New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to 2018!

You haven’t heard from me in a while, I know. If like me you’ve been buried under the holiday season ever since the run-up to Thanksgiving, you can empathize with me as I welcome the crisp cold weather and beautiful blue skies that pronounce our new beginning — and let’s be honest, do you know anyone who had a good 2017?

I’ve never been one for making resolutions. Although they work for a lot of people and I encourage that, for me personally they’ve always set me up for failure. Perhaps I’ve just set too high of expectations for myself. Consequently, the past few years I’ve endeavored to take smaller steps in the right direction, and to that end have subscribed what I feel is a much more feasible motto — start as you mean to go on, and end. No grand gestures that I then beat myself up for not achieving, no massive exhausting overhauls, no cold-turkeys that last for maybe a fortnight tops.

Regardless of whether you’re an all-or-nothing or little-by-little type, small changes that you start now can make a world of difference. One easy resolution is to polish your daily communications. Think of it as ironing your shirt, or investing in new business cards.

Firstly, though, what should be your target? Look at things that enter the public eye, like:

  • Your business cards, speaking of.
  • Your emails, including signatures and out-of-office messages.
  • If you run a blog or online store, check their pages / posts / item descriptions, and things like your invoices.
  • Social media posts, and pages if you have them.
  • Your resume.
  • Forum posts, product reviews, etc., if this is something you regularly do.

Got some ideas? Good. Now here’s the little fixes and good habits you can work on:

  1. Spelling errors. No one’s perfect, but try your best. So many programs and sites nowadays have at least a crude built-in spellchecker — use it! If you’re not sure, copy-and-pasting your text into Word or even Google will quickly find them for you. Always do a read-through before you send/post/submit.
  2. Misuse of the apostrophe. Part of my 2018 post plan is a detailed series on punctuation, but for now, here’s a rule of thumb: apostrophes show ownership, and are used when there’s a letter missing (in other words, to make two words into one, AKA a contraction). Example 1: If you want to make DVD plural, you’ll want to write DVDs rather than DVD’s — at first glance that last one tells me that the DVDs are owning something. Example 2: if you want a shorter version of they are or David is, you’ll want to write they’re or David’s.
  3. Following from the above, the difference between contractions, possessive pronouns, and in some cases directionals — your/you’re, there/their/they’re, etc. Practice with the apostrophe will help with these. Make sure you mean¬†that place (there — a directional) versus they are¬†(they’re — a contraction) versus belonging to them (their — a possessive pronoun).
  4. Misuse of capitalization. Capitals are mainly for the first word of a sentence, names and titles, and acronyms (e.g. — CD or OMV). Only rarely are they used for emphasis — and only as ‘all-caps’ rather than simply Capitalizing Every Word or random Words — and quickly lose their impact if used too much. Haphazard incorrect use tends to look sloppy.
  5. Excessive exclamation marks. One is enough where it is needed — an entire string does not make your point any stronger. In fact, it looks amateurish. And while we’re at it, consider whether you need one at all and if your point isn’t powerful enough using just a period. Every time I’m tempted to use one I tend to ask myself whether I want it for volume or to express emotion (in both cases, shouldn’t my words themselves make it clear?), or to emphasize that last word (in which case, try italics or bold).
  6. Lack of punctuation altogether. The linguistic evolution of lack of punctuation on the Internet as a means in of itself to suggest tone or as a form of humor is a conversation for another day. There’s also a time and a place for that and work emails isn’t one of them. Leaving off that period or question mark suggests hurriedness, laziness, or that you simply don’t respect the recipient enough to give them good communication, none of which are good.

To nurture these little habits, the first thing you have to do is get accustomed to slowing down and looking for them. Recognizing them is half the battle. The more often you correct them, the more practice your brain will get in writing them correctly the first time. Better yet, if you extend this practice to writing that does not necessarily enter the public eye — your personal journal, greeting cards, storage labels — the stronger the good habits will grow.

Naturally, old habits are hard to break, and of course correctly using the apostrophe won’t get you that dream job — but it’ll certainly stop an eyebrow being raised. Polishing these little tell-tale signs of clumsy writing not only means that your reader’s eye is distraction-free, but that the impression you’re making is far more professional and confident. And who doesn’t want that?

What are your writing New Year’s resolutions? What are some of your communication pet-peeves, or bad habits you can’t quite seem to shake?

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

Pros and Cons of Using Local Vernacular

Happy Friday, everyone!

I may have mentioned that I was born and currently live in the Southern US; I may also have mentioned that I had a twelve-year stint in the UK. While naturally I haven’t encountered all the dialects either of them have to offer, I’ve seen and heard a good share. Local vernacular is close to my heart right now, too, because of the novel I’m working on that’s set in New Orleans in 1916, which is why I wanted to take today to talk about the talk, a.k.a. local vernacular.

What do I mean, exactly, by local vernacular? It’s slang, essentially. An ingredient of local or regional dialects. What can readily link a person to a geographical area in addition to (but not the same as) an accent. Why should it matter to you? Because yes, there are some occasions where it’s good to be linked to a region, but there are other times that you’ll want to avoid it.

Local vernacular in writing is ultimately a tool, and the better you understand how and when to use it, the better. We see it all the time in marketing (whether we realize it or not) where it’s used to inspire loyalty from a certain customer base, make a product or service recognizable, or support/create an image of belonging. If you’re one of the crowd, you’re trusted as a businessperson. For example, pseudo-French signage and packaging is understandably rampant here in Louisiana because of the pride in French and Creole heritage – if your product or service utilizes it, not only are you understood, but you are seen as belonging and friendly. Meanwhile, we also see local vernacular in fiction to enrich characters and impart flavor and realism to the setting. There’s a little more flexibility in fiction since we can set and play with our own rules. If you get the details right, you’re trusted as an author.

So if local vernacular is pervasive and useful, why would we want to avoid it? There are three main reasons:

  1. Geographical limitations. You can only take a piece of slang so far before, frankly, it may not be understood. For instance, the South will have a ready grasp of lagniappe — ‘a little something extra’, for those of you not from around here — because it’s familiar. Head north, east, or west, however, and while they may have heard it before, they may struggle to define it. Head outside of the US and use it, and you may not be understood at all. If something’s not understood, it’s ineffective. If you’re trying to market yourself, a service, or a product outside of the locality that uses that language, you’re going to struggle — it’s incredibly rare for a business with a name or slogan that uses local vernacular to be successful in a larger national or international market.
  2. It’s ultimately slang, whether you like it or not. Slang falls into the informal language category and as you know, there are occasions where informal language is appropriate and where it is not. It’s unfortunate but true that outsiders to a dialect, upon hearing/reading it, will — because of point #1 — feel at a disadvantage, which usually translates to seeing that dialect as lesser. Not all the time, but often. A more common example is that we all know that we shouldn’t be casual in an interview, and speak formally and clearly.
  3. Consistency problems, which mostly applies to writing. While there may be a few words that have a widely-understood spelling, when you get into the less obvious representations of dialect (e.g. — using apostrophes everywhere to contract words or drop a final letter) the fact of the matter is that it can be difficult to keep track of how you write something and when. I know I do. Also, though punctuation is a beautiful thing, if you have apostrophes everywhere eventually your manuscript is going to look like a spider skittered through an ink pad and then over every page.

Readability is key: too much vernacular and your reader will be exhausted by the time they get through a couple of paragraphs. You want your text — whether it’s a resume, a novel, or a business card — to be easy for your reader to understand, and appropriate to the audience and your intentions.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with local vernacular, be it when writing or reading!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan