May 2016

Word Smarts
(Ouch! Did I use that word the wrong way again?)

A reader wrote in wondering what I thought about a particular choice of words she’s been hearing lately as the outgoing message on answering machines. You call a business and are asked to leave a message: “Leave a message and we’ll call you back at our earliest convenience.”
Ouch! I’m sure these businesses don’t mean to sound rude. In fact, they are likely just mouthing back words they hear all the time. But context makes all the difference. What you say, and to whom, matters.
Just today I called the hospitality coordinator at an event facility with whom I do business. She said on her message that she’d call me back when it was convenient. I hung up feeling like a second-rate client.
Of course, it’s an altogether different thing when the person requesting something of another says, “Call me back at your earliest convenience.” This polite message conveys consideration of the other’s valuable time.
It may seem like a small faux pas, but for a businessperson, impressions matter. I suggest a more tactful message: “I’ll call you back as soon as I can.” This let's the caller know their business is important and leaves her feeling well taken care of.
Words convey meaning, but they also tell a lot about the person using them. In business, it’s worth checking your word choice to be sure you’re communicating the professional image you intend. Whether it’s your outgoing message, web copy or marketing materials, editing your words pays off.
Thanks to Linda Phillips Blue of Clarity Web Studio for bringing up this interesting point.

Grammar To Go
Takeout tips for better writing

Restrictive vs. Nonrestrictive Phrases
Take a look at these two sentences.  One has commas around the name; the other doesn’t. Which one is correct?

My niece, Kristen, lives in Hawaii.
My niece Kristen lives in Hawaii.

Either could be correct.

Comma usage depends on whether the descriptive word or phrase is important to the meaning of the sentence.

Do you have any relatives in Hawaii? 
My niece, Kristen, lives there.

Here the word or phrase is nonrestrictive (or nonessential). My niece’s name is extra info that is not necessary to understand my reply to the question. Use commas.

Which of your relatives lives in Hawaii?
My niece Kristen lives there.

Now the name identifies which niece I’m referring to. The extra info is restrictive (or essential). Don’t enclose it inside commas.

Regardless of the length of the phrase, apply this rule of comma usage and you'll be good to go.