He was bright, witty and a great moderator. But he got off to a bad start. Having introduced the panel, he turned to the camera and smiled, “With no further adieu, let’s move on.”
I thought I was going to have a stroke.
He clearly did well in law school, but in high school he must have been late for the class where “Much Ado About Nothing” was being discussed. “Ado” means “a great fuss or uproar”.
And it must have been a snow day when “adieu” was being taught. “Adieu” means “to God” and is one of the French forms of “good-bye” (which in old English was “God bwye” -God be with ye-, thus pretty close to the French.)
The term “with no further adieu” should be reserved for lingering good-byes at the airport. Otherwise, it’s “with no further ado”.
I’ve also heard some professionals utter “It’s a mute point, don’t you think?” Better they’d stayed mute! “Mute” means “silent”, “moot” means “uncertain or debatable”. And the list goes on...
When George Dubya used to warn about “nucular war”, he simply confirmed our guess he was a simpleton. Stand-up comedians feast on such malapropisms: “Having just one wife is called monotony.” It would all be funny, except it isn’t.
You see, the problem with using the wrong word is that the listener’s brain tells him it’s silly. If you’re a stand-up comic, silly is good, but not when you’re trying to make a serious point. If you’re on stage trying to convey a serious corporate message, or drafting pleadings, or pitching a project proposal, the last thing you want is to have your audience laugh at you.
There is a very simple and inflexible rule: if you want your audience to take you seriously, you need to take your audience seriously. In professional communication you can’t afford goofy language.
Why is this? I think there are two reasons. First, the zit factor. Second, the “Squirrel!” syndrome.
Let’s say you’re having a critical conversation with a sales prospect. You’ve researched and prepared well. But, right on the end of your nose is a Rudolph-certified zit the size of a golf ball. You know that their attention is 90% on the zit and 10% on your conversation. It’s not fair, but life’s not fair. Blurting out the wrong word is exactly like that, except that you can control it.
Similarly, every listener suffers from “Squirrel!” syndrome. If you don’t know what I mean, ask a friend who owns a dog. It takes very little to distract the listener, and a malapropism is just the squirrel to do the trick.
When you’re out to persuade, you can’t allow your audience to lose focus. Don’t serve distraction up on a silver platter.
Remember, when you finish your presentation, you want the audience to complement you. Or is that compliment? Dang, where’s my dictionary?
Image attribution: By William Shakespeare, Valentine Simmes (printer), Andrew Wise (publisher), William Aspley (bookseller) - Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/hyyrn6, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40929008
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.