These days we have replaced memos with rampant emails. We have pushed email too far, expecting it to communicate long, complex, important messages to everyone. Our inboxes are stuffed, and those essential messages are not being read.
It’s time to take the pressure off emails. If you want people to read your important ideas and information, you need to revive the memo. Consider these suggestions:
1. Recognize the best uses of email. Emails win for fast, temporary communications that readers quickly read, act on, and delete. Emails excel at succinct requests and replies, speedy updates, short reminders or check-ins, time-sensitive announcements, and similar short-lived messages. They are perfect for briefly introducing attachments such as memos.
2. Use a memo when you are writing a message built to last. If your communication is a detailed proposal, a significant report, a serious recommendation, a technical explanation, meeting minutes, a new policy, or something else that readers will consult more than once, make it a memo. Your readers will be able to save the document, read it, and find it when they need the information again.
3. Use a memo when formatting matters. If the piece contains bullet points, bold headings, columns, tables, a graph, or even a good balance of white space, a memo will help you retain that formatting. To guarantee your formatting, save the memo as a PDF. If your audience reads emails on their phones, an attachment may be the only way to preserve the formatting you intend.
5. To communicate formally, choose a memo. Memos provide a place at the top of the message to insert the company name and logo and the professional titles of senders and receivers. Those inclusions make the message appear more formal. Also, a well-formatted message conveys significance.
6. When you worry that your message is too long as an email, write a memo. Impossibly long emails often result when you try to incorporate important, lasting information in them. But memos work best when people will return to your message for information. (See Point 2.) For instance, if you are communicating the details of the four-stage construction project, use a memo. To convey pros and cons of a major purchasing decision, lay out your research in a memo.
Attach your memo to an email that gives your readers a brief summary of the memo contents. For some readers, that summary will be enough. Those who need the information will read and save the memo.
7. To communicate complex information to people outside your organization (clients, citizens, etc.), consider a memo or a letter. A letter is the traditional format for external correspondence, especially to people you serve, such as customers and patients. But you can choose a memo to write to vendors, consultants, members, clients, professional peers, and others who collaborate with you to get results.
8. To send your memo, simply attach it to a brief email. Or send a printed copy through interoffice mail if that approach makes sense.
I have attached a sample memo to illustrate a standard format.
The memo is no dinosaur. Use it for your significant communications, and your messages will come across as professional, relevant, and of lasting importance.
Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression‘ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of “contronyms”—words that are their own antonyms.
1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’
2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)
4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.
6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).
7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning ‘to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange,’ “trim” came to mean ‘to prepare, make ready.’ Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?
8. Cleave can be cleaved into two “homographs,” words with different origins that end up spelled the same. “Cleave,” meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. “Cleave,” with the contrary meaning ‘to split or sever (something), ‘ as you might do with a cleaver, comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: “cloven,” which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”
9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. “Resign,” meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as “resign,” meaning ‘to sign up again,’ but it’s pronounced differently.
10. Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.
11. Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”
12. Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”
13. Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).
14. Help means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’
The Oxford Dictionary Online is a warehouse of over 600,000 words. Despite this large arsenal, we continue to coin, clip, and blend new words into existence, and the Oxford folks pump some of these new words into their dictionaries. Here are some more recent additions with their official definitions.
1. Bling (n): Expensive, ostentatious clothing and jewelry.
2. Bromance (n): A close but non-sexual relationship between two men.
3. Chillax (v): Calm down and relax.
By Onna Nelson, University of California, Santa Barbara
1. English red
The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word for red, reudh, remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, showing up in English red, Spanish rojo, French rouge, German rot, Icelandic rauðr, and Welsh rhudd. Not only did it lead to these words for the color itself, it also led to red-related English words like ruby, rust, and rubeola.
2. English black
The PIE word bhel evolved into many modern words meaning “white,” including Spanish blanco, French blanc, Italian bianco, and Portuguese branco, as well as white-related words such as bleach and blank. So why does the English word black look so much like all these other words for white? Well, bhel also referred to anything bright, like fire, and the result of fire is blackened, charred remains. Hence, black.
3. English green
The PIE word ghre-, meaning “to grow,” is another root which endured the centuries. What grows? Green stuff! Grhe- gave us many modern words meaning “green,” including English green, German grün, and Icelandic grænn, as well as the English words grow, grass, graze and herb.
4. Portuguese red and purple
As languages add color words to their lexicon, the colors a word refers to can get shifted around. Portuguese roxo, related to the same PIE word reudh, used to mean red and red-related colors, including pink, orange, and purple. When the bright red pigment vermilion was imported from China, Portuguese began using vermelho to refer to red, and pushed roxo aside to refer exclusively to purple.
5. English purple
Purpura is the Latin name of a particular kind of shellfish which, when ground up, produces a bright purple dye, which in turn was taken from the Greek word porphura to describe the same sea creature. The word purpura later began to refer to the dye, and eventually the color of this dye. This dye was very expensive, and purple was considered a color of royalty throughout Europe. When this dye was exported to England, the word purple was imported into English as well. Today “purpura” is used by medicos to describe purplish discolorations of the skin.
6. English pink
Lots of fancy color words come from flowers or fruits: violet, periwinkle, lavender, lilac, olive, eggplant, pumpkin, and peach, to name a few. In English, pink used to refer exclusively to a flower called a pink, a dianthus which has pale red petals with fringed edges. “Pink” the verb, meaning to cut or tear jaggedly, has been in use in the English language since the early 14th century. Eventually, English speakers forgot the name of the flower, but preserved the word for the color.
7. Japanese blue and green
Over two-thirds of the world’s languages have a single word for both green and blue, known as grue in English. In Japanese, aoi historically referred to grue. When Crayola crayons were imported, green was labeled midori and blue was labeled aoi. New generations of schoolchildren learned them as different colors. But traces of grue remain: Japanese still refers to “blue” traffic lights and “blue” apples with aoi.
8. Kurdish and Russian blue
In Russian, the word for dark blue is sinii, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Neo-Aramaic, a central hub of trade, the word for blue is sǐni, and in Kurdish the word for blue is šin. In Arabic, a central hub of trade, the word for ‘Chinese’ is sini. The words for Chinese and blue became synonymous due to the popular blue and white porcelain china commonly traded in the region.
9. Spanish yellow
Amarillo, or “yellow,” is a diminutive form of the Spanish word amargo, which comes from the Latin word amarus, meaning “bitter.” So how did “little bitter” come to be synonymous with “yellow”? In the Middle Ages, medical physicians commonly believed that the human body had four humors. The “bitter humor” referred to bile, which is yellow.
10. English orange
When oranges (the fruit) were exported from India, the word for them was exported too. Sanskrit narangah, or “orange tree,” was borrowed into Persian as narang, “orange (fruit),” which was borrowed into Arabic as naranj, into Italian as arancia, into French as orange, and eventually into English as orange. The color of the fruit was so striking that after borrowing the word and the crop, English speakers eventually began referring to the color by this word as well. Before oranges were imported in the 1500s, the English word for orange (the color) was geoluhread (literally, “yellow-red”).
Interpreting is a most unusual, important, and misunderstood career. Providing a bridge for the language barriers that people find themselves at in our highly connected world is an important and valuable position, not to mention a job that requires hard work and years of training and practice.
In honour of the hard-working language translators and linguistic delegates of the world, here are ten things, situations, and problems that only interpreters would understand.
1. Speaking The Wrong Language At The Wrong Time
It happens all the time when you’re an interpreter — you’re in the middle of speaking to someone in one language, when you suddenly blurt out the right word, but in the wrong language, leading to confusion on all fronts. The problem with being such a major or minor polyglot, even if you only interpret one language, is that your brain is full of the same item or adjective, but with several different meanings attached to them, making it difficult at times, not to say the wrong one at the wrong time.
2. Having To Deal With Multiple Accents and Dialects At The Same Time
The job of an interpreter seems like an easy one — just listen to the language in which you happen to be versed and immediately translate into the other language. However, many people tend to forget about accents and dialects. There isn’t just a single way of speaking for every language, or even from every country. Everything varies from location to location, so it can be a supreme struggle to deal with people who are speaking in unusual dialects and accents, even if you’re fluent in the actual language that they are speaking in. There are a million different regional accents and dialects to deal with at any given time — so save a prayer for your poor, potentially frazzled interpreter.
3. Having To Translate ‘Everything’ Your Client Says
One of the least pleasant things an interpreter has to do, is translate everything that their clients are saying, and we’re not just talking about the nice stuff. You might find yourself scrambling to find a much nicer way of saying that pointed insult, or smoothing away additional barbs, all at the drop of a hat. You’re not just an interpreter — you’re a peacekeeper, too.
4. You Have A Go-To Party Trick
Admittedly, one of the highlights of being an interpreter is that you get to impress virtually everyone at party tricks. The vast majority of people (in the Western world) only know one language and the fact that you can speak another, maybe even more than two or three languages fluently, and get paid for it, is mind-blowing to many. Admittedly, this can also lead to some jealousy amongs party guests, but the joy is that you can say what you like, and chances are they won’t understand what you just called them.
5. Sitting Through World Cinema With Friends
World cinema can be a wonderful experience, but sitting through it with someone when you’re an interpreter can be an extremely tiresome exercise, not because you don’t like the film: inaccurate subtitles can cause you to comment and disrupt the film for those around you, or the person you’re with might comment on some un-translated moment and badger you into translating it for him or her at the moment when you’re trying to get lost in the movie.
6. Forgetting The Right Word At The Wrong Time
When your entire career centres around getting the right words out at the exact right time, you are often scrambling to accurately translate the right words, phrases, and idioms in order to keep up with the fast pace of everyone else in the room. However, there are times when you’re at work at eight o’clock, and your brain is still in bed at ten; times when you simply forget the word, or the sentence, or even the language that you’re speaking. Luckily, you normally pick it up moments later, but the look of wide-eyed panic is something you can see in everyone’s reflection, and something you endeavour not to see again anytime soon.
7. Keeping Your Accents Correct Is A Struggle
When you’re busy juggling a ton of different languages, keeping the right accents for the right tongues, can be a struggle for even the most seasoned interpreter. Sometimes the two languages are diverse and distinct, allowing for a minimal amount of crossover; however, when you have two very similar languages, keeping the accents appropriate and separate, so as to sidestep any accidental mocking, can be a hard task indeed.
8. Telling Jokes In A Different Language Is Awful
When it comes to telling jokes, apart from having a great ending to one, the key rule is to tell it in the language it was originally told in. Jokes and humour vary from country to country, region to region, and even village to village. Very few jokes are universal, and so, as interpreters will no doubt be aware, telling one country’s joke to someone who doesn’t speak the language can be a bit of a damp squib. You’re left with blank expressions, and the joke falls flat, which is never any fun.
9. Idioms Do Not Work In Other Languages
Here’s the thing about idioms — they’re fantastic, but only when they’re spoken in their native language to another person who speaks that language. When an interpreter has to translate them, this isn’t just a simple comparison job where you instinctually discover the corresponding idiom, nor is it appropriate to literally describe the idiom word-for-word which can lead to confusion and possible insults. Please, if you need a translator, try to veer away from the idioms.
10. People Think Your Job Is ‘Easy’
When you tell people that you’re an interpreter, they might actually consider that you’ve worked relentlessly hard to get where you’ve had to be. You’ve had to spend years learning a language, maybe two at the same time if you’ve really got the ability and time to; you might have visited the language’s country of origin a dozen or so times, or lived there. But people forget that their own language is honed after decades of daily, frequent use and practice. They might think it’s oh-so-easy to become an interpreter, but it’s not; and you should never let anyone disrespect or belittle your career because they think that you’re walking a Google Translate.
|Beleaguer||To exhaust with attacks.|
|Brood||To think alone.|
|Bucolic||In a lovely rural setting.|
|Bungalow||A small, cozy cottage.|
|Chatoyant||Like a cat’s eye.|
|Conflate||To blend together.|
|Cynosure||A focal point of admiration.|
|Dalliance||A brief love affair.|
|Demure||Shy and reserved.|
|Denouement||The resolution of a mystery.|
|Elision||Dropping a sound or syllable in a word.|
|Elixir||A good potion.|
|Eloquence||Beauty and persuasion in speech.|
|Embrocation||Rubbing on a lotion.|
|Epiphany||A sudden revelation.|
|Erstwhile||At one time, for a time.|
|Ethereal||Gaseous, invisible but detectable.|
|Evanescent||Vanishing quickly, lasting a very short time.|
|Forbearance||Withholding response to provocation.|
|Gambol||To skip or leap about joyfully.|
|Gossamer||The finest piece of thread, a spider’s silk|
|Halcyon||Happy, sunny, care-free.|
|Harbinger||Messenger with news of the future.|
|Imbrication||Overlapping and forming a regular pattern.|
|Imbroglio||An altercation or complicated situation.|
|Imbue||To infuse, instill.|
|Incipient||Beginning, in an early stage.|
|Ingénue||A naïve young woman.|
|Inglenook||A cozy nook by the hearth.|
|Inure||To become jaded.|
|Labyrinthine||Twisting and turning.|
|Lagniappe||A special kind of gift.|
|Lagoon||A small gulf or inlet.|
|Lilt||To move musically or lively.|
|Lissome||Slender and graceful.|
|Lithe||Slender and flexible.|
|Moiety||One of two equal parts.|
|Mondegreen||A slip of the ear.|
|Nemesis||An unconquerable archenemy.|
|Offing||The sea between the horizon and the offshore.|
|Onomatopoeia||A word that sounds like its meaning.|
|Palimpsest||A manuscript written over earlier ones.|
|Panacea||A solution for all problems|
|Panoply||A complete set.|
|Pastiche||An art work combining materials from various sources.|
|Petrichor||The smell of earth after rain.|
|Plethora||A large quantity.|
|Pyrrhic||Successful with heavy losses.|
|Ratatouille||A spicy French stew.|
|Ravel||To knit or unknit.|
|Riparian||By the bank of a stream.|
|Ripple||A very small wave.|
|Scintilla||A spark or very small thing.|
|Seraglio||Rich, luxurious oriental palace or harem.|
|Serendipity||Finding something nice while looking for something else.|
|Summery||Light, delicate or warm and sunny.|
|Susquehanna||A river in Pennsylvania.|
|Talisman||A good luck charm.|
|Umbrella||Protection from sun or rain.|
|Vestigial||In trace amounts.|