ve found as I’ve become older that I tend to search more for certain words as I’m speaking. I’m not quite ready to admit that age may be a factor here. Instead, I’d like to chalk it up to the fact that I have way too many thoughts swimming around in my head. Nevertheless, while stumbling around looking for a certain word, I have fallen victim at times to the overuse of the terms “like” and “you know.” I swore I would never succumb to sounding like a Valley Girl, but alas, I know there are times when I revert to Valspeak. Ugghhh! It’s maddening and I’m so glad that Miss Johnston isn’t alive to witness my shame.
  6. Now we move on to a dreaded phrase that is death to entrepreneurs. This isn’t an incorrect usage of speech. Instead it’s an incorrect usage of entrepreneurial principles. The phrase, “We’ve always done it that way.” Ralph has observed that a manufacturing process in his plant involves multiple steps and could be streamlined. When he asks the plant manager why so many steps are involved the answer is, “We’ve always done it that way.” Ralph’s head is about to explode. The obvious answer is, “Hmm, maybe we need to take another look at that process. I don’t think anyone ever thought to do so.”
  7. Finally, we must be mindful of the way we use acronyms and industry-specific jargon. When I speak at industry conferences, I often lead panel discussions. I know there are newbies in the audience and I stop panelists that shortcut their speech with the heavy use of acronyms. I ask them to explain the terms they are using for the sake of clarity. It’s important that we know who is listening to us and whether they are a civilian or “one of us.”

Paying attention to what we say when we communicate will help us be more precise in conveying our ideas and will promote a clear understanding of what we mean. It will also keep us from being haunted by the ghosts of Miss Johnston and her brethren (and my mother-in-law).

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.