So, did you read my recent post about the controversy surrounding the increasing use of the word “so” in business discussions?
Without stealing thunder from that piece, here’s the gist: Argument over the use of “so” is one more reason to prepare meticulously for your part in any meeting and, when in the midst of any business conversation, choose your words carefully. Because misusing a few 2-letter discourse markers in your verbal mix is one of the smallest risks you face as a speaker.
To illustrate the matter, here’s an excerpt from the recent Forbes post “53 Words You Absolutely Don’t Want To Confuse At Work”:
“Last week, I emailed my boss that I was hoping to elicit feedback, and then, I panicked.
Did I just say that I wanted to prompt feedback (my intention), or did I accidentally use the word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently and would suggest I was hoping for feedback unsuitable for the workplace (very much not my intention)?”
The author, known as “The Muse,” offered an example of written miscommunication, but the same peril can be amplified in verbal situations.
Why? Because as Emotional Intelligence guru Travis Bradberry wrote in another Forbes piece, “20 Misused Words That Make Smart People Look Dumb,” many of us tend to be more cautious when writing than when speaking. Unfamiliar words aren’t the true hazard. Instead, “it’s the words we perceive as being more ‘correct’ or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do,” as Bradberry put it, and those words can feel “like fingernails across a chalkboard” to anyone in a meeting who notices the gaffe.
Of course, readers may explore the more than 70 examples of oft-bungled words offered by Bradberry and The Muse at their convenience by clicking the links embedded above. In the meantime, here are seven of my favorite pairs from those pundits’ lists that bear close consideration before you toss them into meeting banter—in person, online or otherwise:
Affect v. Effect
What makes this pair especially perilous is both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s address the verbs first: Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. A job can be affected by the organizational restructuring, whose changes will be effected next week.
Now, lets’ talk nouns: An effect is the result of something, as in sunny weather having a positive effect on swimsuit sales this summer. By stark contrast, the noun affect refers to an emotional state, as in “The positive affect in the C suite no doubt came from higher revenue from swimsuit sales.”
Farther v. Further
Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. If you claim to have more stamina than I, and then I run farther than you in a contest… well, you should have nothing further to say on the subject. (Here’s a trick that helps: If you can substitute more or additional, then further is the correct word.)
Fewer v. Less
If you can count pieces or items, use fewer. Less is about quantity and proportion. For example, when you have fewer dollars today than yesterday, then you have less money than you did before.
Lie v. Lay
To lie means to offer an untruth and to recline, as in “Go lie down and rest.” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” What makes this pair so tricky is the past tense of lie is lay: “I lay down for an hour yesterday.” The past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”
Moot v. Mute
When someone raises a moot point, the issue is irrelevant to the discussion or situation. If this same individual continues to argue the point, you may start wishing you could mute the person as you would a TV.
Rein v. Reign
During tough economic times, a CFO may rein in, or restrict, spending in an effort to continue the firm’s reign, or supremacy, as the most profitable business in the industry.
Tenet v. Tenant
A company must follow the tenets, or rules, of a lease in order to remain a tenant, or renter, in an office park.
It’s the similar spellings that make these pairs so easy to misuse in writing. But don’t be fooled that their tendency to sound alike when spoken is any form of protection. Context is the real king. So, if you can’t rein in your word flubs, you could find your opportunities to reign over meetings becoming fewer and fewer. Do you have any experiences with this you care to share?