When "we" is really "I"

I recently went to an event at a professional organization to hear a specialist speak about a technical issue, and before I went, I looked at the speaker's website (I won't link to it here or mention the specifics because I'm not being complimentary and don't want the person to know I'm being critical). All over the website, it used the pronoun "we," as in "we provide," "we train," "we deliver," and even the title "Who we are" on the About page. So I assumed there were at least a few trainers/consultants working for the company. But when I asked the speaker how many employees he had, or if he used freelancers instead, he said, "I'm the only one who works there." I was surprised, but when I really thought about it, I realized he's not the only business person who puts "we" on his website. Earlier this year, I was looking at an acquaintance's website, and since "we" was all over it, I naturally asked how many people worked for the company. But I got the same answer: "I work by myself."

I think it is misleading and even untruthful to put "we" on a business website when there is really just one person working there. Are people seriously impressed (and do they believe it) when a business *appears* to be more than just a one-man show? It ends up being hype and can even affect the person's reputation because other people might find out that he/she is putting misinformation on the official site. It also seems like individual business people are trying to puff themselves up to attract attention. I know of an established company that hired someone who implied that they were larger than they actually were, and when they were given a large project, they couldn't handle it, because their "we" was really "I." So the large company had to find an alternative when the single person couldn't deliver on time (he was totally overwhelmed, though I don't know if he scrambled to find some freelance help). People don't always end up being exposed like that, but they're still taking a gamble when they claim to be something they're not.

Some people seemed talented and professional, but when their website ends up being hyperbole, it's not only insincere but not respectable. Plus, some people create a website with "we" all over it, and they haven't even bothered to create a proper business (ie, registering with the Secretary of State, paying the fees, creating an LLC or incorporating). It's better to be honest and say you're a freelancer rather than create a fancy website and pretending to be more than you actually are.

So I commend those people who are truthful in the representation of their business and services. One such person is language fan/pro Sarah Dillon. When she only had her translation/interpretation business, she was totally upfront on her website about working by herself (I've never met her, so I'm just summarizing her approach based on what I saw). Now she's become a consultant, but she still makes it clear that she's alone. There's nothing wrong with that, and she doesn't seem to be a wannabe. So I'm assuming the way she works is ethical, as well.


Language nerd?

I was doing a search for the meaning and usage of the word "twee" because I like the sound and connotation. I've heard British people say it, and I like how they apply the word to a variety of situations. I don't really consider it a common American word, so I was surprised that a professional journalist wrote an entire column/article (whatever it's called) in the Tribune pretty much focused on it. Even out of the gate, he seems obsessed with it:
Twee is pervasive, genteel and hard to bear, pixie-haired, wide-eyed and precocious. Twee is also out of hand, and more complicated than it seems. See, though being twee is often regarded as a negative quality, tweeness is not necessarily insufferable.

Obviously, he's into language in a general sense because he's a professional writer and seems to be doing well (and lucky to be working in the shrinking newspaper biz), but he *really* seems to be into language because he shapes his piece around the word "twee" to the point that I wonder if his intention was to write about the word or about pop culture (which seems to be his beat). It's almost nerdy, which is refreshing to see in the simplifying media world. (I'm a proponent of clear, simple writing, so it's not a knock against what 21st century mass writing has become, just an observation.)

But back to the American vs British usage of the word. Because I pretty much never hear people say it in the USA but have heard Brits use it, I assume it's not at the top of people's minds here. So it's surprising that he shapes the essay around the word, as if people have heard it often and are nodding their heads in agreement. Are people sick of the word, or concept? I don't know if they hear it enough to get sick of it, or even know what it really means and how it can be applied.

I'm not saying what he's doing is wrong, it's just atypical because his post seems like it's meant to be a review of some TV shows, but it's also a review of American culture, yet also expresses a fascination with the word itself. His enthusiasm is obvious, and his writing seems to be really good (which is why he's living the dream).


Japanese transliteration mistake

I was walking down the street and saw this sign, which has some clear mistakes.

They transliterated すしと as "sushiito." The double-i means it's a long sound, but すしと doesn't have that: す=su し=shi と=to. If they were truly transliterating it, the Japanese would be すしいと: す=su し=shi い=i と=to. It seems like they're trying to be clever because they've created a sushi burrito, so they've combined the two words, but they failed in the execution.

Also, I'm concerned about the spelling of "kimchi." According to my favorite Japanese language site, Popjisyo (which now has other Asian languages), when I pasted the Korean word 김치 in, it translated it as "kimchi." Even an official kimchi museum in Korea spells it that way. But the sign has that spelling, plus "kimchii." Why couldn't they at least settle on one? (Thought I suspect the double-i would be wrong anyway.)

I'm surprised that a restaurant in a major part of the city (downtown Chicago) made such mistakes. They could've gotten some native speakers or knowledgeable non-natives to proofread the sign. Way to go! How's your food?


I think I figured out what a friend is

For what seems like a long time, I've been wondering what defines a friend. A lot of people have several "friends" on Fakebook and other social media, and someone might say they're going out with a friend after work, or going on a friend's boat or to a party with "friends." But are those people really friends? Does it matter?

I think it's easier to make friends while we're in school because a lot of people are around us every day, which makes social connections easy. Once we leave school, our environment isn't saturated with people. Some workplaces have a lot of people, but they're silently working at computers or are guarded because they have to maintain a public face in order to survive the politics and maneuvering. One wrong word and they could be out of favor with coworkers, or even out of a job. So as we get older, socializing becomes more superficial because there's more at stake, and lines have been drawn.

People also get busy and live on their own track. If you happen to be on the same track, such as at a job, in a neighborhood, or at your kids' activities, then they'll let you in, and you seem to become friends (or remain friends if you met at another stage of life). But once the track changes, individuals continue moving in their own direction, and crossover is rare or non-existent. Especially in the USA, Americans travel on their own path, and busyness just creates walls between people, or they don't even bother to notice who's around them. Even if people had lots of friends as they were growing up and in university, conditions change because their friends might not be motivated to keep in touch or make an effort to meet up offline as they take on more responsibilities and are worn out from their personal and professional lives. One big life change is having kids--the parents have so much to do every day that friendships become auxiliary, and free time is pretty much non-existent until the kids get to a certain age (as long as they're not high maintenance or the parents aren't the helicopter types).

Sometimes we go through life assuming that people really don't give us much thought, until someone dies. A person who seemed to not have many friends could end up with over 100 at their funeral, where people say positive things and remember the person fondly, as if they really were friends. Maybe it takes death to realize who our friends are, but let's hope not--by that time, it's too late.

Here's what I've realized: friends stay with you no matter where you work or who you are. For example, I worked with someone who I got along with very well. When they got a job somewhere else, the communication via email, text, and even in person continued. That is a friend. Here's who is not a friend: someone I work with who ceases to communicate with me when I leave the job, even when I make an effort. Essentially, the relationship is contextual. Friendships aren't contextual; acquaintances are. Some people will consider their coworkers their friends because they eat lunch together, talk about problems, recognize each other's birthdays, etc. But unless that person is a friend, it all crumbles when someone moves on.

Time also determines friendship. It's very hard to remain friends with someone as life continues and changes occur. I have a couple of friends who I've known for several years, and we really don't have a lot in common at this point, but we keep in touch, go out occasionally, talk on the phone, and generally make an effort to stay connected. It's history that has bonded us, not every similarity.

Which brings me to the next point: friends accept you even if you have different views or lifestyles. A key to enjoying a friend is hanging out with them and talking about whatever you want to, and feeling comfortable enough to express yourself and disagree with the other person without any condemnation. It's also the opportunity to relax and be yourself. I don't care how free American culture claims to be; not many people create an atmosphere for others to be themselves, and people are self-conscious, so they reign in their personalities if they want to feel like they belong.

Friends don't control others. There is the obvious way of controlling, which is sadistic and usually refers to abusive romantic relationships. But what I'm talking about is more subtle and is revealed over time. Some people were raised in chaos or simply have a need for their world to be ordered. That includes people. So they want their friends to behave in a certain way and to say certain things. If the person crosses some kind of perceived line, they're punished or ignored. There's a lack of freedom in conversations or behavior, and there's a kind of standard set which stifles the non-dysfunctional person. Controlling people aren't friends and won't be until they lighten up.

As life throws us curveballs, our definition of friendship changes. They're no longer just the folks we go out with and have fun. They're the ones who encourage us, are available, can talk about anything, and know how to take it easy. They also can give constructive criticism and don't have a problem with receiving it, either. Basically, when we meet someone we click with, it begins a journey and develops from there.

There are a lot of people I like who are interesting and nice, and I wish we could be friends. They are acquaintances or simply people I have met who I might not see again. Because they don't care about becoming friends, or they just don't make the time, the "acquaintance" status doesn't change. And then there are other people who I used to know, who I wish I could still be friends with, but geographical distance or disinterest caused communication to cease.

I know some people who I don't see often, but they call me a "friend." So what they recognize is the connection or history, but we don't carve out a space to hang out. I guess that's okay, because it could be the thought that counts in the end.



I had to borrow a Brit's cell phone because I forgot mine, and as the call was going through, the phone said "dialling." I noticed that the phone was a Chinese brand, so I told the Brit that the Chinese company didn't proofread before production. She said "dialling" is the correct spelling in the UK, and that was the first time I'd ever heard of such a variation.

Even when I wrote the word in the headline and in this post, it was underlined to alert me to the misspelling, but in England, it's okay. And after doing a search online, I noticed that it's the correct spelling in Canada, too. A CTV news story from today says, "he advised that dialling 911 is still the best option during an emergency." There goes that spell-check warning again because I'm in the USA, and here we write "dialing," which seems to make more sense to me.

I know that the English-speaking world has different spellings for different words (such as "specialize" and other words that end in "lize" in American English, but "lise" in other countries). I also know that American English is not the mother tongue, so what right do we have to question anything? But still, after a lifetime of seeing a single "l" after "dial," it's jarring to see two of them.

This England-dwelling American says the double-l doesn't make sense linguistically.

Ones that really strike my American eye as wrong are BrE dialling and fuelling. Since the l is preceded by a 'long' vowel (the diphthongs /aj/ and /ju/) in my pronunciation), they shouldn't have doubled consonants, just as one doesn't double the L in tailing or healing. They seem to come under the 'doubling' rule because dial and fuel are perceived as having two syllables each, with the latter one being unstressed--i.e. di-al and fu-el. The COD presents the BrE pronunciation as /dai(ə)l/ and /'fju:əl/--so definitely two syllables in fuel but not necessarily in dial.

Actually, I think I usually pronounce "dial" as two syllables, but since the emphasis is on the first syllable, the "l" still "shouldn't" be doubled. (I put "shouldn't" in quotes because it seems to be some old rule, and who am I to judge?) I don't have any linguistic theory to add, so I'll just simply say that the spelling seems weird (that's my non-intellectual, non-academic take on it, since I don't even claim to be a linguist).



I was watching the British show New Tricks (the "London Underground" episode), and heard the character DCI Sasha Miller tell another detective that he's someone's "secondment." I had to look up the meaning, since I've never seen or heard it, especially in any kind of media or fictional story. Even when I type the word in this post, it gets underlined in the draft as if it's a spelling mistake (underlined to be spell-checked). My American Heritage Dictionary book doesn't include it, and it's not on their website, either. I even have a large Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, and it's nowhere to be found.

So I'm concluding it's a British word, and that's what the Oxford dictionary says, too. The way the word was used in the show, I assumed it was alluding to the more "traditional" meaning of the word, which is found at the Merriam-Webster site: "the detachment of a person (such as a military officer) from his or her regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere." But Oxford defines it as "The temporary transfer of an official or worker to another position or employment." I'm guessing that the Oxford definition (which also shows up elsewhere online) is the contemporary meaning of the word, which is probably a result of the evolution from military to civilian use because work takes up so much of our lives. Basically, when Sasha was telling the other detective to work with someone else on an aspect of the case, the meaning could fall in either camp.

The word seems to be major enough in England to cause people to write on websites about it. For instance, one article on a job site gives advice about "Going on secondment". I bet such advice has never existed on American sites; if people were to see such an article, they'd wonder what it actually means. It seems like a foreign word, even though we share the same language. And Brits reading this would probably think I'm making too much of it. But it's new to me, and another word that shows how our English languages can be dialectical in some respects :p

The full episode is below (which is very kind of the show's producers to post online).


Speak only to the sympathetic

I was talking to someone who hasn't had to work in several years, didn't get a college degree or even take any classes, and basically has been living a good life, thanks to a successful spouse and insulated social circle.

They were asking me about someone who is working in a very tough industry, who has had a hard time getting work. The person has done "day jobs" between being unemployed, and success in the desired profession has been elusive.

The lack of success has been devastating, demoralizing, and depressing. It's caused sadness and anger, and the suffering is real.

The insulated person who was asking about the sufferer had the usual judgement in their voice. And for once I could say, "They're working." Not just at a job, but one in the desired profession. The professional breakthrough seems like a miracle, and is a welcome reprieve from years of striving and strife.

What many people don't seem to understand is that pursuing a dream is hard, heartbreaking, and can even be painful. The mistake that the dreamers make is telling all kinds of people about their pursuit. What they should be doing is only talking about the dream to those they trust, who won't judge them or discourage them.

The problem with people who are living safely, or are happy to maintain the status quo, is that they don't seem to comprehend or care that others don't see life as a straight, predictable line that can be tamed. The people who are taking chances and are paying the price for their vision need to avoid those people who are not on a similar path. Otherwise, they will be faced with judgement, indifference, and a lack of understanding. Which will make the suffering worse, and cause further isolation.

A person doesn't have to be free of the need to work to lack sympathy; it could be someone whose logical steps have led to a "sensible" career, who hasn't even thought about pursuing anything outside of their scheduled job commitments. What matters most is to avoid those who are not supportive and instead find like-minded people. Then life will become more sane.