January 2004
Issue 1
Volume 9

In This Issue

You Say CAFO. I Say Farm.
Transferring Calls Is Not Always the Best Option
Grammar Trap: Comma vs. Semicolon (Before “However”)

You Say CAFO. I Say Farm.

Every industry, organization, and club is full of them. Those within the inner circle quote them with relish. They laugh and argue about them, while outsiders might as well be listening to a foreign language.

These are the words, phrases, and acronyms that mean nothing—or something entirely different—to persons outside a particular group. Neither agriculture nor academia is immune to the lure of jargon.

What Is Jargon?

One example is the word “producer,” which has commonly replaced the word “farmer” in the ag community. Say “producer” to TV reporters, and they are going to think of the guy back at the station who puts together the nightly newscast. “Extension," a vital land-grant institution, might have more meaning to others as a way to describe a ladder.

When composing news releases, power-point slides, speeches, and other communications, think about those who will hear or see the messages. Are you talking to people who know and use your jargon? If not, use words that best resonate with the audience.

“Hog,” “swine,” “gilt,” and “boar” all refer to what most people call “pigs.” The term “A.I.” may be used in certain circles, but if talking to fourth graders or homemakers or legislators, you might use the word “breeding” to describe the activity.

It Still Tastes Like Tuna

While most will understand “farm,” the term “confined-feeding operation,” or “CAFO,” may have little meaning to the general public and could conjure unpleasant images. Think about “genetically modified organism” or “GMO.” Does it sound appetizing, safe, or common? While all could be true, using the phrase without explaining it could leave listeners with visions of “little mutant green things.”

Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable with a phrase, such as “genetically modified organism,” we might be tempted to call it by another name to calm their fears. That doesn't work. Changing the vernacular to hide meaning is dishonest and will promote distrust.

Once, to get my seven-year old son to try tuna fish casserole, I called it “Chicken of the Sea casserole.” Of course one bite later, he was spitting it out and thinking some rather unpleasant things about his mom.

As communicators and educators we should strive to use clear, concise, and common language. Using terms familiar to the audience is not speaking down to them. It is the way we communicate.

Beth Forbes [ forbes@purdue.edu ]

Transferring Calls Is Not Always the Best Option

Our office, Ag Comm-MDC, deals with many telephone calls and requests every day. Being eager to help a caller can lead to misguided efforts that may cause more problems than would have resulted from not helping at all.

Sometimes when dealing with a busy phone, you can get ahead of yourself and not really listen to the caller's request.

Have you ever picked up your phone and identified yourself, only to have the caller say “Oops, I thought I was being transferred to (for instance) human resources.” So, to make sure the caller is promptly taken care of, you transfer them, and hang up as soon as the extension begins to ring.

Okay, so you’re feeling great that you handled the customer’s request quickly.

About five minutes later, though, your phone rings again, and it’s the same caller. She sounds really exasperated. “First someone transferred me to you. Then you transferred me to human resources, and nobody answered. Please don't transfer me again. I'm just trying to find out your company address.”

This shows how you can be so eager to help that, in fact, you don’t help callers at all. Instead of hurrying to transfer callers to an area they do not want, try asking if there is some way you could be of assistance.

Often when you extend an offer to help, you’ll discover the callers would best be served by talking to you.

The few moments you take with callers the first time they reach you will save you time in the long run. And callers will not feel the frustration of being bounced around—and around—and around.

Paula Dillard [ dillardp@purdue.edu ]

Grammar Trap: Comma vs. Semicolon (Before “However”)

In some sentences, the adverb “however” should have commas both before and after. That’s the case, for example, when you're using the word as an interjection to mean “nevertheless.”

Example: I cannot permit myself, however, to miss those kinds of mistakes.

In some sentences, though, “however” needs a semicolon before and a comma after. That’s the case when you are using it as a conjunctive adverb to link two independent clauses in a compound sentence.

Example: I strive to do my best at the thankless job of being an editor; however, I sometimes miss writers' mistakes.

Tip: When you're using “however” in the middle of a sentence, look both ways. If the words on both sides of “however” can stand alone as sentences (as in my second example), put a semicolon before the word and a comma after. If they can't (as in my first example), put commas both fore and aft. Do you have a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like to see discussed? Do you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one? If so, please let me know.

Visit our archive for past "Grammar Traps."

Laura Hoelscher [ email ]

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