Weekly Thoughts


Words Matter 2.0

Here is something that caught our eye this week:

Insights from RBG on word choice

This week, we, like everybody else in the US, have been reading about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  Don’t worry, we aren’t going to jump into the foray of Supreme Court nominations.  We will, however, outline a great RBG story from WNYC’s More Perfect podcast series.  From a talk RGB gave about her 1970’s strategy to provide women legal protections against discrimination:

RBG: You need to persuade men that this is right for society.

JULIA: Part One of her strategy: choose your words carefully.

RBG: I had a secretary at Columbia.  Who said I’m typing these things for you and jumping out all over the page is sex sex sex. [LAUGHS] Don’t you know that the audience you are addressing, the first association of those men with the word sex is not what you’re talking about. [LAUGHS] So why don’t you use a grammar book term.  Use gender.

JULIA: Because you know the word sex has a charge to it.  Gender is cooler.

While there is levity in this story it also provides insight into how the words we choose to use make a difference, not only in the words themselves (as discussed two weeks ago) but also when framing a discussion.  For instance, at one of our businesses, all customers are “guests”.  This is not by accidentwe chose this word deliberately because we want to treat people as “guests” and not just “customers.”  At another business, we don’t have customer service representatives or salespeople.  We have Account Managers who are expected and empowered to handle whatever customer request or issue comes their way without passing it off to anyone else.

For Chenmark, our Portland office is often referred to as “headquarters” or “HQ”, while the companies we acquire are typically called a “portfolio company” or “operating subsidiary”.  We don’t like any of these terms because they create the illusion of a hierarchy that should not exist and lack the essence of the Chenmark culture we are trying to foster.  While we have yet to come up with suitable alternatives, we are trying to channel one RBG lesson: that patient persistence pays off.  Recommendations are welcome.


Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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