Talking Your Way to the Top: Business English That Works


What’s the difference between ambiguous and ambivalent? When is it right to say he and I, and when is him and me correct? What’s the most important part of a voice mail message? What’s the one mistake that’s guaranteed to make an audience fall asleep during your presentation?
Whether you’re the CEO of a conglomerate or an entry-level candidate preparing for an interview, how you speak has an effect on how you’re perceived. Grammar gaffes, incorrect word choices, inappropriate ...

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What’s the difference between ambiguous and ambivalent? When is it right to say he and I, and when is him and me correct? What’s the most important part of a voice mail message? What’s the one mistake that’s guaranteed to make an audience fall asleep during your presentation?
Whether you’re the CEO of a conglomerate or an entry-level candidate preparing for an interview, how you speak has an effect on how you’re perceived. Grammar gaffes, incorrect word choices, inappropriate language, and inarticulate expression can peg you as both uneducated and unsophisticated.
If you’re uncertain about how effectively you speak, business-communications expert Gretchen S. Hirsch has all the answers in this one comprehensive, amusing, and very useful book. Full of on-target tips and easy-to-navigate lists of frequently misused words, Talking Your Way to the Top is a quick, entertaining reference for any businessperson interested in becoming a more interesting and powerful speaker. It teaches you to recognize and avoid noxious nouns, vexing verbs, jarring jargon, wretched redundancies, and execrable euphemisms.
Even better, Hirsch leads you every step of the way on the road to success. She gives you the words you need for job interviews; making contributions at company meetings; asking for more responsibility, promotions, and raises; giving speeches and making presentations; and chatting with your coworkers and potential clients at trade shows, cocktail parties, and company dinners.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, a middle manager, or a seasoned professional, you’ll find Talking Your Way to the Top to be warm, inviting, and sometimes downright amusing as it guides you through the perils and pleasures of the spoken word on your way up the corporate ladder.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is as helpful to a ten year corporate veteran as it is to a recent college graduate. Anyone aspiring to climb the corporate ladder should have Talking Your Way to the Top tucked firmly under his/her arm."
Sanford Livingston Jr., Senior Vice President &
Chief of Staff for Commercial Banking, Wells Fargo

"Exceptional leaders communicate inspiration through their choice of words and authenticity of spirit. They have found their voice. Gretchen Hirsch's book Talking Your Way to the Top provides important communication tools and tips that will enable you to find your voice and wield it wisely."
Kathy Green, President
Executive Coaching Connections, LLC

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591024613
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Gretchen Hirsch (Worthington, OH) is the author of Womanhours: A 21-Day Time Management Plan that Works and the coauthor of Bud Wilkinson: An Intimate Portrait of an American Legend, Helping Gifted Children Soar: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers, and Motivating the Gifted Child. She has contributed articles to Woman’s Day, Redbook, Equal Play, The Science Teacher, and Gifted Child Today, among others. She is a writer for the Office of University Communications at Ohio Wesleyan University and president of Midwest Book Doctors, where she provides editorial consulting services for authors who are preparing manuscripts for submission to agents and editors.

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Read an Excerpt

Talking Your Way to the TOP

Business English That WORKS

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2006 Gretchen S. Hirsch
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-461-3

Chapter One



An occasional mispronunciation is not a capital offense. In fact, those who know the correct pronunciation of a word may be too courteous to tell you if you flub it. However, a string of mispronounced words can make you sound unschooled or lazy, and neither of these is an impression you want to give.

If you've heard a word pronounced several different ways or you're simply unsure of what it should sound like, reach for a dictionary and check out the pronunciation before you use the word. That small act relieves the anxiety of wondering whether you're right, and you immediately speak with more confidence and flair. Most people, even those who appear most knowledgeable, are occasionally surprised to learn they've been pronouncing a word incorrectly, so don't worry about what you've said in the past. Correct it now and continue to apply what you've learned from the dictionary.

As George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, and others have observed, the United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language. For example, Americans say PRY-va-cy, while the British preferPRIV-a-cy. Americans are somewhat divided about herb. Some say urb; others hurb. The British generally prefer the latter. Americans use a LEV-er, while the British use a LEE-ver. In the United States we try to stay on SKED-jool, but our British cousins keep to a SHED-jool. Americans who live in the United States are better off using American pronunciations to avoid being considered pompous and patronizing.

Regionalisms and accents are also sometimes a problem. Talking about "feesh"(fish) or "aigs" (eggs) may be perfectly acceptable in Jackson, Ohio, but the words won't be understandable in Fargo, North Dakota, which has its own group of regional pronunciations. There's nothing wrong with regionalisms, and presidents of the United States have demonstrated that you can rise to the top without losing the accent of the South or the Northeast, but business decision-makers often favor Standard American English, which you'll hear if you listen to national newscasts.

The guide to pronunciation I've compiled here is not what you usually find in a Great Big Dictionary. I've tried to keep things simple. How many of us really know what e sounds like?

Many of the words below-defibrillator and sherbet, for example-are not "business" words; that is, you probably won't use them every day in the office. However, any word you mispronounce in a business setting, from a lunch meeting to a job interview to a presentation to an informal telephone conversation with a customer, becomes a business word that can bite you if you don't use it properly.

Listeners who are in a position to hire you, promote you, recommend you, or buy your products may decide not to if persistent mispronunciations make you sound less intelligent than you are. Your inability to speak without a gaggle of errors in pronunciation may make others question your competence in everything. The promotion may go to someone else. You might not land the account. The company may decide not to hire you. Proper speech alone won't get you where you want to go, but impoverished speech will surely hold you back.


Accessory ak-SESS-o-ry, not a-SESS-o-ry. If you remove the -ory from this word, what's left? Access, not assess. Pronounce access and then add the rest.

Across a-KROSS, not a-KROST. Do you see a t anywhere in this word? Didn't think so. So don't add one when you pronounce it.

Aegis EE-jis, not AY-jis.

Affadavit aff-a-DAY-vit, not Aff-a-DAY-vid. In a moment of madcap caprice, a couple of lawyers might choose to name their son Affa David. But probably not. The last syllable of this word is it. Pronounce it with gusto.

All all, not alls. There's no gray area here; alls is just wrong.

Amphitheater AM-fe-thee-a-ter, not AMP-i-thee-a-ter. Ph equals f.

Analogous a-NAL-e-gus, not a-NAL-e-jus.

Antibiotic an-ti-bye-OT-ik, not an-ti-bee-OT-ik. Aunt Bee belongs in Mayberry, not in your medicine bottle.

Arctic/Antarctic ARK-tik, not ART-ik. Some usage experts may quarrel with this one, and a variety of dictionaries list both. However, many people are adamant about that first hard c. They'll think you're wrong if you omit it, while the people who pronounce the word ART-ik probably won't care if you add it. I'd go with the ARK, just as Noah did.

Ask ask, not ax. An ax is used to chop down a tree, not to request information.

Asterisk ASS-te-risk, not ASS-te-rix or even ASS-terick. The last syllable of this word is risk. There's an old limerick that will help you recall the correct pronunciation. I don't remember all of it, but the final lines are, "Now wasn't she a silly girl her little ass to risk." You'll never forget again, will you?

Athlete ATH-lete, not ATH-a-lete. This word has only two syllables. Don't give it three. The same goes for the word athletic: that word has three syllables, not four.

Arthritis ar-THRI-tis, not ar-thur-I-tis. Arthur may have stiff joints, but this condition wasn't named after him.

Badminton BAD-min-ton, not BAD-mit-ten. When O. J.'s glove didn't fit, the prosecution might have considered it a bad mitten, but badminton is a game played barehanded.

Boutique boo-TEEK, not bow-TEEK. Think Halloween, not Bo Peep.

Business BIZ-nis, not BID-nis, even if you're an auctioneer.

Chamois For reasons defying explanation, this word is pronounced SHAM-ee.

Chaos KAY-oss, not chowss.

Chromosome KRO-mo-sohm, not KRO-mo-sohn.

Comparable KOM-per-a-bul. Put the emphasis on the right syllable. It's not kom-PARE-a-bul even though that's what the word means.

Cole Slaw KOLE slaw, not KO slaw. Old King Cole loved this dish, so picture His Highness with a big fork.

Congratulations kon-gratch-u-LAY-shuns, not kon-grad-uLAY-shuns, even if you're congratulating a graduate.

Coupon KOO-pon, not KYOO-pon.

Crayon KRAY-on, not kran. The only use for kran is as a prefix for berry.

Debris de-BREE, not DEB-ris. Think of a gangster looking for fine French cheese. He says, "Let's go get de brie." So should you.

Decathlon de-KATH-lon, not de-KATH-a-lon. Just as you remove the extra a from athlete, you also remove it from athletic events. The same rule applies to biathlon and pentathlon. You'll probably need to know this only during the Olympics, but you'll be proud of yourself when you get it right and the television sports announcers don't.

Defibrillator de-FIB-rill-ay-ter, not de-FIB-u-lay-ter. The purpose of a defibrillator is to correct fibrillation in the heart, not to keep someone from lying.

Dentist DEN-tist, not DEN-ist. Sound the t in honor of your teeth, which the dentist works hard to keep healthy. Keep the t in dental, too, as well as in rental, gentle, mental, and any other word in which its omission makes you sound negligent.

Deteriorate de-TEER-ee-or-ate, not de-TEER-or-ate. This word has five syllables; pronounce them all.

Deputy DEP-u-tee, not DEP-i-tee. Put the right vowel in the middle of the word, and your local sheriff may let you off with a warning.

Dilate DI-late, not DI-a-late. Don't dilate this word into three syllables.

Diphtheria diff-THEER-i-a, although because the mispronunciation is so common, most dictionaries now allow dip-THEER-i-a as well. However, if you'd like to be on the side of the angels, remember that ph equals f, even in the middle of a word.

Diphthong DIFF-thong. As with diphtheria, dictionaries now also allow DIP-thong, which sounds like a skimpy bathing suit. Same issues. Same angels. Ph equals f-again.

Disastrous di-ZAS-trus, not di-ZAS-ter-us. Although clearly disastrous is related to disaster, this word has only three syllables and no e.

Disconcert dis-kon-SERT, not dis-kon-SERN.

Doctoral DOCK-tor-al, not dock-TOR-al, or even worse, dock-TOR-i-al. When you say the word doctor, you emphasize the first syllable. Do the same with this adjective, and remember it has only three syllables.

Doesn't DUZZ-ent, not DUDD-nt. Out here at the Lazy S Ranch, we often substitute d for s, but you shouldn't. Other common words that fall prey to this substitution are IDD-nt (isn't) and WUDD-nt (wasn't); all of them sound as if you're just too tired to open your mouth, and that duddn't make a good impression

Duct Tape dukt, not duck. Although there is a trademarked product called Duck Tape, unless you are buying this brand, it's duct tape. You use it to fix everything but waterfowl.

Ecstatic ek-STAT-ik, not ess-STAT-ik. Pronounce the c in this word as a k, not an s.

Electoral e-LECK-tor-al, not e-leck-TOR-al or e-leckTOR-i-al. We hold elections and elect candidates, and the accent is always on the second syllable. Follow the same rule here, no matter how often you hear it mispronounced in the media. Leave out the extra syllable, too.

Environment en-VYE-run-ment, not en-VYE-er-ment. Be sure to include the n before the m in this word.

Epitome e-PIT-o-mee, not EP-i-tohm.

Error AIR-ur, not air. This word has two syllables; they're both important, so pronounce each of them.

Escape ess-CAPE, not ex-CAPE. An ex-cape is something Superman donates to charity.

Especially e-SPESH-al-ly, not ex-PESH-al-ly. No k, no x. Pronounce the s instead. That's why it's there.

Espresso es-PRESS-so, not ex-PRESS-o, even if you want it really, really fast.

Et cetera et SETT-er-a, not ex SETT-er-a. The first syllable is et, pronounced, not surprisingly, et.

Familiar fa-MILL-yer, not fur-MILL-yer. Animal lovers will throw paint on you if pronounce the first syllable in this word fur.

Fifth fifth, not fith. Looking closely, you'll see two f's in the word-pronounce them both.

Film film, not FILL-um. One syllable only.

Florida FLOR-i-da. This state name has three syllables. Don't pronounce it FLOR-da.

Formidable FORM-id-a-bul, not for-MID-a-bul. The preferred pronunciation may be going the way of the dodo, but for now it's still the one to use.

Genuine JENN-u-winn, not JENN-u-wine. You're playing tennis with your friend, Jennifer. She beats you 6-2, 6-4. You say, "Jen, you win," and that's exactly how this word is pronounced.

Grievous GREE-vus, not GREE-vee-us. This word has two syllables, not three. It's typical of a group of words, such as mischievous and intravenous, that have been modified by the unnecessary addition of a syllable.

Height hite, not hiteth. Other measurement words, such as width and depth, end in th, but height doesn't. Pronounce the final t and be done with it.

Heinous HAY-nuss; not HIGH-nuss; not HINE-ee-us, which sounds like someone's backside, and certainly not HEE-nee-us, which sounds as if you might find it in a zoo.

Hierarchy HI-er-ark-y, not HI-ark-y. A hierarchy climbs higher and higher. Make sure the word higher is part of your pronunciation of this word.

Huge Hyooj, not yooj. Pronounce the h in this word. Do the same when you pronounce hue, human, humble, humid, humor, and humongous.

Hundred HUNN-dred, not HUNN-durd or HUNN-erd. It's dreadful if you don't say hundred correctly.

Hyperbole hy-PER-ba-lee, not HY-per-bowl. The second pronunciation sounds like the Big Game on steroids-and surely there are no steroids in sports.

Hypnotize HIPP-no-tize, not HIPP-mo-tize. Most people pronounce hypnosis correctly, but many stumble over the verb form. Remember that the second syllable is no, as in, "No, I can't be hypnotized."


Excerpted from Talking Your Way to the TOP by GRETCHEN S. HIRSCH Copyright © 2006 by Gretchen S. Hirsch. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


PART ONE: KEEPING YOUR FOOT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH: THE BASICS 1. What Did You Say? Common Mispronunciations...........................................19
2. The Wrong Word at the Wrong Time.....................................................37
3. De-mangling Common Expressions and De-dangling Modifiers.............................89
4. Pronouns, Mood Swings, and Finding Your Voice........................................97
PART TWO: SOUNDING SMART AT WORK 5. Say What You Mean....................................................................113
6. Eliminating Flabspeak................................................................143
7. I Really Want the Job: Sounding Smart in Interviews..................................159
8. Do I Have to Go? Sounding Smart in Meetings..........................................189
9. In the Office: Sounding Smart Every Day..............................................217
10. Sounding Smart in Public: Speech, Panels, and Media Appearances.....................235
PART THREE: TYING IT UP 11. Sounding Smart Wherever You Are.....................................................281
12. The Top: How Leaders Speak..........................................................291
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