Friday, February 27, 2009

Use S-V-O and write stronger sentences.

If you are learning to write English as a second language (or know the language and just want to write it better), pay attention to sentence patterns and you will write with more clarity.

English sentences rely heavily on the Subject-Verb-Object pattern. Look at any newspaper on any day and you'll see the pattern at work: "Obama asks for trillions", "Republicans want concessions", "A-Rod admits steroid use", and so on. Those that deviate from this pattern risk losing clarity.

Look at how pattern dictates meaning. If you change the position of the words, "Dog" and "Man" in the following sentence, you change the meaning completely: "Dog bites man" becomes "Man bites dog", same words but certainly different meanings, although the pattern remains the same. This isn't true for all languages.

We talked yesterday about Latin. Let me invite you into this beautiful language again, this time with the Christian prayer, "Our Father." This well known prayer reads as follows in Latin:

"Pater noster, qui es in caelis: sanctificetur nomen tuum: adveniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie: et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem. Sed libera nos a malo."

"Pater" means "father", of course (ala "paternalism"). We all get that. And, as we said in the last post, "caelis" means "heaven." You may guess that "nomen" means name, especially if you know the prayer, that is, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Now, look at the next part of the prayer, "adveniat regnum tuam." You may surmise that "regnum" has to do with "kingdom" (as in "regal") and you'd be right. But, it's the pattern of the language that's telling.

Latin depends, not on pattern and word placement, but on case endings. If you translate "adveniat regnum tuum" to English, it reads, "comes kingdom your." If you want to know the meaning, you need to know the case endings. Not true in English. You need only understand the patterns, and the power of the verbs. If you use the Subject-Verb-Object pattern and also keep the subject and verb close together, you will write solid, easy-to-understand sentences.

Those of you who use a language that depends on case endings, watch for sentence patterns in English. And, those of you who write English as your first language, use the sentence pattern S-V-O to write stronger sentences.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Attend a Latin mass, if you can find one, and learn about your language.

I attend Roman Catholic mass with the Pittsburgh Latin Mass Community at St. Boniface Church on the North Side in Pittsburgh. I do this because I grew up with the Latin mass and because I am captivated by its beauty and solemnity. And, a little know fact among my friends and acquaintances, I studied Latin in high school; in fact, I took Latin One twice! (Ida Ficker, my Latin teacher, thought I needed to review the fundamentals after my first, literally sophomoric, attempt.)

In any event, I advise you to attend a Latin mass, if you can find one, regardless of your religious preferences. You will find the splendor and mystery of this mass exhilarating. If you follow the mass booklet closely you will learn much about the English language. And, if you attend to the proceedings, you will learn that communication involves more than just words.

For instance, the mass begins with the Asperges (the sprinkling of water) and asks, "Misere mei, Deus" or, "Have Mercy on me God." If you know English and never took a day of Latin class, you will be able to translate that sentence. Or this passage, "...omnipotens aeterne Deus et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de caelis." Do you have it? You've got the "Deus," right? How about the "aeterne"? (eternal) and the "omnipotens" (all powerful)? This isn't so hard, right?

Our language has borrowed mightily from the Latin. If you know the word "celestial" you will have found the clue to "caelis" in the passge above. If you know "saint", you will know "sanctum" which in this case is "holy"; after all, saints are holy! And, who could have missed "Angelum"? If you named your daughter "Angela", you know you really named her "angel".

If you have a chance to sit in that high vaulted church on the North Side and listen to the choir singing in Latin and breathe the fragrant incense while watching the ministrations of the 14 altar boys dressed in black and white (sorry, no girls in this mass) to the learned and pious Fr. Myers, clothed in colorful garments, you will be transported to a world of spirit. The ritual, symbolism and colors of the mass clothe you in an almost overwhelming spiritual experience. You understand the mystery of the cross without a verbatim translation. That, my friends, is communication!

Fr. Myers recites the entire one-hour mass in Latin, including the readings (which he later translates before his homily). If you listen closely you will hear him say, "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et vobis fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo, et opere: (the priest strikes his breast three times) mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem Baptistam, sanctos Apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos fratres, orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum."

Can I translate that easily with my two years of Latin One? No. But I am learning to. I know that the priest is talking about "blessed" ("beatae") people and "confession" ("Confiteor") and "sin" ("peccavi") and "words" ("verbo") and "my fault" ("mea culpa"). And, as I enjoy this mysterious and beautiful experience, I find the keys to unlocking the English vocabulary. But, again, you need not sit there and translate. You will get the message.

A communication involves messages being send back and forth through media by senders and receivers who typically have different agendas and dispositions. To share a common reality they struggle for many reasons, not the least of which is noise, clutter, distractions. If you attend the Latin mass, you will not share a common language, but you will share a message, subtle perhaps, that matters of the spirit are profound and mysterious, that they penetrate beyond language.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Connect with your customers, and stay connected, through writing.

How do you connect with your customers? Call them? Meet them face-to-face? Send them a piece of sales literature, a link to your website, an RFP? Or, do you meet them through a mutual business associate?

Whatever the means, chances are great that somewhere along the line you will use the written word to connect to your customers and, just as importantly, stay connected to them. After all, writing is inexpensive way to maintain a connection. A stamp costs, what, 41 cents and an e-mail is free!

If you’re using writing to connect or stay connected to your customers, you’ll want to be certain that what you are writing is well written. What does “well written” mean? It means that you clearly understand your purpose and your audience. It means that you write messages that are written with clarity and coherence and easy-to-read design features. It also means that you write messages in the active voice, using action verbs and characters as subjects, as well as short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

These recommendations for well written documents apply to any form of written communication – letters, memos, e-mails, RFP’s, and even hand-written notes, as well as social media, such as blogs, white papers and writings on social applications such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, and so on.

What, you say? I can connect to my customers with writings on social applications? Yes, absolutely yes! What do you write about, for instance, on your blog? You write only about that which will interest your customers and potential customers. And, what interests them? Typically, they want to read about business trends, technology trends, business stories, current events, FAQ’s, “Top 10” lists, interviews, book reviews, business problems and solutions, and the like.

If you don’t want to blog because you can’t spare the time (and if you blog you know you must write regularly and respond regularly), try writing a “white paper.” White papers typically focus on business stories, especially business problems and solutions. In other words, they discuss that which interests the audience. Just as a blog cannot be a personal or corporate rant, a white paper cannot be used to overtly further some corporate sales objective. If you use these media to write about how great you and your company are, eventually you will be found out and no one will read your papers, white, brown, green, red or blue.

When you use writing to connect to your customers, you are attempting to engage them in an on-going conversation, a dialogue, wherein you can learn their interests and their issues (their pain) and help them figure out solutions to their problems. Then, as you communicate with each other, you slowly and subtly grow your relationship, one which is based on mutual understanding, trust and, competence. You will find that your written communications will tell the story of your growing business relationship and support the other channel activities that you use to keep your relationship strong, that is, face-to-face meetings, telephone calls, IM’s, tweets, reports, RFP’s, Steeler games and cocktails at Happy Hour!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ever send an e-mail to the wrong person?

Some of you know how this goes: You send a nasty e-mail, feeling quite emotional and righteous. Then you realize with that sinking feeling that you hit the send button without checking the addressees and sent it to the person you were criticizing. Or, the subject of your wrath sends it back to you (with equally righteous comments) because you didn't know, until that frightful moment, that you had f***ed up.

Woe and alas. This is e-mail, my friends. Can't live with it; can't shoot it. Gotta check and double-check those "To" and "cc" windows. I know this because I have sent the wrong messages to the wrong people. And now today, I had the dis-pleasure of having an e-mail about me (but not intended for me) come via a business partner who first received the errant message. We were to meet with a potential business alliance from out of town and a third party from Pittsburgh was helping to make the arrangements. This person accused my partner and me in an e-mail to the out of town person of everything but the Jimmy Hoffa murder, then mistakenly sent it to my partner, who quickly forwarded it to me.

We immediately angered and then just as quickly laughed. We hardly know this individual and we won't lose any long-standing friendship or deep business relationship as a result of this. However, we now know much more about the real person, someone who has a nasty passive/aggressive streak.

So, what to do? My partner and I discussed our response and decided that he should write back since he received the wayward message. In his measured response, he questioned the business relationship and rightfully so. It's too bad because what happened ultimately costs all of us.

Lesson learned? Well, people don't communicate well. The warden was right: "What we have here is a failure to communicate." The message sender had obvious problems with us and didn't tell us about them. This person's message could have been better delivered in a face-to-face meeting. Or, even an e-mail with a more direct message to us would have helped. But, a rant about us to the out-of-town person didn't help anyone. Or, this person could have written a vitriolic message, full of steam and vinegar, and then never sent it.

Remember this: E-mail works best when it carries facts. It does not work in any emotional context. It lacks context cues and cannot build rapport, especially when you send it to someone you just finished insulting. So, never respond in anger; you'll regret it later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Avoid sexism, you guys!

Prejudice affects both men and women. However, sexism as a form of prejudice in our language discriminates more against women than men. This problem has historical and political roots. You need not be told that for years women were kept out of certain occupations and roles. Today, however, we find women in the police force, the postal service and the infantry, among other previously male-dominated professions. For this reason, we need to use a vocabulary that reflects the important role women play in society.

Over the years our language has, unfortunately, relied on words such as these: policeman, infantryman, chairman, postman, fisherman, guys, and the like. People who use these terms are considered not just sexist but unfair, insensitive, uninformed and archaic. Obviously, we are best served to understand how words like these show prejudice against others and to avoid using them.

Consider the following list and ask yourself if the words are sexist: Mankind, Modern Man, Brotherhood of Man, Forefathers, Housewife, Poetess, Old Maid, and Working Man. It doesn’t require much thinking to know that these words reveal sexist thinking. Sometimes, however, sexist references are more subtle. Look at these sentences:

Each man should be sure that his secretary does her work well.
He studies to be a male nurse.
Last week the city fathers voted to close saloons on Sunday.
Our Constitution tells us that all men are created equal.
God has promised his people a place in Heaven.

Much sexist writing is subtle. An “aggressive man” is not typically considered a negative comment; however, the term “aggressive woman” is often pejorative. Imagine a scenario where a visitor to an architectural firm tells the woman he first meets that he wants to speak to an architect. Keep in mind that not all women and in architectural firms are secretaries (and not all nurses are women). Indeed, if you are sensitive to this issue, you will easily be able to answer this riddle: How could the baseball game have had a score of 5-3 when not a man reached first base the entire game?

When we write, we must understand how to use pronouns, word endings, nouns, titles, salutations, signatures, modifiers, and names. When using pronouns, you may use “he or she” and “him or her” sparingly. You may change words from singular to plural to avoid sexism (“An individual may check HIS credit records” becomes “Individuals may check THEIR credit records”.) You may repeat nouns (The driver must maintain a safe speed. He must also…” becomes “The driver must maintain a safe speed. The driver must also….”) The writer may use “you” when appropriate (“A client must check with his account manager” becomes “As a client, you are responsible to check with your account manager”.) You may also alternate the use of "he" and "she" when writing a long passage.

Word endings such as –ess and ette create other problems. Other than waitress, actress and hostess, you may omit these endings from most words. For nouns, use person instead of man, as in salesperson. For titles, avoid Mrs. and Miss; use Ms instead. These constitute just some of the forms you can use to be certain that you are not using language that demeans or discriminates. To make sure that you are not using sexist language, look for further instruction in this subject. And, hey guys, keep your eyes open for sexist language!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Keep Subject and Verb Close Together for Easy-to-Understand Sentences

Readers (you) like to find the Subject and Verb in a sentence quickly. The Verb tells you what is happening in the sentence (the action), and the Subject, of course, tells you to whom the action is happening (or who is doing the action). The Subject and Verb, therefore, serve as the two critical elements of any sentence. Naturally, when you have to search for either the Subject or the Verb, the writer has confused you and wasted your time.

Examine this sentence where one of my academic colleagues has done his best to confuse you:

The notion that our company’s critical infrastructures are highly interconnected and mutually dependent in complex ways, both physically and through a host of information and communication technologies (so-called “cyber-based systems”), is more than an abstract, theoretical concept.

Say what? If you can't understand that sentence, don't feel lonely. I couldn't, either, the first time I read it. If you, like me, had to read it again, or said, "duh," the writer has obviously wasted your time, in some feeble effort to impress you. Academic and bureaucratic writers create these kinds of sentences routinely. Believe me. I see them every day.

Are the academics and bureaucrats purposefully trying to deceive us or bugger us? Or, do they simply use bad craft. In this case the academic who wrote the sentence above has simply crafted the sentence poorly. For one thing, it does not have a Character as Subject. What word serves as the Subject of that sentence? “Notion.” That is not what we consider a character. Now, look closely again at the sentence. What word serves as the Verb? “Is”? Yes. Do we call this an Action Verb? Noooooo, the word is called a Being Verb. You may recall we suggested you use Action Verbs whenever possible, especially in business writing. Then, to top things off, the writer has placed the Subject and Verb far, far away from each another.

How many words separate the Subject ("notion") from the Verb ("is") in the example sentence above? 28!! Yep, 28 words separate the Subject from the Verb. If the reader wants to know what is being affirmed (the Verb) about whom (the Subject), the reader (you) will have a helluva time figuring it out. So, what is to be done about this? You'd be best served to scrap the sentence and start over again. Then, you might re-write the sentence in this way:

Our company’s critical infrastructures depend on each other greatly. They are highly interconnected and mutually dependent in complex ways, through a host of information and communication technologies (so-called “cyber-based systems”) and through physical interconnectedness.

You may still not prefer my revised sentence for a variety of reasons; for example, you might say it uses too many multi-syllable words (and it does) and it uses some technical language. Nonetheless, you should be able to grasp its meaning more readily because in the new sentence the Subject “infrastructures” and the Verb “depend” sit next to each other. (I have also changed the sentence to active voice and split it into two sentences.) But, note: when you keep the Subject and Verb close together, readers will have essential information and an essential understanding of the sentence. Therefore, when you write, examine the first few words of all your sentences to look for the Subject and Verb.

Then, you will write better sentences. But, if you want to impress everyone, you can still write crap like this:

Our estimation of the allocation of the necessities of the project variables when attached to our systematized transitional capabilities, especially with integrated management programming, is a heuristic incremental opportunity.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Use action verbs to invigorate your writing!

All writing tells a story! And, stories are driven by action. The villain chased the hero. The hero rescued the fair client. The hero won the contract! For this reason, good writing, especially business writing, prefers action verbs!

We can define action verbs by what they are not! They are not being verbs. The being verbs include: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been (or various versions of those forms, such as has been, will be, and is being, among others). When you write for business, when you write to move a reader to action and outcome, avoid those verbs.

Instead, let us prefer, and use, action verbs! Rather than restrict our writing, action verbs free us to use the hundreds of startling and moving words in the English language. We can accomplish a task, satisfy a client, motivate our team, frighten the competition, and change the world!

Yes, we want to use action verbs in our writing, and we must be careful not to turn those beautiful actions into vague and empty ideas. We don’t want to weaken our verbs so that they become the accomplishment of our task, the satisfaction of our customers, the motivation of our team, or the fright of our clients. When we weaken our action verbs by turning them into nouns (nominals), we sap them of their great strength and vitality. We suck the life from them. We, then, write like bureaucrats.

As you think of action verbs and writing, let the newspapers guide you. Newspapers sell stories to their readers, and, in so doing, they use plenty of action verbs, especially in their headlines: Computer technician hits the lottery, DOW gains 500 points, Cognizant wins major contract.

So, the next time you must write an e-mail, a letter, a memo, or a report, tell a story and tell it with action verbs. Then, edit your writing; use characters as subjects and action verbs. Your readers will thank you because they will understand what you are trying to tell them – on the first reading! If they understand your message on the first reading and act on your instructions, you will have saved time and money. You will succeed in your mission. And you employer will reward you!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are you distracted yet?

You oughta be! As if there weren't enough commercial messages floating in front of your face (and buzzing in your ears), along comes Air New Zealand with an offer of $777 cash (or a $1200 airplane ticket to New Zealand) for anyone willing to advertise the airline on the back of their shaved head.

According to the NY Times story yesterday, Air New Zealand calls the 30 people chosen for this marketing honor, "cranial billboards." At least half of them chose the airline tickets as their remuneration; it seems many were expatriates who wanted the chance to return on the cheap to their homeland.

Much like other such campaigns, these messages are temporary, typically words and symbols applied with henna to various body parts. You may recall that Andrew Fischer of Omaha put his forehead space up for auction in 2005 on eBay. By doing so he allowed Snore Stop only a month of unusual advertising but he received $37, 375 in exchange. Not bad, if you're willing to tattoo your forehead temporarily.

But, after the initial uniqueness (and the henna) rubs off, these messages are distracting. They achieve their first objective: to attract attention in the most cluttered, noisy environment since the beginning of time. But, whether or not they lead to an increase in sales is questionable. Their creators know that they must attract our attention and because they have helped to clutter the environment with mostly unattractive messages, they turn in desperation to places no man has gone.

Will things get any better? No way. Look for more product placements in your movies, in the lyrics of the CD's you buy, in front of your stall in the restrooms you use. Look for ads on the sides of school buses. Look for an ad on the back of the airline seat in front of you (these already exist). Look for more bizarre applications of messaging everywhere as attention spans diminish and products proliferate.

For now you are safe from the distraction of commercial messages... in your house... as long as you keep the windows shut and wear earplugs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where can you find the worst writing?

I work at a university and I teach writing. So, where do you think I find the worst writing? Correctamundo! I find it in the e-mails sent to me by my colleagues and I find it in their abstracts that adorn the bulletin boards on campus. So far, I have yet to be discovered lurking around the many buildings on the lovely campus at CMU looking for beauties such as this:

Reachability analysis for hybrid systems is known as being a hard task and it has been motivated by safety verification. More recent work in region stability verification produced a proof rule whose implementation reduces the verification task to reachability analysis, with the bottleneck of applying this analysis to a hybrid system containing a duplicated number of continuous variables. As consequence, it can be the case that a system with only three continuous variables can not be proven as being stable with respect to a certain region. In this talk we present the dwelling time bound abstraction. Our method replaces continuous variables which do not occur explicitly in the property to be proven through information about the time spent in one location. We call this information dwelling time bound. We applied this abstraction technique for region stability verification and succeeded in proving stability for hybrid systems, for which such properties could not be shown up to now.

I know, some of you will say, "But that's Geekspeak and geeks can understand it." Or, "That's academia. Can't live with them, can't shoot them." Or, "That was intended for a special audience and they'll know exactly what it means." To that I say, "Hogswoddle!" No one should be allowed to write this way.

Anyone who understand the basics of good writing - preference for active voice, use of characters as subjects and active verbs as predicates - will write the above passage so that anyone can understand it (or at least most of it, technical terms notwithstanding).

But, academics often don't write to express; they often write to impress. And, there lies the problem. These people, especially at CMU, have amazing credentials and don't have to write to impress anyone. But, alas, they have been trained, as their trainers were trained before them for centuries, to write opaquely. That leads to writings such as the one above.

This kind of writing doesn't fly, of course, in business, where (another, "alas") some business people try to get away with it. They reject Da Vinci's comment that "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." They love Jack Welch but forget his advice to "prefer simplicity." Instead, they conjure up all the big words they can find and wrap them in cliches and jargon (business bullshit) so as to appear hugely cool and in charge. In the end, it never serves them.

When you write in business, you write for action; you must tell it like it is. Come straight to the point, quickly. Above all, don't ever tell your employees, "Reachability analysis for hybrid systems is known as being a hard task and it has been motivated by safety verification." Trust me, they won't get it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to write a good cover letter.

These days, with so many layoffs, everyone who's looking for another job needs to have a good cover letter to accompany their resume. Unfortunately, most cover letters are bad...really bad.

For one thing, they all look exactly the same. They all begin with the same word: "I". "I saw your ad on Craig's list....", or "I have just the background you are looking for...." and so on, and so on. This kind of cover letter will bore you to death. In fact, do this: if you can't get to sleep tonight, take a batch of cover letters to bed with you; you'll fall asleep, pronto.

Why does everyone write a lousy cover letter (and resume, for that matter)? For a couple of reasons. One, they listen to career counselors who don't know any better. Two, the cover letter writers are too lazy to craft an interesting letter. Three, the writers are unenlightened. Four, they don't understand that a cover letter serves as a marketing tool. In that regard, it has three obligations: attract attention, create interest, and move the reader to action, that is, call you for an interview.

If the letter doesn't attract attention, you might just as well write it on a piece of paper and then burn it. You must, absolutely must, attract the reader's attention. So, how do you do that? Simple, just use one or more of these devices: 1) Begin with a question, 2) Begin with a quote, 3) Begin with a brief story.

No career counselor will tell you to do what I just told you to do. They want every cover letter to look exactly the same. I have no idea why. But, this violates the rules of strategy and marketing. You can't look like every other candidate (or product). You must differentiate yourself. Philip Kotler, the guru of marketing, and Michael Porter, the guru of strategy, speak at length about using differentiation as tools for strategy and marketing.

So, let's return to my simple devices. One, the question. What does a cover letter with a question do? It involves the reader. It makes him/her answer. It also arouses his/her curiosity. For instance, if you are writing to Microsoft, begin your letter with this question: "What kind of employee does Microsoft want to hire?" Then, answer the question, "Microsoft wants energetic, self-motivated, educated, experienced, innovative achievers.... Microsoft has become a leader because it has hired people like this."

You will note that my style of cover letter talks not about me as a candidate but about the company I am writing to. We all want to hear about ourselves because we are all motivated by self interest. Marketers understand this. They know that carpenters don't want drill bits, they want holes. Microsoft doesn't want your skills; it wants to solve its problems. Therefore, talk about the reader, not about yourself. This will engage the reader. If you don't want to use a question, use a quote.

"The future belongs to the young engineers from India." Bill Gates

All right, so maybe Bill Gates didn't say exactly that; but, if I were applying to Microsoft, and I were a young engineer from India, I'd quote Bill, and then, of course, I'd connect the content of that quote to myself. I'd put this sentence immediately after the quote: "I am a young engineer from Bangalore and I heard Mr. Gates speak when he visited India. He inspired me to become a computer engineer and I vowed one day to work for Microsoft."

If you don't resonate with either the question or the quote device, tell a brief story. As we said in several posts, stories work. We all use stories every day. We introduce ourselves to others by telling the stories of our lives, we tell the stories of our businesses, we listen to the stories of our customers' needs. Our lives are the stories we live. And, we are all suckers for a good story. Remember, we are trying to attract attention, create interest and lead the readers to action, that is, call us for an interview! Stories get you on your way. They attract attention and create interest.

Everyone, I mean everyone, has a good story to tell. I don't care if you won the regional ping pong championship in Beijing; it makes an interesting and unusual story (differentiating). So, tell it in the first two sentences of your cover letter. In fact, italicize it and separate it as the first paragraph. Then, transition into the job you are seeking and your qualifications for that job. It's not hard after you have decided to give up the tired, old, trite, same-as-everyone-else cover letter.

That's the hard part, though. You can't believe how hard it is for us to give up our standard, worn-out ways. Give it a try. Send me your new cover letter. I promise to help you with it. Send it to You will find you have the skill and creativity to attract attention and create interest about yourself, the product "you".

Monday, February 16, 2009

True or Not - This Writing Works!

My daughter sent me the message below that was supposedly posted on Craig's List. Whether it was or not, it illustrates the formula for a sticky message as proposed by Dan and Chip Health in their fine book, "Made to Stick." Read the story below and see if you agree.

To the Guy Who Mugged Me

I was the guy with the black Burberry jacket that you demanded I hand over shortly after you pulled the knife on me and my girlfriend. You also asked for my girlfriend's purse and earrings. I hope you somehow come across this message. I'd like to apologize.

I didn't expect you to shit your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket. Truth is, I was wearing the jacket for a reason that evening, and it wasn't that cold outside. You see, my girlfriend had just bought me that Kimber 1911 .45 ACP pistol for Christmas, and we had just picked up a shoulder holster for it that evening. Beautiful pistol, eh? It's a very intimidating weapon when pointed at your head, isn't it?

I know it probably wasn't a great deal of fun walking back to wherever you'd come from with that brown sludge flopping about in your pants. I'm sure it was even worse since you also ended up leaving your shoes, cellphone, and wallet with me. I couldn't have you calling up any of your buddies to come help you try to mug us again. I took the liberty of calling your mother, or "Momma" as you had her listed in your cell, and explaining to her your situation. I also bought myself some gas on your card. I gave your shoes to one of the homeless guys over by Vinnie Van Go Go's, along with all of the cash in your wallet, then I threw the wallet itself in a dumpster.

I called a bunch of phone sex numbers from your cell. They'll be on your bill in case you'd like to know which ones. Alltel recently shut down the line, and I've only had the phone for a little over a day now, so I don't know what's going on with that. I hope they haven't permanently cut off your service. I was about to make some threatening phone calls to the DA's office with it. Oh well.

So, about your pants. I know that I was a little rough on you when you did this
whole attempted mugging thing, so I'd like to make it up to you. I'm sure you've already washed your pants, so I'd like to help you out. I'd like to reimburse you for the detergent you used on the pants. What brand did you use, and was it liquid or powder? I'd also like to apologize for not killing you and instead making you walk back home humiliated. I'm hoping that you'll reconsider your choice of path in life. Next time you might not be so lucky. If you read this message, email me and we'll do lunch and laundry.

"Made to Stick" created an acronym to help us remember the sticky formula: SUCCES$. To be sticky, writing must be Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and in the form of a Story. It doesn't hurt when the emotion is humor and the Story is just downright funny, as in the case of this Craig's List posting!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Buddy Boy writes back.

So, my friend, Buddy Boy, writes back.


To: EdBarr, CEO, Idiomatic
From: Buddy Boy

Hey, pal, when I first read your message, it came as a bolt from the blue. I thought maybe you were pulling my chain. You know, I never thought you had that kind of axe to grind. I couldn't see you and the Big Cheese at each other's throats. That would definitely cook your goose.

After reading your message, I wasn't sure you should bury any hatchets but I know you don't like to keep a chip on your shoulder and you're much happier when you clear the air. But I'm here to help you. You won't have to worry about flying by the seat of your pants. I'll bend over backward to help, if you catch my drift.

So, let me give you some food for thought. Before you do anything, don't fly off the handle. Get your sea legs first. Don't get hot under the collar and don't go overboard on this. Keep a low profile for a while, keep your nose clean and keep it to the grindstone. Stay off the record and don't muddy the waters. What I'm saying is put it on the back burner for a while.

I'm not saying you should bury your head in the sand, but Big Cheese could breathe down your neck. Don't drop off the face of the earth but don't say anything that will make you need to eat your words. Get your wires uncrossed. Give yourself some breathing room. Keep it under your hat and all the while keep your eyes peeled. And, for Heaven's sake, it's always a good idea to put your best foot forward.

In the end, you'll be happy you didn't go out on a limb. You don't want to become a thorn in anyone's side. Keep a poker face. Pull your punches for now. This'll be a piece of cake. And, until I hear from you I'll be on pins and needles.