Monday, September 6, 2010


Quick note: last week I didn't write an entry here - it was intentional. I keep writing about the same nonsense, news articles, and I am starting to become hypersensitive to the fact that I sound like a broken record. So I wanted to step back; write less frequently; and write about more quality topics.

My oldest daughter visited last week. As I am wont to do, I took the opportunity to help her increase her vocabulary as we spent time together. This visit, the words of the day were vernacular, diction, and colloquialism. (I also explained the difference between a clutch and a klatch since she is a fashion minded social butterfly, but I digress...)

To explain vernacular I used the examples of borough vs. boro, doughnut vs. donut, and light vs. lite. To hone the point, I essentially described the latter word in each pair as an expression (pun intended) of laziness in communication. In fact, I said, so many people were lazy in their desire to communicate that these words eventually made their way into the language, i.e. the vernacular.

laissez faire (n.) - the practice or doctrine of noninterference in the affairs of others, esp. with reference to individual conduct or freedom of action.

(Or, as my Economics professor once summarized the concept: "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." This could be used to describe the slothfulness that I'm describing; I hope this sheds some light on this week's title.)

Being lazy is a common problem in many aspects of our lives. Of course, we can easily look at everyone else and chuckle to ourselves how others do a job "half assed," but it's always easier to do that than to look in the mirror. I recall a particular experience when I was 10 years old or so. My favorite music group at the time was the rock group KISS and I would frequently draw pictures of the photographs of them. One time, I saw a particularly moving picture of them in concert, in full fig, with pyrotechnics ablaze behind them, and I quickly sketched a simile of this photograph. After finishing I ran to my father to show him. His response to my hastily drawn picture? "If something isn't done right, it isn't worth doing at all."

How many times have we done things "just good enough" and then expected to be rewarded in some grandiose fashion as if we just cured cancer? This guy seems to think he should be allowed to skate into senior management just because he thinks he's good at what he does. He doesn't seem to think that leaving at 4:30pm every day to pick up his kids from afterschool is a problem even though he drops them off in the morning as well.

Here's a hint: just good enough isn't good enough unless you are quite content to stagnate in your professional career. If you don't have trigger finger sensitivity to what your management feels is the value you bring to the organization then you will not be able to successfully ensure that they realize that you are indeed valuable.

In his book How to Become CEO, Jeffrey Fox says that you should always arrive first and that you should stay latest among your peer group. (But, he adds, you shouldn't stay terribly late since that indicates an inability to stay on top of your workload.) The very pertinent example is that you'd never arrive for a movie 15 minutes late or, if I may extrapolate this further, leave before the now ubiquitous outtakes have been played after the movie credits. In my opinion, spending a few minutes extra in the morning and late afternoon shows a dedication to your role and a desire to excel at what you do. This sends an unmistakable message to management that you take your responsibilities seriously, which (when coupled with delivering results) is the greatest "value prop" that you can convey as a contributing employee.


  1. Vernacular is the way we speak to each other. Words and phrases like "What's up?" Alright, "Ya, right" are amongst the vernacular of our generation. Colloquial is the same thing. They are idiomatic conversational speech.

    The words you described, boro, donut, lite are better described as casual American spellings. When Noah Webster wrote his American English dictionaries, words like boro, thru, and tho were the types of reforms he sought for the new, American version of English. Some of them caught on better than others, for example tung never replaced tongue (but I'll bet schoolkids wish it had).

  2. Hi Mike. It's nice to see you here, and I thank you for your comment.

    There is a subtle, but important, difference between vernacular and colloquial: the former applies to the enter language while the latter describes a idiom in that language.

    It's also worth noting that vernacular is typically applied to the regional variants of a language rather than the formal definition itself (cf. the Merriam Webster definition of the word). So while I don't disagree with your depiction of "lite" as a "casual American spelling," I think we are actually saying the same thing.

    You say poh-tay-toh and I say poh-tah-toh. :)