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American business journalist and thinker Henry Hazlitt once wrote:

“A man with a scant vocabulary will most certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”

Words are wonderful.

They are much more useful in business than they get credit for — particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in our technology hegemonous world. Sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication-words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern woman or man. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, WTF, etc).

This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, entrepreneurial business development, which was the specialty of my former executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are more well-educated, thoughtful people, trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.

Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.

This does not mean to pepper your business conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of entrepreneurial conversations. (Also, by using new words, I actually learn them).

Last week one of my friends asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight. As Woody Allen puts it, “I call him a sadistic, hippophilic, necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”

Thanks Woody.

4 Responses to “Vocabulary in a Time of Hegemonous Technology”
  1. Richard Hunter says:

    I notice, and after your previous article, you first used the words “former” in reference to CRI. That had to have been a melancholic pause in your writing. And the day Tim writes something where I don’t have to have a window open on the screen with the dictionary, to quote a great blogger “Nah”; it ain’t gonna happen.

  2. Michael Drapkin says:

    “fustian “ No Tim Askew essay would be complete without at least one trip to the dictionary

  3. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Going on to whatever is next is indeed a melancholy process, Richard. Particularly when I just need to sit still for a while. Thank you for your close reading and sensitivity. As always.


  4. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    You’re a uniquely funny man, Michael Drapkin. Thanks for comment, as always.


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