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Batter Up!
It’s baseball season. At this time every year, I get excited for two reasons. I love baseball and it means, the weather gods permitting, Spring is just around the corner.
It also means that while batters may be slugging the ball around the outfield, they are regularly clubbing the heck out of the English language.
Here are just three instances for your enlightenment.

  • Anxious vs. Eager
  • The Future Ahead
  • Masterful Malapropisms

Ready or Not, Here I come?

At the start of every baseball season, I can predict with an absolute degree of certainty that before any team breaks Spring Training, some player, during some random interview will confidently say the following, “We have a great team with a great bunch of talented guys. I think this team has what it takes to win. I am anxious to get the season started.”

Everything that player is saying is all real positive, right up until the end. Every sentiment expressed about his team, its members and their prospect for the season is all positive. And, if that is the case, then why is he “anxious” to start the season.

Most likely he speaks this way because he just does not know the difference between the words “anxious” and “eager”. He is not alone. Unfortunately, in the battle of Anxious v. Eager, anxious almost always wins. This is simply because most people don’t know how to, or even more sadly don’t care to, correctly use these two words. Here’s why this is important.

In his book, “Leadership Is an Art”, Max De Pree puts it this way, that a leader must have “…a respect for the English language, an acknowledgement that muddy language usually means muddy thinking and that our audience may need something special from us.”

In the speaking world we characterize this as “saying what you mean and meaning what you say”.

In her fantastic grammar reference book “Woe Is I”, Patricia T. O’Conner explains that “you can be eager to do something” or you can be “anxious about doing something” but you cannot be both. I use this rule: use “eager” when you are feeling positive or looking forward to the experience and use “anxious” when you are uncertain or have anxiety about the experience.

For instance, “I am eager to go on vacation, but anxious about flying.”

The difference may appear to be subtle to you, but to the listener it clearly indicates a specific state of mind. One of the primary functions of language is to create higher levels of understanding.

As a leader and speaker this is your primary goal.

Meanwhile Back in the Booth

Baseball has a rich tradition of colorful language from Dizzy Dean to Yogi Berra. Who cannot help but chuckle at Yogi’s comment about a popular nightspot when he said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Whether Yogi intended to solicit a laugh or not, his unique way of speaking made him an adept practitioner of the fine balance between humor and accurate language. Here’s another, “It gets late, early there.” It causes us to think a bit and then “get it” after we parse the sentence.

But, unlike Yogi, today’s sportscasters (impromptu speakers) are required to banter back and forth hurling random superlatives in a verbal game of “pepper”. Sometimes what comes out of their mouths is verbally redundant chatter. Among my favorites is, “He’s a really fantastic player whose future is right in front of him.” Where else would it be? Certainly not right behind him. We call that the past. And, while “past may be prologue”, it can never be the future. Or as Yogi once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be”.

Masterful Malapropisms

It’s been said, “You are what you eat.” In truth, you are what you say or what people think they heard you say. Sometimes we mean to say one word and another similar sounding word comes out in its place. This is called a malapropism. The term 'Malapropism' is derived from the French term mal a propos, which translates as 'ill to purpose'.

Once, Danny Ozark, who managed the Philadelphia Phillies was asked about one of his outfielders and he replied, “His limitations are limitless”.

Back in the 80’s, the TV character Archie Bunker from All in the Family, would utter malapropisms at an alarming rate. Here are a few. "Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios." And, "A woman doctor is only good for women’s problems…like your groinocology." Or my favorite, "A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor."

If humor is your intent, a good malapropism can go a long way as long as you’re willing to have your audience laugh at your self-deprecating use of language.

But if your goal is to lead and inspire people by delivering precisely chosen words of high impact and value, you would do well to head Mark Twains’ advice (from the top of this blog) about the difference between the right word and the almost right word.

Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice and a speaker who confuses their audience with incorrect word selection will rarely get a chance to do it more than once as well.

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To Your Speaking Success,
The Speech Wiz