Rosky Legal Education

Thanksgiving is nearly here. If you’ll be out of pocket over the holiday weekend, be sure your colleagues keep you in the loop. They could be considering a Hail Mary pass, and you don’t want them going off the reservation.  

If this advice sounds like perfectly acceptable office-speak to you, read on for a global reality check. If this advice makes no sense to you, rest assured that you are not clueless—you’re just not fluent in American office-ese.

Happy Thanksgiving, or perhaps I should say, Happy American holiday in which we overeat turkey with family and give thanks before shopping.

Til the next tip!
Dianne Rosky

Talking Turkey: Mind Your Metaphors

Here’s a thought: While those of us in the U.S. are preparing for the turkey-fest that’s Thanksgiving, this Thursday is just another weekday in the rest of the world.

And, to use a cliché that’s probably understood worldwide, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cultural references Americans take for granted. In the conference room, in emails, and even in more formal documents, we sometimes toss around references likely to be confounding, if not downright mysterious, to colleagues and clients from other countries.

That’s understandable, but with so much business taking place on a global stage, you need to think about what’s right for your audience. A newsletter like this—yes, with readers from around the world—shouldn’t use Americanized lingo or expressions without explanation. Ditto for that conference presentation you’re planning to give in Seattle (with a video broadcast to Asia). And the email to your colleagues in London and Beijing. And plenty of other communications, from conference calls to legal briefs.

So scan your repertoire for expressions and references that may not travel well across borders. Here are just a few of my favorite most-likely-to-be-lost-in-translation phrases I’ve heard bandied about the conference room, with links to definitions:
  • Hail Mary pass: I've blogged about this expression and the use of sports metaphors generally. Trust me, even lots of Americans don’t get this one. I love that the expression presumes familiarity with not only American football but Catholicism as well.
  • knock it out of the park: For those not raised on baseball, this might sound like a bad outcome.
  • off the reservation: Let’s just say this one is not exactly culturally sensitive. 
  • in the loop: It’s fairly self-explanatory, but not quite.
  • out of pocket: This is the quintessential law-firm insider phrase.
  • split the baby: I remember squirming in my seat when I first heard this in the law school classroom. Gruesome!
I’m not suggesting eradicating colorful expressions like these. They bring energy and color to the corporate world. But be careful not to assume everyone is right there with you, as you may unwittingly alienate those with whom you want to build trust. Instead, take on the role of cultural ambassador: explaining relevant expressions to international colleagues can be a fun way to connect and build relationships. 

CLE Webinars

We are launching our CLE webinars early next year. The first one—Show Confidence on Paper: Strategies for Powerful Legal Writing—will be offered live on January 28, 2014.   Sign up here. 
Sounds, the Pronunciation App
Recommended resource
For a thoughtful discussion of ubiquitous business metaphors, check out Tom Albrighton’s article, Twenty Business Metaphors and What They Mean, on ABC Copywriting’s site. The article helpfully categorizes metaphors into broad themes, like companies = ships, or business = war. 

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