Category Archives: Interpretation

Brain hurt – too much thinking outside of box

Seth Godin has started a Squidoo lens on the Encyclopedia of Business Cliches. There’s a top 10 that has morphed into a Top 83 (and counting) and that  will change as votes are cast in favour of one or another & other cliches are added. The current top 3 are: Best Practices, Synergy & Thinking outside the box.

The main thrust is that these terms, though (arguably) once useful, have been discredited through over-use and by functioning as a shield agaisnt actually saying something useful, insightful or relevant.

Cliches are more than just linguistic shortcuts, they’re typically also intellectual & creative shortcuts. It’s easy to fall back on one of these vacuous expressions, deferring responsibility for saying something meaningful or least forcing the reader (listener, etc..) to interpret for themselves. In fact, its probably better that these cliches are used so often. It allows the consumer/interpreter to come to their own conclusions.

I’m sure if business rhetoric all of a sudden became honest, transparent, insightful and useful, we wouldnt have a clue what was going on & what was expected of us. At least now, when some someone says "lets think outside the box" we know they don’t have clue what they want and are expecting us to come with the answer that will save their skin.

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Lost in Translation – A rose by any other name

Over the weekend I was watching the news on Radio-Canada as part of my ongoing struggle to gain some mastery of French. One of the main stories was the meeting of Presidents Bush and Putin at Dubya’s Kennebunkport estate.

This item was also featured on the scrolling news ticker found at the bottom of the screen. While reading this I was struck by the spelling of Putin’s name on the scrolling ticker….instead of spelling his name P-U-T-I-N, the ticker read "Bush et P-O-U-T-I-N-E…"

For those who don’t know, poutine is a delicious French-Canadian dish made up of French fries, gravy and cheese curds. This alone is funny. At first I thought it was merely a pronunciation/translation gaffe. But I was nearly on the floor laughing when my French-Canadian girlfriend told me that "p-u-t-i-n" is a French word for a prostitute. Of course, this makes the phrase "Bush et Putin recontrent" (or Bush and Putin meet) even more amusing. Especially when one considers how Putin – one of the world’s most powerful men, an ex-KGB boss and by all accounts a hard-nosed bastard – would react given the choice between being called a whore or a fast-food item.

A brief Technorati search suggests that "poutine" is the preferred Francophone spelling of Mr. Putin’s name. I can only imagine that is because using ‘putin’ would be indecent. It’s been my experience that people’s surnames remain intact when being conveyed in a foreign language…Presidente Bush, Monsiuer Dunn, etc…

This does remind though of the highly amusing instances where a person/culture’s grasp of English leads to inappropriate signs rife with double-entendres. But at least those cases could be prevented with this handy sign-translating gadget.

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A watch in the hand is worth two days of news coverage

By now I’m sure the possible theft of George Bush’s watch while glad-handing in Albania is old news. For those who haven’t seen this yet, here’s the clip (about 50 seconds in is where you need to pay close attention):


However, recently recovered footage now reveals that the watch was not stolen as reported:


Regardless of whether or not the watch was actually stolen, this is a significant issue when you consider the potential security risk. Just look at how everyone is clamoring to get a grip on Mr. Bush. Even a fairly barren mind could come up with dozens of ways this could go horribly wrong. In that light, I found Tony Snow’s (White House press secretary) remarks to be quite revealing:

No, it was not. It was placed in his pocket, and I believe your network has actually looked through the tape carefully and has ascertained the same. But, no, the President put it in his pocket, and it returned safely home.

Mr Snow has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he has mastered the verbal gymnastics necessary to be a WH spokesperson. Watching him is amusing and frustrating in equal measure. But by most standards, the above statement would even count as plain English.

What I’d like to note here is the last phrase which suggests a number of things:

1. The watch is safe (security was not compromised)

2. By extension, the President is safe.(and loved by all the people of Albania)

3. The President retained control over the situation.(truly a man of action & leadership…)

4. So it was the President who secured the safety of the watch. (…who also delivers results)

Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps. But given the careful twisting of words and meanings that has been rampant in this administration (and political life generally), I think this is just a good example of how, in intense media situations, every word will be carefully crafted to, even subtly, deliver important messages.

PS. According to some reports, the watch is a $50 Timex. He really is just one of the people. And buys American, of course.

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Paris the Penitent – Another Saint Among the Stars?

Loathe as I am to give Paris Hilton any more space on the web, I can’t help myself after hearing the statement she gave before being whisked off to jail. The widely quoted version of the statement reads:

"During the past few weeks I have had a lot of time to think and have come to realize I made some mistakes. This is an important point in my life and I need to take responsibility for my actions. In the future, I plan on taking more of an active role in the decisions I make. I want to thank my family, friends and fans for their continued support. Although I am scared, I am ready to begin my jail sentence."

No surprises there. Concise. Contrite. Fully-formed thoughts. Clearly the work of a professional.

What has received less ink, even on the excellent Superficial blog, is the phrase at the end of this less carefully wrought statement:

"I’ve received thousands of letters from around the world of support and it’s really been inspirational and really helped me," she said. "I’m really scared but I’m ready to do this. And I hope that I’m an example to other young people."

 Is this the sign of the apocalypse? Paris Hilton can make a statement saying she hopes she can be a role model to young people, just before she’s turfed into jail, and there isn’t someone there forcing hemlock down her throat?

While I hope her intent was to reinforce the notion of taking responsibility for one’s actions, how is this even remotely credible coming from Ms. Hilton? How can anyone be expected to grasp that meaning when she’s being feted off to jail by a media circus? Isn’t there another, more obvious, message there for the kids?

I need to calm down and just relax…at least in that I can use Ms. Hilton as a role model.

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