I learned a new word over the holidays. Screed. I wish I could recall where I read it. Perhaps it came from a very funny Christopher Moore novel I read.
A screed is a lengthy discourse, or piece of writing, a harangue or a rant, often tedious. A screed also defines a strip of wood, plaster or metal placed on a wall or pavement as a guide for the even application of concrete or plaster. The word derives from Middle English, meaning fragment. It is used as a verb only when referring to the second meaning, in masonry or construction.
Im not sure how a fragment became a long rant, but that is just another of the wonders of the English language. In Scottish, according to one source, a screed means a tear or a rent. The online Oxford Dictionaries stated that the early sense of the word was a fragment cut from a main piece or a torn strip. Thus a verbal screed would be opinion taken from a long roll or list.
A screed can be oral or written. It will always be verbal, verbal meaning having to do with words. It may not always be vocal, because vocal means uttered by the voice, or spoken. A screed will often be vociferous, making an outcry. Both those words stem from the Latin word for voice.
Although there is definitely a place for strong opinions and outspoken commentary in business writing, I advise keeping screeds in the political arena or banishing them to the occasional break-room discussion. If we do choose to express strong opinions in business writing, I believe they should be identified as opinions versus fact. (Although often business writers are so convinced of their depth of knowledge, they view their opinions as fact.) I believe that by distinguishing an opinion from a fact, we maintain credibility, rather than weakening it.
Tact, of course, is another essential element of business writing. You really goofed up, might better be said, I think you might have handled that differently, or even said more gently if the miscreant is new to the task. Considering the audience and the permanence of written words are also elements of tactful business writing. Words said in a break room may be forgotten and forgiven much more easily than those sent in an email. And of course face-to-face communication reveals our expressions and often clarifies the intention of our words. Consider Youre an idiot, expressed with a loving smile versus the written words. And emoticons (those ridiculous smiley faces!) dont make up for poor word choices.
In a recent column, I mentioned that humor can diffuse stress. I might also have said it could defuse a stressful situation. Diffuse means to spread out or scatter or to soften, as in lighting. Defuse of course means to remove the fuse; to make less tense, dangerous or hostile. One source said that diffuse, in reference to a speech (or a screed) means being at once verbose and poorly organized.
Choosing the right words for the right audience will infuse our communication with clarity and persuasiveness.
Kathy McIntosh, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word. email@example.com