February 2014  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.

—Jules Renard

Word Pair of the Month: alternative, alternate

The meanings of these two words are similar, both referring to a choice or change of some kind. Take a closer look, however, at the specific ways each word is used.

Alternative is used as either a noun or an adjective and refers to a choice between two or more things.

  • Noun: He was given the alternative of a larger office or a closer parking spot.
  • Adjective: The company offers its workers three alternative health-care plans.

Alternate is also used as either a noun or an adjective, but it can be a verb as well.

  • Noun: Alternate refers to a person or thing that can substitute for another.

    The leading role was played by an alternate, who did an excellent job.

  • Adjective: Alternate suggests a choice between two items; it can also mean “every other.”

    Since the road is flooded, we’ll have to take an alternate route. The nursing assistants must work on alternate weekends.

  • Verb: Alternate means “to take turns.”

    The doctor said to alternate heat and ice treatments for the sprain.

Note: The noun and adjective forms of alternate are pronounced ALL-ter-nət, with an “uh” sound in the last syllable. The verb form is pronounced ALL-ter-nate, with a long “a” sound in the last syllable.

February Writers’ Forum Question

Our language keeps changing, with new terms appearing regularly. What words have appeared recently that you particularly like (or particularly dislike)?

Kristin Hammer of Charleston, South Carolina, has a definite view on one particular phrase:

I am sick of the phrase “double down.” It’s a gambling term, and I dislike its use in business, giving an image of gambling, chance, and excitement. Stop trying to make business sexy, people!

Along a similar vein, Ajit Bhagat of Chicago eschews the trendy:

Please, please, please stop using teen buzzwords in business communications! If you tell me your product is “awesome,” I get an image of some gum-chewing kid, and it cools my interest in your security system or printer. And that goes double for meaningless teen jargon like “cray” or, worse, “cray cray.” I get it, you want to appear modern. But use real words and solid information to sell me, not kiddie vernacular.

Lisa McCracken of Atlanta complains about strange or new acronyms:

The thing that bugs me most is the word “YOLO” (you only live once). If one more sales rep uses it to try to sell me something I don’t really need, I am going to scream.

Grant Yu of Boston dislikes overused words:

If I never heard the word “transparency” again, I would not mind a bit. I understand it’s really a good word, but I am simply tired of it. What happened to “honesty” and “clarity” as definitions of good business practice?

Finally, we heard from John Lopez of Albuquerque:

Stop “infusing” everything. I don’t want to hear any more words ending with “-infused,” whether it’s with vitamins, flavor, or energy. It’s just such a phony, pretentious word. In fact, I hate any of those inflated words. Let’s go back to simple, clear language that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is.

Every year, it seems, new words crop up or old words take on new meanings. While that’s what makes English a living language, it goes without saying that we ought to avoid trendy language in our business correspondence.

A Final Thought

If you are an expert in a particular field, why not share that expertise in writing? Consider submitting an article or a regular column (unpaid) to the local newspaper, offering hints or advice. If your product or service is significantly important to a certain group, share your knowledge with their clubs, fraternal organizations, or schools, providing written information about the topic. Connecting your name with real service in the community is a rewarding way to advance your business.

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