‘Justice’ Is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

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Looking back on 2018, it seemed that most news stories, with the exception of sports and weather, dealt with some aspect of justice. It comes in many different forms too: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, and more recently, environmental justice. It is no wonder that “justice” was named by Merriam-Webster.com as its top word of 2018.

The concept of justice has many interpretations — from legal and technical to philosophical, the dictionary site explains, and today’s news stories attempt to explain what those concepts mean in our society. As we enter 2019, we will all continue to grapple with what justice means for our lives.

Second on Webster’s list is ‘nationalism’, a word that President Trump used in a speech in October where he described himself as a ‘nationalist.’  Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to one nation, particularly exalting it above all others.” Nationalism is not to be confused with ‘patriotism,’ which is defined as “love and devotion to one’s country, but not putting it above all other countries.”

The third top word on the 2018 list is ‘pansexual’, a word that actress/singer Janelle Monae used in a Rolling Stone article to describe her sexual orientation and preferences. The prefix “pan” means “all” or “complete” so the word pansexual may be a useful alternative to bisexual.

Other words topping the list include:

* Lodestar – meaning one who serves as an inspiration, model or guide

* Epiphany – a sudden perception of essential meaning or an illuminating realization

* Feckless – ineffective or worthless. In a rarely used antonym, ‘feckful’ means efficient or effective

* Laurel – Did you hear the audio clip that went viral? Did the voice say ‘laurel’ or ‘yanny’?

* Pissant – Derogatory word used by a radio DJ described the daughter of Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady

* Respect – A tribute to the late Aretha Franklin and her legendary song. It comes from the Latin word ‘respectus’, meaning “the act of looking back.”

* Maverick – An independent individual who doesn’t go along with a group or party. Often used to describe the late Senator John McCain.

* Excelsior – Stan Lee’s motto and salutation often concluded the monthly column he wrote for Marvel Comics. Comes from the Latin word meaning ‘higher’.

For more detailed explanations about these words and their origins, check out Merriam-Webster.com.

The top words were determined by the number of times they had been looked up on their site for meaning and clarification.

This annual list, as fun as it is, highlights why we still need to use a dictionary at times, to not only understand words and meanings, but how those meanings evolve over time and impact our conversations and our writing. It’s also a wonderful way to add to our vocabulary. Who knew there was such a word as ‘feckful’?

Last year about this time, after the 2017 list was revealed, I made my list of words for 2018. Among the words I listed were: backlash, harassment, impeach, bi-racial, isolationism, nuclear, resurgence, and bomb cyclone. I even made up a term, global cooling, to describe the cool reception the U.S. would receive after Trump decided to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

So what words do you think will be in the news in 2019 that will have you running to the nearest dictionary? I have a few in mind. Some are repeats from last year’s list, including ‘treason’ and ‘harassment’. In addition, look for the words ‘equity’, ‘collusion,’ ‘reform’ and ‘vortex’ to hit the news one way or another.

Merry Christmas!

10 Words That Could Dominate the News in 2018

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Online dictionary Merriam-Webster recently shared their top words for 2017. Tops on their list: feminism, which the site selected because of its prominence in news stories throughout the year. Other words included on their list for 2017 were: complicit, recuse, gaffe, federalism, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro and hurricane. These words were noted because of a higher than usual percentage of look-ups in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary following references in news stories.

Seeing this list made me think of 2018. What words do you think will dominate the news media in the coming year?

I’ve come up with my own list, presented below in alphabetical order. Some have already been mentioned repeatedly in the news; others are likely to be popular in the coming months. It will be interesting to see if any of these words will make Merriam-Webster’s list a year from now.

Backlash – With social media, it’s all too easy to speak out in favor or against a person or issue. It’s also just as easy to receive backlash for those comments. In the past few years, celebrities and public servants have received backlash for bad attitudes, poor behavior and subpar performances, and that trend will likely continue in 2018. So “backlash” will continue to dominate news stories in the coming year.

Bi-racial – As the nuptials of Britain’s Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle take place this spring, we will no doubt hear more about Markle’s background and family. Markle is biracial, meaning her parents are of two different races. I believe her notoriety will bring to light what it means to be biracial in today’s society.

Bomb cyclone – Sounds intimidating, and for those who live along the Eastern coast of the United States, it was intimidating last week as a bomb cyclone blasted through the region. Bomb cyclone, also known as a weather bomb or explosive cyclogenesis, refers to a weather phenomenon when a low pressure system’s central pressure drops 25 millilbars in 24 hours or less. The conditions are ripe for an epic winter storm with snow and high winds followed by a significant drop in temperature. Popular Science has a nifty explanation of this term.

Global cooling – This is a term I devised to describe the cool response the U.S. has been receiving from its international allies. Since Donald Trump took office a year ago, the U.S. has seen a rash of unpopular policy reversals that have affected our relationships with foreign countries and our standing in the world, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. The result is a “global cooling” attitude toward the U.S., a trend that is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond.

Harassment – As more women come forward to share their stories of harassment in the workplace, the word ‘harassment’ will emerge as a top word in 2018. Harassment comes in many forms, and it isn’t always sexual; it can be verbal, physical and emotional too. And women aren’t always the victim; men can experience harassment too.  Workers will need to educate themselves about what constitutes harassment in the workplace, which is another reason why it will be one of the top words of 2018.

Impeach – There’s been a great deal of doubt surrounding the Trump presidency. As the year progresses, we will likely hear more about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, resulting in continued public outcries for impeachment.

Isolationism – In 2018, I think we will begin to hear more about isolationism, a term referring to national policies that avoid political and economic involvement with other countries. Isolationism has been a recurrent theme in U.S. history, most recently in the 1930s leading up to World War II. With President Trump’s talks of building a border wall along Mexico and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. may once again be moving toward isolationism.

Nuclear – As Trump’s cat-and-mouse game with North Korea heats up, a nuclear incident becomes a very real and scary reality. Discussions about nuclear policies will continue to be a heated debate in 2018, making “nuclear” a top word on my list.

Resurgence – According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, resurgence means “rising again into life, activity or prominence.” As the mid-term elections draw near, I believe we will see a resurgence of political and social interest by individuals and groups alike. More people who had never become politically or socially active will run for office or get more involved, and the results may be startling. Don’t be surprised if we see sweeping changes in the makeup of Congress at the midterm elections in November.

Treason – Much like the word “impeach,” expect to see the word “treason” in many news stories this year as more of President Trump’s political and business dealings are uncovered.

What do you think? Would any of these words make your top words of 2018? What words do you think will dominate the news in the coming year?

Make a Positive Impression with Handwritten Thank You Notes

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There will come a time in your career when someone will do something special for you. It could be anything from buying you lunch, to passing along a job lead or introducing you to a new client. When that happens, it’s up to you to show your gratitude.

But in our busy workdays, how many of us think to write a thank you note and actually take the time to do so? Even if we do think about it, how many times have you sat staring at the blank page wondering what to say?

It helps to work from a formula to get the task done quickly, efficiently, and with sincerity. Be sure you use professional quality note cards or stationery to write your message. Most thank-you notes I write contain three sentences: a thank-you intro, detailed sentence, and a closing remark.

First sentence: Thank the recipient for the gift, meeting, gesture of kindness, advice – whatever they did for you.

Second sentence: Explain why you appreciate the gift, meeting, advice or gesture.

Third sentence: Reiterate your interest in the job, client or product offering, or mention something specific about what you learned.

Closing sentence: Close the message by offering to return the favor, or how you plan to use the gift.

Example 1:   Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview for a Customer Service Associate with XYZ Company. I enjoyed talking with you and learning more about your organization. Based on what I learned about XYZ, I feel my skills and experience would be a strong match for your needs. I welcome the opportunity to answer any further questions you have about my background.

Example 2:  Thank you for joining me for coffee last week. I enjoyed our conversation and appreciated learning about your company’s latest product innovations. I believe your new products will meet the needs of an underserved market. If there is anything I can do to help you promote these products, please contact me.

I have always preferred handwritten notes better than email. Handwritten notes show that you’ve taken the time to THINK about what you are writing. Because so few people are likely to send thank-you notes, let alone handwrite them, they’re more likely to make you stand out and make you more memorable.

Emailed messages are likely to get lost in the in-box, and texting is too informal that recipients may not take your expression of gratitude seriously.

If you’re looking to make yourself stand out to potential employers, clients or business associate, sending a thoughtfully-crafted, handwritten thank-you note may be the very tool you can use to make a strong, positive impression.

Practicing Gratitude in Your Work Life

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One of the most memorable “gifts” I received during my career was a greeting card for Thanksgiving from a printing vendor. The message on the card was simple, yet powerful. “At this time of Thanksgiving, we want to express our gratitude for your business.”

The fact that I received this greeting card in November before Thanksgiving and before the usual rush of cards and gifts in December made it stand out. The message from my vendor came across as sincere and more thoughtful because it did not get lost in the rush of the holiday season.

November is a month to remember our blessings and express gratitude for the things we have and the people who share our lives. That makes it the ideal time to express our gratitude in our work lives, whether it’s sending thank-you notes to our vendors and associates, or buying a cup of coffee for a co-worker to show appreciation for their efforts on a work project.

Before the holiday rush sets in, think about what you are grateful for, especially in your work life. It could be anything from the technician who fixes your smart phone to the indispensable assistant who makes your business run smoothly. Maybe it was a former boss who gave you good career advice or a teacher who encouraged you to keep writing.

If you are not sure what you are grateful for, try this exercise. On a piece of paper, jot down at least five things or people you are grateful for in your business. I think you’d be surprised at how many people have helped you become the successful business person you are.

One of the most powerful means of communicating gratitude is thank-you notes. I believe the most effective, and most memorable, are handwritten because I think they come from the heart. In an age when emails and texts dominate the communications landscape, handwritten thank-you notes are often overlooked. The handwritten thank-you notes I’ve received from bosses and other business associates always made me feel deeply appreciated, and they confirmed that I was doing a good job. I still keep a few and re-read them whenever I feel in doubt of my abilities. I will write more about thank you notes in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned.

Other outward expressions of gratitude may include healthy treats like a fruit basket, gift cards, a cup of coffee, while other forms of gratitude, such as personal affirmations, prayers and meditation, are more private.

Even just verbally saying, “Thank you for your hard work on this project. I couldn’t have done it without you” goes a long way toward establishing good will and respect, and reflects positively on you and your business.

At this time of Thanksgiving, take the time to be grateful for every person and every situation that have served you well in your career. Of course, saying “please” and “thank you” should always be part of your everyday business vocabulary.

Idea-Generating Tools for the Not-So-Organized

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Ever have those moments when you’ve come up with what you believe is a brilliant idea and forget to write it down? What happens to your idea then? More than likely, it fades into oblivion, never to be implemented for your personal or professional purpose.

Whether you’re a creative professional or are someone who simply is involved in many projects, you may need a system for keeping track of all your ideas and projects. I’m a bit old school, so for me, keeping notebooks for each story or project idea is the simplest, easiest solution for this purpose. There may be other systems or platforms available on the Internet, but I prefer handwritten tools so I can write things down as I think of them.

At times, I wish I had a pensieve like Professor Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter series. With a tap of his wand at his temple, he could extract a memory and save it in the pensieve to review later. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar container for all our ideas so they didn’t clutter our brains?

At the moment I have about four different notebooks for four different purposes. This helps me to keep one idea or task related to one project separated from the others. When you have so many ideas coming at you at one time, this process helps to organize them so they are easy to access later when you may need them.

Here are a few ideas for organizing your ideas for creative and business projects.

Writing Logs: 

Personal journal – For most people, the journal is where they recap their personal experiences and insights about work, relationships, and the struggles of daily life.

Poetry – Write poetry? Keep drafts of your poetry in a file or notebook to separate it from other types of writing that you do.

Writing – Notes from writing webinars, lists of books to read (not necessarily about the topic of writing but stuff you want to read), writing tips from other writers, and lists of unfamiliar words to look up. Also keep ideas and bullet point for short stories, essays and other types of writing you may be doing.

Blogging log – If you manage your own blog, keep a notebook of ideas for potential postings. Include any research related to these story ideas, blogging tools and resources to help you be more productive, blogging apps that might aid your blog, and advice and tips from other professional bloggers.

Personal Development: 

Dream log – Ever have a dream and wonder what it means? The next time you remember having a dream, write it down in a journal to keep it separate from any writing journal you keep. Either use a dream dictionary or an online dream interpretation tool to look up potential meanings and jot them down next to your dream.

Inspiration log: Collect items that inspire you, such as photos, positive and uplifting news stories that you read in the paper or on the Internet, and motivational quotes.

Health/fitness log: On a diet or trying to make a lifestyle change, like quitting smoking? Use a log to monitor the foods you eat, your workouts, vitamins, water intake, etc. It might be helpful to record your thought processes as you change your health and fitness regimen.

Home improvement/buying or selling a home – Whether you are planning on selling your home or simply renovating it for your own enjoyment, it may be a good idea to track home improvements. In particular, note what type of work was done and when, and the name and contact information for contractors, real estate agents, lenders and other professionals. This type of log may be especially helpful if you are doing a series of renovations before selling the home, so you can refer to your notes when buyers have questions about the home.

Business Related: 

Job search – If you’re looking for a new job or changing careers, a career log or job search log can help you  stay on top of your progress. Keep track of all your network contacts, and write down names of people who you meet. Keep track of the businesses you approach for jobs, including when you sent your resume to them and what kind of response, if any, that you received.

Business startup – Got an idea for a new business start-up? Jot down everything you want to do to get your new business venture off the ground, including products, potential competition, potential clients, tasks to accomplish, forms to complete and deadlines.

Legal/Lawsuit: If you ever get involved in a legal issue, keep a log to recall incidents related to your case, record conversations with your attorney and list any tasks you need to accomplish.

Medical log – If you’ve ever had an injury or illness and needed medical care, keeping a medical log can help your sort through the details of your medical care. Keep track of everything, from the names and contact information of medical doctors and hospitals involved, dates and results of medical tests, conversations with medical team, and any drugs that were prescribed.

These are just a few examples of idea-tracking logs, whether it’s to keep track of your writing projects or your personal ones. You don’t have to do them all. Focus on the ones where you get the most ideas so you won’t feel so overwhelmed as you progress. It may seem overwhelming to have a log for every little segment of your life, but I find it helpful to separate – and in some cases, compartmentalize – all of life’s projects so they don’t feel so overwhelming.

Experiment with one or two types of logs, perhaps a dream log and a poetry log, or a business start-up log and a blogging blog, so you can develop ideas for your business blog. Find what works for you. If written notebooks aren’t your style, check the Internet for other possible platforms.

Whichever format you use, you’ll find that keeping multiple log books helps clear your brain of the ideas.

Six Words and Phrases That Should Be Used Sparingly

notepad-117597_1280Have you ever noticed the knee-jerk reactions people have when you use certain phrases or words?

It’s not that those words are offensive in and of themselves. But their meanings tend to conjure up connections in the brain that triggers an emotional response.

While we can’t completely avoid using these terms all the time, we can be mindful of how and when we use them, and the impact they can have. In some cases, those words can mean something different than what we intended.

I’ve compiled a list of “cautionary” words that can wreak havoc on meaningful conversations. There are more words, I’m sure, but this brief list should get you started thinking about the way we convey meaning in our everyday conversation with our word choices.

Compromise. 
At first glance, “compromise” seems like an innocent word. After all, people use it all the time in the act of negotiating. The problem stems from the implication that we must give up something in a compromise in order to get something else, which is counterproductive. Do compromises ever give you everything you want in the arrangement? Usually it means all parties involved are not getting something they want. Compromise doesn’t give you the results you ultimately seek, which is a win-win situation.

What if we switched out compromise in favor of collaboration? If we collaborate on a work arrangement, a deal, or a new song, a sense of equal partnership is implied. Even saying the word aloud – collaboration – has a different feel to it. It feels more inclusive than compromise. With collaboration, everybody wins.

Think how much more productive our members of Congress would be if they chose to collaborate on legislation rather than compromise?

Freelance. 
Some years ago, a young writer I met at a conference explained that she stopped referring to herself as a freelancer. “Whenever I told a client that I was a freelance writer, they tended to hear only the first half of the word and assumed my services were free.”

The woman made a good point. If you are starting out on your own and you identify yourself as a freelancer, are you unwittingly setting up an expectation among potential clients that your services are cheaper than other independent contractors?

A better option is “independent” or no descriptive term at all. Do you really need to identify yourself as an independent anything? In most cases, just saying, “I’m a business writer” or “I’m a photojournalist and graphic designer” are sufficient enough on their own to explain what you do without adding a “freelance” description.

Hate. 
I will write this once and never again: I hate the word “hate.” It’s such a strong, angry word that incites aggressive responses in people. I prefer the word “dislike,” which I suppose reflects my kinder, gentler approach to life.

I refuse to say or write that I hate another person, only that I dislike their opinions, dislike their attitude, or dislike the way they dress. Other comparable but less suggestive words: detest, loathe, abhor. Yes, they are as strong as hate, but they’re not nearly as hateful.

Diet. 
Another word that appears innocent enough at first glance, but can suggest negative meaning to some people because it makes them feel self-conscious, especially about their appearance. Diet, much like the word compromise, implies a loss of something or giving up something to get what you want. In this case, diet implies giving up certain types of foods that you enjoy in order to lose pounds. In fact, the word diet has almost become synonymous with “sacrifice.” Diet also implies a short-term solution to an eating problem.

The alternative phrases that I prefer are “eating habits” or “meal plan.” Rather than say, “I need to go on a diet,” which sounds negative and not enticing, instead say, “I plan to change my eating habits,” which is more positive and forward thinking.

No. 
Ever notice a person’s facial expression or physical reaction after you said no to their request? They sometimes look like they’ve been punched in the gut. No is one of those words that has an explosive effect, like a gun going off in the middle of the quiet evening.

While many times, saying no is necessary, there are ways to say no with less force and impact. For example, if your child asks for a snack before dinner, don’t just say no; instead, say “Yes, but after you’ve finished your dinner.” Or, to answer a worker’s request to leave work early, you can respond, “Yes, but please turn in your monthly reports before you leave.

I’m sorry. 
This has become one of the most overused phrases in business writing. Have you ever caught yourself writing to a client, “I’m sorry for getting back to your request so late.” It might sound sincere, but it also comes across as lacking confidence

In this instance, it might be better to use “thank you” to introduce the note. “Thank you for notifying me of your problem. Let me look into it and see how we can fix it for you.” This response sounds more positive and engaging without putting yourself down in the process.

Don’t get me wrong. Apologies are necessary if you are truly sorry about something that happened. But to continually use “I’m sorry” in business communications gives the impression that you lack confidence in yourself.

Whether used in personal discussions or in business communications, be aware of the words and phrases you use. Some can create negative feelings where none was intended.