Lessons from a Sunday Obituary

An obituary got me thinking. The obituary announced the death of renowned Arkansas poet Miller Williams, who was celebrated for using everyday language in his verse. The short poem cited in the piece – titled “Compassion” – moved me, as it did Miller’s daughter, the country singer Lucinda Williams, who used her father’s spare lines […]

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The Fine Art of Baloney Detection

With social and traditional media burning up with all kinds of questionable information and messages, it’s a good time to make sure you’re targeting your communications to the people you want to reach. Can you visualize that person, understand his or her needs and frustrations, and address them? If so, you’ll have a much better chance to connect and they’ll be willing to listen.

But in today’s hyped-up media world, you also have to address and overcome the fine art of baloney detection, a term coined by the late, great public scientist Carl Sagan, who shared his thoughts about upholding reason in the face of shameless untruths and propaganda.

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Word Theft Means Getting Framed.

According to common wisdom in neuroscience, about 98 percent of our thoughts are unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. We believe we think freely, but we actually don’t very much. The linguist Charles Fillmore said that all words are cognitively defined according to conceptual “frames” — structures we use to think and […]

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Change a Word. Change the Mood.

In a music blog I stumbled on, the blogger commented on the tunes and vibes of a particular music festival, but he also noticed something else – a subtle word choice that turned out to be very profound for concertgoers. Apparently, the officers at the festival were called “Safety,” not “Security.”  As the writer noted, […]

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Selling Through Storytelling and The 4th Earl of Sandwich

The British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, liked to play cards. But he also enjoyed eating a snack at the same time, and that tied up his hands and involved utensils. So, in 1748, he came up with a solution: he put beef between slices of toast, so he could eat with one hand and still play the game.

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The Potency of Words: Size Matters.

Did you ever notice that the most famous quotations use only small words?
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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The Power of Words: Are we like sheep or just community minded?

Behaviorist Jen Shang, who specializes in the psychology of giving, has shown in recent studies that words – especially words of kindness – can be very persuasive. From her studies, she says that when some combination of nine adjectives – kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest – are included in fundraising […]

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The Disqussion

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Getting Real in an Etch-a-Sketch World

Confusion abounds from the candidates themselves, giving new meaning to the term “Etch-a-Sketch,” a colorful description of the erasing-and-ever-shifting positions of a particular presidential candidate, who shall remain nameless.

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Where Are the Humans? 
The Language of Economic Insecurity

The language of economics and individualism has replaced the language of our common circumstances and shared risks. That’s why what used to be considered social insurance is now noted as “entitlements,” viewed by some as a threat to our national well-being instead of as a safety net for family-income security. In the highly emotional issue of illegal immigration, we also see dehumanizing language.

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