Friday, August 26, 2011

Around the Word

Literary survival kit: As New Yorkers, we are more used to asking what to wear than how to prepare for hurricanes and earthquakes. So to help you in your disaster planning, and get you in the right mindset for Irene's arrival, the New Yorker has profiled six shorts to read during a hurricane -- a mix of essays, poems, short stories, and novels, by writers including Sylvia Plath, Joseph Conrad, and Jack Kerouac.

Now that's a moving speech: Of all the funny tweets and stories we have seen in the wake of this week's East Coast quake, our favorite was this one relayed by our friend David Murray at Vital Speeches from freelance scribe Emerson Moran. "At 1:49 p.m. client texted me from DC that her speech received a standing ovation," Moran posted on Facebook. "Earthquake hit at 1:51. You do the math... my rates are going up.'"

Winning one-liners: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, is in full swing, and one of our favorite events is the quick-fire joke competition. This year's winner was comedian Nick Helm, who came up with this enchanting nugget on the spot: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The runner-up was previous champion, Tim Vine, for this rib-tickler: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many levels." Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels took home the honor for the worst joke of the competition with this doozy: "I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No there's an H an E an L and N and a Y.'" For a list of the Top 10 jokes, check out this write-up of the funny festivities in the Daily Mail.

Speaking of funny contests. . . . We're always eager to clue you in on upcoming literary events and competitions, but we especially like to plug one of our own. In memory of his late mother, Brad Schreiber has created the Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction and Non-Fiction. Mona Schreiber taught creative writing for San Mateo County and published numerous humorous articles and essays in newspapers and magazines. The contest, currently in its 11th year, challenges participants to submit humorous, double-spaced works up to 750 characters in length. "Writers of comedic essays, articles, short stories, poetry, shopping lists, ransom notes, and other forms are invited to submit." There is a $500 prize for 1st place, $250 for 2nd, and $100 for 3rd. We encourage anyone with an unorthodox sense of humor to participate and help Brad keep his mother's memory alive. For more info, go to Brad's website.

A new take on old PowerPoint rules: Gotham friend Brad Phillips has a smart new post on Ragan challenging a number of shibboleths about PowerPoint use including the Holy Grail of rules: "One slide per minute." The problem with that standard, Phillips argues, is that it "says nothing about how much information should appear on a slide. . . Since [speakers] present only one slide per minute, they deceive themselves into thinking they've produced a good presentation when, in fact, they've only created a cluttered mess." Additionally, looking at 60 slides a hour can be quite tiring for audiences -- "If I wanted to be put to sleep I'd take an Ambien or watch a PBS documentary," Phillips says. So what's a presenter to do? Phillips suggests reinforcing your point with images instead of a laundry list of bullet points, checking to see whether each new slide reinforces the concept, and determining whether there's a more compelling -- less electronically dependent way -- for you to deliver your message.

Worth tweeting: The Huffington Post reports that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the most popular in the United States, has added dozens of entries for the first time since 2009. "Social media" and "tweet," terms whose addition is reflective of the continuous evolution in our era's communications, are just two of 150 new words gracing the pages. Additions also include "bromance," "helicopter parent," and "robocall." The standard-settings at M-W are said to pick new entries after monitoring their use for several years and tallying their prevalence in mainstream and media outlets. Peter Sokolowski, Merriam's editor at large, explains: "Even if people had no interest or possible chance of getting a twitter themselves, they now have to know what 'tweet' means, and that's why it's in the dictionary."

Sexist summer reading? President Obama recently released his summer reading list, and his gender-imbalanced selections have some critics asking why he doesn't read more women. His latest list is about 70% male and an analysis of all books he's mentioned since becoming President in 2008 is a 23-to-1 blowout in favor of men. "It is a well know fact among those of us to whom this matters that while women read books written by men, men do not tend to reciprocate," writes Salon columnist Robin Black. While Black acknowledges that Obama probably isn't trying to endorse or perpetuate this trend, she does suggest he pay a bit more attention to his behavior -- ". . . . especially as a father of daughters who might enjoy and even be inspired by seeing their father cart around a book with a woman's name writ large." What do you think? Fair game? Or overblown carping?

iContact: If you've ever wondered just how important making eye contact is while public speaking, then you might want to check out the latest post from the Eloquent Woman for the rationale behind the axiom. Turns out eye contact is all it's cracked up to be, and research shows that looking away from your audience signals avoidance while looking at them signals approach, the latter which audiences rate highly. Eye contact, though, must be used wisely and well, EW advises. For example, be sure to look at all sections of the room as well as directly at individuals. Plan ahead for cultural concerns, as certain non-western cultures in particular, can find prolonged contact provocative, and remember, video practice makes perfect. "Like any form of gesturing--and that's what moving eyes are-- you need to have intentional, rather than unintentional moves. Even the simplest video camera can help you see what others see -- before your speech."

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