Plain Words
Training Bulletin
issue 6

Web Site Home

Back issues

Editor Recommends:

The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod

Training Bulletin Issue 6

Welcome to the sixth issue of The Training Bulletin. In this issue, with the help of Lewis Carroll, we discuss how words can be misinterpreted. And, if you’ve ever been lost for words, check out Editor Recommends.

‘Sprawling, galumphing design lacks deference to brilliant predecessors’

In a recent article, John Glancey, The Guardian’s architecture critic, described the design of a new hospital by Quinlan Terry as ‘galumphing’ – a word that has its origins in Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky, from ‘Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There’.

If you’ve read the poem you’ll know that it’s full of ‘nonsense’ words that somehow seem to make sense. It starts like this…

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

In fact, the words are not nonsense at all. The reason why we understand them is because they are in fact a combination of two meanings in one word – known as portmanteau words. For example, ‘slithy’ is a combination of lithe and slimy; ‘mimsy’ is flimsy and miserable; and the famous ‘galumphing’ is a blend of gallop and triumph. So, although the words appear to be nonsense, Carroll has very cleverly suggested a meaning to us.

But sometimes it’s dangerous to use words that are suggestive rather than explicit in their meaning. Look at Glancey’s use of the word galumphing. According to most dictionaries, galumphing means moving about or behaving in an awkward manner, which we can assume is what Glancey meant when he said:

“Where the original building (1682-92), is a stately soldier, upright and smartly turned out in a coat of neatly regimented red bricks, Terry’s is a galumphing dowager duchess decked up in all her finery for a gala ball.”

But, in Carroll’s poem galumphing describes the galloping and triumphant return of the boy who killed the monstrous Jabberwock:

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

With this interpretation, Glancey’s comment is anything but a criticism.

Unless you’re a critic – or Prince Charles – you probably don’t often get the chance to express your opinions in such colourful words. But there are plenty of occasions in business where you are required to express your opinion to influence a decision or cause a favourable reaction.

For example, when writing a business case, it’s important that both the facts and figures and your business reasons are not misinterpreted; your words need to influence others to adopt your suggestion. When trying to diffuse a potentially damaging situation – such as answering a letter of complaint – you need to be tactful and diplomatic, especially when you disagree. If you don’t choose your words carefully, your response may be misinterpreted and it could inflame the situation – in fact, the opposite of what you intended.

In both these examples, achieving the right outcome depends largely on choosing the right words. Learn how to express yourself clearly, elegantly and persuasively and you'll achieve the reaction you want.

“Writing a Compelling Business Case” is at http://www.plainwords.co.uk/co_business_cases.html

“Effective Business Writing” is at http://www.plainwords.co.uk/co_effective_business_writing_day.html

“Structuring & Writing Reports” is at http://www.plainwords.co.uk/co_reports.html

Editor recommends

If reading the main article in this bulletin has inspired you to find some more unusual words, you might like to try The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod (published by Penguin, available from Amazon for 6.00).

Sometimes, words from different languages can articulate thoughts that are on the tip of our tongue. How about the Indonesia word ‘neko-neko’, which means ‘one who has a creative idea that only makes things worse’ or ‘ataoso’, Central American Spanish for ‘one who sees problems with everything’? By the way, if you’re wondering, ‘tingo’ in Easter Island means ‘to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by asking to borrow them’.

Public course schedule

The price is £425 + VAT per person for a one-day intensive course and £795 + VAT for a two-day workshop.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call 01635 202013 for details.

To book, call Abi on 01635 202013 ext 28 or use the booking form.