Pay Attention to the Words

One of the most famous lines in U. S. history was delivered by Franklin Roosevelt in his Declaration of War speech the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He began the speech with, "This is a date that will live in infamy."  The line originally read, "a day which will live in world history."  Roosevelt crossed out "world history" and replaced it with "infamy."  The changed word made all the difference in making it memorable.

  Don't use words carelessly. I admire the wordsmith who can find just the right word to express an idea. Last summer on an Empire Builder rail vacation across country, I asked the server how long he had been a waiter on the train and his response was, "25 years—a summer job run amuck."  What a great word—"amuck." 

  When someone asked a sales person why an item was so expensive, the woman replied, "Let me explain the value of this product to you."  Rita Rudner, tongue in cheek, said, "The word aerobics came about when the gym teachers got together and said, ‘If we're going to charge $10 [probably $35 today] an hour, we can't call it "jumping up and down.'"" 

  Pay attention to the words you speak. Think about words before you speak them. Is there a better way of saying this?  Listen to words others use that explain an idea better than you could have. Are these words I can use in my speaking and writing vocabulary?  Subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s online “Word of the Day.”  One word recently was "spurious," a word I had not often heard, but a clever way to say an action is not genuine. Even if you find the word that day is not of value to you, this discipline will remind you to focus on the words you use.

  Four years ago a movie was made that lasted only briefly in major theatres. But the title may have been one of the best titles for a movie because in four words you got the essence of the entire movie:  "Snakes on a Plane."  Of course that title told me that this was a movie I did not want to see!  As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."    


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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