Strike Those Common Errors from Your Speeches
Let’s face it. The real reason we engineers and scientists do not get English degrees is that we are more comfortable with numbers than we are with words. There is no doubt the efforts of engineers and scientists over a number of centuries have brought us to our present wonderful standard of living.
However, think about what would have happened if Madame Curie who discovered radium or if Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone or if Marconi who pioneered the wireless radio had not properly communicated the value of X-rays, the telephone, and wireless radio. Would we be at the state of technology we are now. Maybe, maybe not.
As proud I am to be an engineer, our ability to speak and write correctly will have a profound effect on our success in all areas of our lives. Earl Nightingale in his program, Lead the Field, said, “A person may dress in the latest fashion and present a very attractive appearance. But the minute he or she opens his or her mouth and begins to speak, he or she proclaims to the world his or her level on the socio-economic pyramid.” It’s true.
The way we speak tells others where we fit in society and whether others should listen to what we say. In addition to being an engineer, I am a speaker and writer. I have to admit; high school English was not my favorite subject. However, as I have matured over my adult life, I rely ever-increasingly on my ability to write and speak well. In fact, in my observation, writing and speaking well is the most portable job skill you can have. Every occupation requires varying amounts of writing and speaking in addition to influencing others.
A book I read a number of years ago was an informative and surprisingly interesting one on proper English usage. The book, entitled, You Don’t Say! by Dr. Tom Parks, highlights the top ten mistakes people make in speech and writing. Space precludes me telling you the full ten; however, I will briefly describe three of these mistakes of English usage and how to correct them as Dr. Parks has outlined them.
“You” and “I”, “You” and “Me”
Suppose you are going to take a cab to the airport for a business trip. You are going on the business trip with a colleague. Let’s call him Doug. You might say to your spouse, “Honey, a cab will take Doug and I to the airport.” If you were the only one taking the cab to the airport, you would probably say, “Honey, a cab will take me to the airport.” Now in one sentence you used “I” and in another sentence you used “me.” Which one is correct? The sentence using “me” is correct. The sentence using “I” is incorrect. Adding Doug to the sentence does not change the status of the pronoun “me.” The correct way to say the first sentence would be, “Honey, a cab will take Doug and me to the airport.”
“Who” and “Whom”
Who has not agonized over these two English language gems? These words have competed for inclusion in sentences for as far as I can remember. I have to tell you, I still got them confused before reading Dr. Parks’ book. In a nutshell, “who” is the correct word to use if the word used is referring to the one who acts such as, “Who did they think would win the game?” In this sentence the word “who” is referring to who was winning the game (the one who acts).
It is correct to use “whom” if this word refers to the one who is acted upon such as in, “Give the book to which whom you choose.” In this sentence, “whom” is receiving the book (the one who is acted upon).
Remember, “who” is used for the one who acts and “whom” is used for the one who is acted upon.
“Everybody” is not plural.
At face value you would probably say the sentence, “Everybody brought their own umbrella,” is correct. However, if you did, you would be violating the English grammar rule of subject – object number agreement. The word “everybody” means every single body, not all-single bodies. The problem with this sentence is the word “everybody” is singular while the word “their” is plural.
In the sentence, the subject, “everybody,” and the object, “their,” must both be either singular or both be plural since they refer to the same person(s). Therefore, the correct form of the sentence would be, “Everybody brought his or her own umbrella.” Correct speaking separates the “haves” and the “have-nots” in this world.
The next time you speak, ensure you broadcast to the world you know proper English usage. Proper English is a necessary part of your public speaking and direct contributes to whether you influence your audience or not.