Business English is the expression of our commercial life in English. It is not synonymous with letter writing. To be sure, business letters are important, but they form only a part of one of the two large divisions into which the subject naturally falls. First, there is oral expression, important because so many of our business transactions are conducted personally.
Thousands of salesmen daily move from place to place over the entire country, earning their salaries by talking convincingly of the goods that they have to sell. A still greater number of clerks, salesmen, managers, and officials orally transact business in our shops, stores, offices, and banks.
Complaints are adjusted; difficulties are isentangled; and affairs of magnitude are consummated in personal interviews, the matter under discussion often being thought too important to be entrusted to correspondence. In every business oral English is essential. Second, there is written expression.
This takes account of the writing of advertisements, circulars, booklets, and prospectuses, as well as of letters. And in the preparation of these oral English is fundamental. It precedes and practically includes the written expression.
For example, we say colloquially that a good advertisement “talks.” We mean that the writer has so fully realized the buyer’s point of view that the words of the advertisement seem to speak directly to the reader, arousing his interest or perhaps answer2 STUDY ing his objection.
Oral English is fundamental, too, in the writing of letters, for most letters are dictated and not written. The correspondent talks them to his tenographer or to a recording machine in the same tone, probably, that he would use if the customer were sitting before him. But in taking this point of view, we should not minimize the importance of written business English.
In a way, it is more difficult to write well than it is to talk well. In talking we are not troubled with the problems of correct spelling, proper punctuation, and good paragraphing. We may even repeat somewhat, if only we are persuasive.
But in writing we are confronted with the necessity of putting the best thoughts into the clearest, most concise language, at the same time obeying all the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The business man must be sure of these details in order to know that his letters and advertising matter are correct.
The stenographer, especially, must be thoroughly familiar with them, so that she may correctly transcribe what has been dictated. Business English is uch the same as any other English. It consists in express ion by means of words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Moreover, they are much the same kind of words, sentences, and paragraphs that appear in any book that is written in what is commonly called the literary style. In a business letter the words are largely those of every day use, and but few are technical. It is the manner in which he words are put together, the idea back of the sentence, that makes the difference. Business English calls for business thinking, the development of which is of the utmost importance.
We must know our tools before we can use them, and in business English the tools are right words and sound ideas. We must search for the one and develop the other. Both tasks will be interesting.
There is an exhilaration in the choice of an expressive word and a satisfaction in the workINTERESTING WORDS 3 ing out of an effective idea, but the idea is useless without the word to tell it. There is a power in words, but the power comes only through study. “A word is short and quick, but works a long result; therefore look well to words.’* Thestudy of words is interesting because words themselves are interesting.
Sometimes the interest consists in the story of the derivation. As an example, consider the word italic. Many words in this book are written in italic to draw attention to them. Literally the word means “relating to Italy or its people.” It is now applied to a kind of type in which the letters slope toward the right. The type was called italic because it was dedicated to the states of Italy by the inventor, Manutius, about the year 1500. An unabridged dictionary will tell all about the word.
The word salary tells a curious story. It is derived from a Latin word, salarium, meaning “salt money.’* It was the name of the money that was given to the Roman soldiers for salt, which was a part of their pay. Finally, instead of signifying only the salt money, it came to mean the total day. Practically all of this information a good dictionary gives. In other words, a dictionary is a story book containing not one, but hundreds of thousands of stories.
Whenever possible it tells what language a word cp,me from, how it got its different meanings, and how those meanings have changed in the course of time. For it is natural that words should change just as styles change, names of ancient things being lost and names for new things being made. As the objects themselves have gone out of use, their names have also gone. When a word has gone entirely out of use, it is marked obsolete in the dictionary.
On the other hand, new inventions must be named. Thus new words are constantly being added to the language because they are needed. There is a large class of words that we shall not have 4 WORD STUDY time to consider.
They are called technical. Every profession, business, or trade has its distinctive words. The technical words that a printer would use are entirely different from those which a dentist, a bookkeeper, or a lawyer would use. You will learn the technical terms of your business most thoroughly after you enter it and see the use for such terms.
If a dictionary will give us all of this information, it is evident that it is a book to be respected and studied, for it is by no means ‘dry.” Of course it will do no good to read it unless the words are learned; unless they are spoken and written. There is pleasure in thus employing new material, as everybody knows. Use your eyes and ears. When you hear a new word, or read one, focus the mind upon it for a moment until you can retain a mental picture of its spelling and of its pronunciation.
Then as soon as possible look it up in the dictionary to fix its spelling, pronunciation, and definition. Do this regularly, and you will have reason to be proud of your vocabulary. An excellent way to increase the number of words that you know is to read the right kind of books. The careful study of the words used in the speeches and addresses of noted men is good practice.
The conditions that called forth the speech were probably important, and the speech itself interesting, or it would not be preserved. When a man has an interesting or important message to give, he usually gives it in clear, exact, simple language.
Therefore the vocabulary that he uses is worth copying. As for stories, there is a kind that furnishes a wealth of material that modern authors are constantly using or referring to, and this is found in stories of the Bible, stories of Greek and Northern gods and goddesses, stories of the Iliad, the Odyssey, the jEneid, stories of chivalry all old stories.
Every one should know them well, because they are the basis of many allusions in which a single word oftentimes INTERESTING WORDS suggests a whole story. The meaning of the word herculean, for instance, is missed if you do not know the story of Hercules and know that he was famous for his strength.