Just "Your" Typical Worker?

"Your"? Does that belong to ME? In an article for Inc. Magazine, Steve Tobak was writing about personal styles in the workplace and used the following sentence:

Melissa's your average, everyday worker.

Non-native readers may be asking, "Why 'your'? She doesn't belong to me!"

In fact, Tobak would have been perfectly fine to write about "a" typical worker. But he didn't.  Why not? This is actually a common way of speaking in American English.

The following is an explanation taken from a clever colleague, journalist Lisa McLendon:

Who, me?

Who, me?

This is a casual expression. Even though it's fine to say "an" average worker, the word "your" indicates a less-formal sentence. It translates as "what you would consider an average, everyday worker" (where "you" means "one" or "a person in general"). This would be found more in speech than writing. In professional writing, it would be "an."

An example: In a news story about a new restaurant, the owner tells the reporter, "We didn't want to be your typical sports bar." If the reporter uses the quote directly, there is no change.  However, if the reporter paraphrases the owner, the article would say, "The owner said he didn't want Bases to be a typical sports bar."

An equally clever colleague, linguist Matthew Kushinka pointed out that "your" in such expressions is always paired with ordinary words: usual, average, typical, run-of-the-mill, regular, basic. • They're nothing special, just your basic printing company. • You didn't miss anything.  It was your typical weekly staff meeting. • You'll like working with Teresa.  She's not your run-of-the-mill intern. In such expressions, "your" is never paired with extraordinary adjectives.  You never see "He's (not) your fantastic employee."

Today's tip for second-language speakers: If you hear "your," it may not be all about you!

image: Fotolia.com

Cultural footnote: The now-discontinued line of GM cars, the Oldsmobile, tried to revive its image as a boring, conservative car by coming up with a new marketing line: "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." General Motors wanted to say, "This is not a typical old person's car."  The advertising backfired, and now this line of GM cars is extinct.

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.

Prima Donnas, Jerks, and Other Bad Apples at the Office

In a recent article called "Why it's so Hard to Deal With Office Jerks,"Stephen Balzac talks about why we tolerate bad behavior among our co-workers, even when they are really unpleasant people. His final suggestion is to fire these "bad apples" before they destroy the whole office. From the analogy with rotting fruit, Balzac is referring to an old saying in English: One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.

Balzac gives good reasons for getting rid of such poisonous workers, even though they are often the most productive workers on the team.  His business advice is sound, but a big attraction is his use of many terrific slang expressions for the office.  Below are explanations of the tricky vocabulary he uses.  After reading the list, check out the article via the link above.

Sometimes the really productive workers are the biggest jerks.

Sometimes the really productive workers are the biggest jerks.

I have highlighted the top ten most useful expressions for you to know.

Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts

palpable = able to be felt

sidelong glances = short looks to the side

set Jim off = made Jim angry

set Jim off he did = This word order is for emphasis. It means: Making Jim angry is what he did.

laced into = attacked, strongly criticized

in no uncertain terms = very clearly, without any doubt

top player = best performer

cut him some slack = be flexible with him, don’t monitor him so tightly

lest = so it won’t happen that

not go there = avoid it, don’t talk about that topic

drag on = continue for too long

get on with = get along with, have a good relationship with

bad apples = people with rotten personalities (like spoiled fruit)

No one approached... = Nobody was even close to (his level).

egregious = horrible, offensive, obviously bad

contagious = spreading, infectious

bite back = criticize in return, attack back

pick on = criticize, be unkind to

edgy = nervous, on edge, uncomfortable

irritable = grumpy, in a bad mood

jerk = person with bad or rude behavior

spiral = increase, continue going

pretty much everyone = almost everyone

thrive = grow, prosper, succeed

After all, = Here’s a logical reason for this.

take = tolerate

obnoxiousness = being really unpleasant or rude

or whatever = or other bad traits

ambiance = atmosphere, environment

take his pick = have a choice of whatever he wants

all the while = the whole time, during

disengage = disconnect, retreat, pull away

mushy = soft, (about fruit/vegetables) over-ripe

this apple is pretty mushy = this guy is pretty bad (We expect apples to be crisp, not soft.)

skyrocket = to increase dramatically, to shoot upward

refrains I often hear = repeated stories that I often hear

inevitable = unavoidable, inescapable, destined to happen

What took you so long? = Why didn’t you do this sooner?

Stephen Balzac is a writer on leadership and organizational development. Contact him at  steve@7stepsahead.com.

The ABCs of College Basketball’s March Madness

So, your American co-workers have undoubtedly been talking about the college basketball tournament and their brackets.  For some of you, this will be a new conversation.  Both men’s and women’s teams compete in this annual event.  I will focus my comments here on the men’s side of the sport. This past weekend, American television was overflowing with basketball games.  At work on Monday morning, conversations definitely included discussion of who won, who lost, and how everyone did in their predictions following two rounds of play. To help you understand better, we outline the ABCs of this time of year known as March Madness.

(photo source: Wikipedia)

(photo source: Wikipedia)

A is for Americana.  The annual basketball tournament captures the attention of fans and casual fans across the entire United States.  A is also for alliteration (using the same first letters).  Anything worth selling is worthy of catchy names.  Winners of the rounds of 64 and 32 advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  From there, game winners can join the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and the Top Two.  Of course, March Madness is also an alliteration.

B is for brackets.  There are six full rounds of games played over the course of three weeks.  Losers go home; winners advance to the next round.  It’s dramatic and emotional. B is also for betting.  Many work groups organize betting pools where each worker chooses his or her winners.  Typical bets are between $5-20 but occasionally go higher.  B is also for bracket busters.  As you look at the chart below, you will notice many of the teams were predicted to be in the top four of their regional grouping; consequently, there are teams with a ranking of 1, 2, 3, or 4.  However, there are also teams picked 9th, 12th, 13th, and 15th.  Because most people in the betting pools selected the favorites, these underdogs* busted many brackets.   Teams like Oregon and LaSalle were not popular picks in the betting pools.  And this year’s Cinderella (team that no one expected to be invited to the big dance) is the team from Florida Gulf Coast University, the first-ever #15 seed** to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

"Sparty" is the Spartan mascot from Michigan State University (photo source: msu.edu).

"Sparty" is the Spartan mascot from Michigan State University (photo source: msu.edu).

Jayhawk mascot from the University of Kansas (photo source: about.com)

Jayhawk mascot from the University of Kansas (photo source: about.com)

C is for collegiate.  College sports are always less predictable than professional sports.  This is because the participants are 18-22 years old, have less-developed skill sets, and can fluctuate from sublime self-confidence to complete psychological collapse.  This makes betting on the sport wildly uncertain, as noted in the bracket discussion above. C is also for craziness.  Fans of the college game are wildly passionate, mostly because students of college age have maximum enthusiasm and energy.  The tournament is also crazy because of the sheer number of games played in a short amount of time, especially the first weekend.

If you want to be included in the conversation, just ask someone, “How did your brackets do?”  Then, just sit back and listen to the stories.

The 16 men's teams left in this year's tournament

The 16 men's teams left in this year's tournament

The match-ups above represent the teams in the coming weekend of play.  If you were not able to join the betting pool for the first weekend, see if you can convince your co-workers to start a fresh pool for the final two weeks.  You can call it a do-over or second-chance pool.  There will be support for this idea among the poor fans who predicted that #2 Georgetown or #1 Gonzaga would win the entire tournament.

A note on Mascots: Most of the team mascots are represented by the world of animals or people.  This year’s field of 16 includes mascots as follows. People: Hoosiers, Explorers, Spartans, Blue Devils, Shockers Birds: Eagles (2), Cardinals, Ducks, Jayhawks Animals: Wildcats, Gators, Wolverines Forces of nature: Hurricanes Colors: Orange Nuts: Buckeyes

Read more here.

*Underdogs are teams which no one predicts to win.  This article is about being an underdog.  It says “Florida Gulf Coast Crashes Sweet Sixteen.”  The expression “to crash a party” means to attend a party where you were not expected or invited. **To seed means to arrange the drawing for positions in a tournament so that the more skilled teams meet in the later rounds.