Monday, October 25, 2010

Around the Word

From old-school rhetorical techniques to new software innovations, we're starting off the week with a roundup of tools that can help you communicate better:

As a public speaker, every aspect of your presentation sends a message—down to the shape of your vowels and consonants. In the New York Times, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert discusses our unconscious reactions to numbers and sounds, such as the round b that makes those greenback "bucks" sound so desirable, or the fricatives (such as the slithery s) that make a "hiss" or a "whisper" sound small. Gilbert cites a recent study in which volunteers were shown ads for ice cream priced at $7.22 and $7.66—an obvious choice, until the customers were asked to say the prices aloud (or even repeat them mentally). The "silky" fricatives of "sixty-six" appealed to consumers more—44 cents more—than the "rattling" t's of "twenty-two," Gilbert notes. What's more, the effects correspond in other languages.
For some subliminal message management, public speakers might try plying those stops (b, d, t) or back vowels (the /u/ in "goose") to convey the "bigness" of their topic, while relegating opposition to the front vowels (long a, e, i) and fricatives like f, s, and z. Have you uncovered any other word-voodoo recently?

App attack! From monitoring your output to tracking your research to—yes—typing in your own script, the (new) adage proves true: there IS an app for that. Here are a few digital tools that came to our attention this weekend.
  • Thou Shalt Wright Every Day, goes the age-old commandment. A new app,, aims to help you keep the covenant by providing a platform for composing one page of text each day. Simply sign into the "web typewriter" with your Google or Twitter account—no registration necessary—and write. Proclaims the website, "You are free from the tyranny of the infinite page." The app might be a helpmate for prospective novelists looking to write their opus for November's National Novel Writing Month. Go forth and be prolific!
  • Scrivener, a program produced by Literature & Latte, is designed to aid writers in composing and organizing long-form or research-heavy projects. Tack your notes to a virtual corkboard or track themes and sources through the program's interface. Unfortunately, it's Mac-exclusive for now; read the New York Times review here.
  • Do you miss the intimacy of handwritten notes? (Do you even remember what your handwriting looks like?) Geek Sugar reports on Pilot, an app that lets you type in your own handwriting by uploading samples via webcam. The app processes each letter and can stitch together an elegant cursive script.

Some reviews require nuance. Others books, GalleyCat points out, can be summed up in a single zinger. At Jezebel, a well-crafted headline tells us everything we need to know about "Jersey Shore" star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's upcoming release—it's "The Literary Equivalent Of An Ed Hardy Tee." Lest you remain unconvinced, the bemused review offers this Situation-issued wisdom: "No matter what T-shirt you select, whether it's fitted, graphic, sequined, bedazzled, crew-neck, deep-V, wifebeater, or what-have-you, it's about being proud of who you are."

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