Wednesday 10 May 2000


Pic of the day: For some people, it just flows naturally.

Verbal inflation

Reading the April issue of Psychology Today, I noticed a full-page advertisement.

"Acquire a powerful vocabulary that catapults you into the top 5% of all educated adults - the most successful, highest-earning people!"

At this point, my sense of humor spontaneously ignited, and the rest of the text just threw fuel on my fire. The thing looks like a good idea: People judge you by the words you use. So if you have an enhanced, expanded and extended vocabulary - AND know how to use it - people will assume that you are competent. And now you can get just that kind of vocabulary, just by listening to audio tapes. (If you had already been one of those top 5%, you would presumably use CDs or minidiscs instead, but then again you would not have needed this.) "All you have to do is listen!"

Heh. Verily I say unto y'all: Heh. Let's estimate that 90% of adults are literate enough to even understand the ad. (I'm not sure what the rate of functional literacy is in the USA, which is the main market, but this should not be totally off the playing field.) Let us exclude those who are already in the top 5%, this leaves 85% potential customers. If they all did the obvious thing and ordered the audio tapes, then within some months 90% of the population would be in the top 5%, while 10% would share the remaining 95%. Eh. Somehow I don't think this would work. (Reductio ad absurdum.) Catapulting the population into the top 5% seems to be even more difficult than making sure that all earn above average, as one politician once wanted.

A fool and his gold has a hectic, but short relationship.

Now let us examine the offer on a more individual level. Why exactly is it that the "top 5% of all educated adults - the most successful, highest-earning people" have this powerful vocabulary? A likely explanation would be their education. Does this have any other effects, apart from augmenting and amplifying their resources of speech? Yes, presumably it also imparts various useful information within their chosen fields. A historian will probably also have soaked up some info on history. A civil engineer may not have learned civility, but at least engineering. An economist will be able to recognize connections within economic systems, such as a company or a state. And so on. Does this come in handy in their jobs? I would be so bold as to say, usually yes!

Now that you have acquired a Harvard graduate's vocabulary, does this mean that you have also acquired the corresponding degree? No, and I assume that most corporations and governments do ask, politely but still very insistently, that you document your education before they catapult you into the top 5%, the highest-earning jobs. Sorry about that.

But let us take one step further, and assume that your speech has so riveted the CEO that you are instantly and with all due respect placed in a well paid position. Now, for the tricky part: To actually do the job you don't know a clod about. It is safe to assume that this would prove to be the most humiliating experience in your life after the time you stopped using diapers too early. Even in jobs that don't seem to require much between the ears, such as personnel management, there are certain rules of the trade; without these, you will stand out like a boy in the girls' shower. And no amount of perfectly enunciated speech (whatever enunciated means) will save your hide.

But hey, give it a try. If you're not catapulted within 30 days, you will supposedly get your money back from Verbal Advantage.


Of course, there is the catch: "Just listen." If a fool could just listen, he would become wise.

Hypochondria watch: Left sinus this evening.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago

Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.

I welcome e-mail:
Back to my home page.