Help For Your "Hear"-Ache

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Have you ever talked with someone who uses words or phrases that grate on your ears? Yes? Then you might wonder if words or phrases you use give someone else a "hear"-ache. Again the answer is yes. Sadly, we are unaware of our wince words.

All of us have developed selective hearing. What is selective hearing? It is our penchant to screen what we hear. Do you remember hearing about the little Connecticut girl who started the Lord's Prayer this way? "Our Father who art in New Haven, how did you know my name?"

That little girl did what most of us do all the time; she heard what she wanted to hear. Selective hearing also accounts for the new-word phenomenon.

You've experienced this: You learn a new word one day and then hear it fifty times the next week. That word was around all the time, you simply had your ears closed to it. I make this point to illustrate that we screen our word errors this way. Alas, our listeners do not use the same screen.

If we make only one speech error, chances are we make it one hundred times a week. That causes others to wince one hundred times.

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  • Recognize that a single utterance can cost you a customer, a job, or a romantic partner.
  • Admit that you make mistakes. Vow to find out what they are and eliminate them.
  • Use the buddy system. Ask your spouse (who probably has your errors on tap), a colleague, a friend, a teacher, your child, to help you spot your mistakes. Do the same for her or him if asked.
  • Make flash cards of the words and phrases you want to eliminate. Even the highly-educated person should be able to identify at least five words to eliminate. Carry the cards around until you rid yourself of the errors.
  • Tune your ears to your wince words; at the same time learn to be more tolerant of those of others.
  • Be sure you do not allow me or anyone else to ruin brisk, original speech.
  • Learn to echo important messages. When you echo (say in your own words) what you think you have heard, you save client relationships, friendships, time, and marriages.
  • Learn to use a dictionary as the editors intended. A dictionary reports usage so you will find many wince words there. You will see words such as ain't and irregardless. True, if you read the entire entry after each word, you will probably see that those words are considered sub-standard, irregular, or not considered acceptable by a panel of experts.

Unfortunately, many people take a quick look and report. "I saw it in the dictionary." So they give the word unmerited respect. The job of a lexicographer is to report usage - not to arbitrate usage.

Rid your vocabulary of conversational tics and burrs. Each of us has a computer in his or her brain where we store words. Unless we take deliberate action to store crisp, fresh words there, the same tired words will come spilling out every time we talk.

Experts always tell us to increase our vocabularies, and that's good advice. But I'm going to give you some better advice:

Every time you add a new word to your vocabulary, make a real effort to throw out a tired, abused, or misused word or phrase. If you pepper your speech with "you know" or "that's for sure" or if you end sentences with "okay?" let those conversational tics and burrs be the first to go.

Phyllis Martin is the author of Word Watcher's Handbook, and a frequent guest on The Small Business Advocate Show. Her most recent book is the mystery Return To Chipping Sodbury.

Category: Communicating
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