Letter to India: is your written and spoken English too good?

Dear English-speakers from India,
One thing that has struck me many, many times in corresponding with Indian people in English, is that the English you speak and write is so utterly perfect in grammar, syntax, spelling and general presentation. You have learned the language as it should be spoken and written, with the grace and elegance the language should still be using now.

Letter to India - is your english too good?

Is Indian English too good for everyday international communication?

The trouble is, the standards of English used for nearly all communication in the main English language markets have deteriorated. Proper, well-mannered and well-constructed English as so many Indian people speak and write is (sadly) viewed as old-fashioned and long-winded. In our modern throwaway society all but the essentials in language have become disposable, too. [Read more…]

Book publishing in India: self-publishing grows there too

Please welcome Dr Hiten Vyas, founder and MD of the very popular publishing journal in India, E-Books India. Hiten brings us up to date on the book publishing industry there and how self-publishing is growing rapidly in that market, as it is in many others worldwide.

Book publishing in India: self-publishing grows there too

“Authors who self-publish an e-book can get royalties of up to 75% of the retail price of every title sold.”

Usually, as an author in India, if you want to publish a book you can submit your manuscript directly to a publisher. Another method is to find a literary agent to act on your behalf to find you a publisher, and negotiate a favorable contract for you. These two approaches are both associated with the tried and tested traditional publishing model. [Read more…]

Business English Quick Tips: tautology

 

Business English Quick Tips

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed.

For all the others in the series check out the categories “business writing” or “writing tips” in the sidebar to the right —>>> [Read more…]

Business English Quick Tips: swear words

 

Business English Quick Tips

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed.

For all the others in the series check out the categories “business writing” or “writing tips” in the sidebar to the right —>>>

Swear words: is there a place for them in business writing?

Moving on a step from slang, which we looked at last week …

There are many people out there – and not just older folks – who find swearing objectionable, and you can’t blame them. Mostly they have been brought up to believe that swearing and cursing are disrespectful to the majority of people. My parents put across, to me, the diktat that the use of swear words merely demonstrated one’s ignorance and lack of vocabulary (mind you, that all went out of the window when one of them stepped on a live wasp or slammed their finger in a car door.)

 Two categories – religious, and vulgar

 As far as I can see it, swearwords in our modern age fall into two categories: 1) religious cursing, and 2) vulgarisms.

 Religious cursing is very sensitive for many people despite being taken for granted by millions.  And what about words like “damn,” damned,” or “damning?” Despite those appearing largely innocuous these days, should someone wish to take it to the limit, there could be a religious connotation here.

And that doesn’t even begin to infiltrate what some people write using terms that may offend a whole host of religions from Christian to Judaism to Islam to who knows how many more. So in your business writing, especially but not exclusively if your business activities cross over into different cultures, you should never use a religious swearword.

How about the vulgarisms?

small_3002056333This is where we get some crossover between slang (inoffensive) and swearwords (offensive). Once again, whether to use slang and some swearwords in your business writing depends entirely on the audience you’re addressing.

A few well-chosen “rude” words in a piece of business writing aimed at readers who use those terms regularly and are comfortable with them, can actually make your message more appealing because it is phrased in your readers’ own “language.” Such words can also be humorous and help to entertain your readers which – once again, to the right audience – can be very helpful in getting your message over.

Conversely of course, using rude slang and swearwords inappropriately can make you (and your business message) look coarse, common and disrespectful.

An example: where somewhat ruder language would be right for the job

Imagine that you work for a company which sells electric guitars and other instruments to rock bands and “wannabee” rock musicians. The Chairman has written out a product description for the website and your job is to rework it so it appeals to its target audience, but without changing the structure or overall approach. Here is what the Chairman wrote:

It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of the latest in our ZX-50 series of electronic guitars, with the new ZX-50 Star. This instrument is made of the finest materials and is presented with an attractive metallic deep pink finish which follows the current cultural fashions. The Star is available in both 6-string and 8-string formats, allowing users the choice between the traditional main guitar role and the more melodic interpretations possible with the 8-string configuration. The Star is currently being distributed to retailers around the country and will be available for purchase early next month.

For trendy young rockers? I don’t think so. How about this?

We’re thrilled to introduce you to our brand new baby in the super-cool ZX-50 series of guitars – the sizzling ZX-50 Star. We’ve made it out of the very latest space-age materials and turned it out in the sharpest, f-off metallic pink you’ll ever see … your audiences will be blinded by its brilliance. The Star comes in both 6-string and 8-string formats, so you can choose between a dog’s-bollox 6-string lead or the ultra-chilled mysterious sounds of the humming 8-string. It’s on its way to the music shops and online stores now and will be ready and waiting for you to buy, early next month.

And on to next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

More quick fixes to make your bizwriting brilliant (instant downloads)

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: secretlondon123 via photopin cc

Business English Quick Tips: slang

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…for all the others in the series check out the categories “business writing” or “writing tips” in the sidebar to the right —>>>

Slang: should we use it? If so, where and how?

This is a highly debatable topic in business writing. Just how much slang is permissible in business text depends greatly on the nature of the text you’re writing and particularly, its intended audience.

If you’re writing a very informal piece, relevant slang is perfectly acceptable. In a formal piece, the occasional slang word or phrase is probably acceptable. Where slang doesn’t tend to work, ever, is in English text that is destined to be read by non-English native speakers, or when it’s destined to be translated.

English, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African and other English slang just doesn’t translate into other languages, so if you’re writing for translation please avoid it at all costs.

But what is slang?

Good one. Slang in English or pretty much all other languages is defined as follows, according to Dictionary.com:

  • Very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid and ephemeral than ordinary language, as “hit the road.”
  • (in English and some other languages) speech and writing characterized by the use of vulgar and socially taboo vocabulary and idiomatic expressions
  • The jargon of a particular class, profession, etc
  • The special vocabulary of thieves, vagabonds, etc.; argot.

Want some more?

Here is what the wonderful Jonathon Green – a very good friend of mine and the world’s leading lexicographer of English slang – wrote as a foreword in my recent book, “English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations” (which focuses on about 2,000 words and phrases – not only slang, but also proper business terms – and the translations you need between English and American and vice versa.)

“We should all, of course, be talking American by now. It is, after all, the basis of ‘world English’ and this is a global civilization, where the ever-expanding Internet communicates largely in American English and our popular culture, enjoyed by everyone, English-speaking or otherwise, dances to a Stateside tune. Nowhere more so than in the world I know best – English-language slang – where we have been using more and more American words since World War II and where, today, it seems that the under-thirties, irrespective of nationality or colour, all talk like a teenage black American.

Yet of course we don’t. “English” English remains the mother tongue, and if we actually live in the UK, that is still what we talk. The language changes; it has been changing since Anglo-Saxon was replaced by Anglo-Norman and the various regional dialects had to give way to that of ever-dominant London, the language that became known as ‘standard English’. Not everyone talks ‘standard’, not everyone opts for ’received pronunciation’ or what used to be called ‘BBC English’, but in the end we still speak, in every sense, with an English accent. Meanwhile, three thousand miles to the west, they do things their way.

When, in 1776 the US declared its independence, the ex-colonists were still talking pretty much in the way they would have done had they or their grandparents stayed at home. But a new country requires a new language, or at least a version of an older one, and Americans were quick off the mark. The lexicographer Noah Webster, whose great Dictionary appeared in 1828 and who in 1789 had been the first to use the phrase ‘the American language’, was determined to push the project forward. As well as collecting and explaining words, he created a whole new mode of spelling: it was not just a simplified, and what he saw as more practical version of the UK’s notoriously problematic system, but a reflection of a new world, not to be tied to old and outmoded European habits.

It is to Webster that we owe such differences as center/centre, flavour/flavour, check/cheque, the dropping of the second ‘l’ in words like ‘traveled’ and so on. On occasion his enthusiasm took him over the top, such as tung for tongue and ake for ache, and much would be dropped, but the change had come and would not go away.

HowToWriteBetter.net business English quick tips - slang

Jonathon Green

Since then, at least in their standard speech, the two nations have moved apart. As the lists that follow make clear, Oscar Wilde’s oft-quoted suggestion that they are ‘separated by a common language’ still holds true. It may be that we understand each other a little better – on the whole we don’t need subtitles to enjoy each other’s TV shows and movies – and the days of re-editing our respective novels to replace ‘different’ words are mainly gone, but the gap remains.

And that gap can lead to embarrassment. It is not just a matter of setting one’s spell-checker and keyboard to US or UK English. The blushing American woman, seconded to the London office, and asked if she has a rubber (US = condom / UK = eraser), her opposite number the stiff-upper-lipped Brit executive in New York, who is asked whether she wears pants (US = trousers / UK knickers, though knickers is also a problem: it means shorts in the US) to work. Slang may be increasingly international but it too has its pitfalls. The American bum is something very different in Britain: the former a tramp, the other the human posterior. Sometimes the words just don’t travel, such as US fall for UK autumn, although ‘fall of the leaf’, its origin, was once used in 16th century England.

Difference, of course, can enliven. America and Britain are very different, for all that the original colonists were in part British-born. The UK has its immigrants, but their arrival has never created anything like the great American melting pot, still boiling as urgently as ever. Why not have alternative vocabularies? It is necessary, however, to remember that alternative can also mean other…”

Enough with the theory – how do we handle slang?

An awful lot depends, as always, on your business audience. If you’re selling rock music concerts to teenagers, not only should you not avoid slang, but you should embrace it – provided that you get it right. If you’re selling life insurance policies to middle-aged, middle-class suburbanites, you should avoid it.

Once again, as always, you need to use common sense to determine what slang in your text is:

a)    Acceptable (may not be ideal as a replacement for the formal form, but could make your text sound more friendly and approachable)

b)    Desirable (makes your text appear to be in touch with the current terms used informally within that industry)

c)    Undesirable (despite being commonly used, some slang terms give a sloppy, unprofessional image)

d)    Taboo (terms that are detrimental to your business or industry and would make your text appear negative and out of touch)

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

More quick fixes to make your bizwriting brilliant (instant downloads)

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Business English Quick Tips: salutations

 

Business English Quick Tips

Quick tips to help you write better for business

If you need to write for your job or business in English, these quick tips will help you succeed…

Greetings to salutations!

A salutation is simply the way you address someone at the beginning of a piece of written communication. Let’s look at their main uses. First of all…

Salutations in letters

What you write depends on the relationship you have with the reader. Common sense should prevail here. When you’re writing to someone you know well enough to be on first-name terms, there’s no problem – you start with “Dear Lucy,” followed by a comma.

If you don’t know the person well, it’s safer to use more formal salutations, for example:

Dear Mrs Grant, if you know that she calls herself “Mrs”

Dear Ms Grant, if you don’t know whether she’s married OR want to play it safe.

Where you can run into trouble is when you don’t know the person’s first name, in the heading of the letter.

Ordinarily you would write the heading like this:

Mrs Lucy Grant
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc.)
Dear Mrs Grant, / Dear Lucy,

If you only know her last name, the best way to head the letter is:

For the attention of Mrs Grant:
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc)
Dear Mrs Grant,

And if you don’t know of Mrs Grant’s existence but want to complain about the non-delivery of your van’s new tires, try this:

For the attention of the Customer Services Manager
Downside Auto Parts Ltd
(full address, etc)
Dear Sir or Madam,

The plurals of these, by the way, are “Messrs” (two or more men) with the salutation “Dear Sirs,” and “Mesdames” (more than two women, both heading and salutation), and “Dear Sirs or Mesdames,” etc.

Although you never spell out the words “Mistress” (Mrs), “Mister” (Mr) or “Messieurs” (Messrs), with titled people you do not abbreviate the titles, ranks, etc. Some examples:

Sir Robert Bloggs
Chairman
Downside Industries PLC
(full address, etc)
Dear Sir Robert,

Air Commodore Robert Bloggs
RAF Downside
(full address, etc)
Dear Air Commodore Bloggs,

The Reverend Robert Bloggs
Downside Vicarage
(full address, etc)
Dear Reverend Bloggs

For details on how to get headings and salutations right for various different VIPs in the UK, this source is very helpful: http://www.debretts.com/forms-of-address.aspx

For the USA, here is a similar resource: http://www.emilypost.com/forms-of-address/titles/777-official-forms-of-address

Salutations in email

With emails you can usually kick off your shoes and relax. Because it’s a relatively new medium it never got weighed down by old-fashioned etiquette and traditions, so it started out with a refreshingly informal approach to communication and to a large extent that has remained.

Although some people still try to creep in with an older-style “Dear Lucy” or even “Dear Mrs Grant” at the start of an email, it looks a bit silly. More common forms of address are:

Hi Mrs Grant / Lucy,
Hello Mrs Grant / Lucy,
Mrs Grant / Lucy,

When in doubt and where possible, be led by the way in which the person addresses you in their email.

Salutations in mass email

This is where I go very cross-eyed with anger at the rudeness of mass emailers who are obviously carried away with their nifty software that supposedly figures out what my name is and automatically whips that into the salutation. This is what I get:

Greetings Ms Maur,
Hello Mr St Maur,
Hi Suzan St,

Or when the software throws its hands up and admits defeat, I’ll get…

Hello SuzanStMaur,

Users of mass email software, get this and get this “good:” there is no such thing as software that will get everyone’s name right through a list of 5,000. Even when you do get the salutation right you don’t fool anyone, so why don’t you just write “Hello Reader,” or even forget the salutation altogether? At least that is honest and less likely to get people’s backs up when they see their name mangled by someone trying to sell them something.

More next week … and if you have any questions about business writing in English please add them here in the comments section; I will try to answer them as well as I can!

Suze

More quick fixes to make your bizwriting brilliant (instant downloads)

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

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