Archive for March, 2011

Who’s The Hero?

In the world of entertainment, there’s nothing quite like that “hero twist” at the end. 
But the hero in business isn’t dodging bullets. 

Kari Ramirez, one of our account managers in Silicon Valley, contributed today’s guest post on this very topic.  

As you’ll see, even an enterprise computing company can have heroes (roughly 97,000 for those counting). 

By Kari Ramirez
The Hoffman Agency (Silicon Valley)   

disney heroIf you’re like me and grew up with Disney movies, you know each classic opens with a “Once upon a time …” screenshot. And, for the next hour-and-a-half you’re connected with the heroine who usually experiences a devastating and life-altering catastrophe, but still manages to end up on top, living “happily ever after.” 

If only Disney created my life. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t. 

Instead, like my fellow Generation Y-ers, I’m continually hoping for that “happily ever after” moment, so I am on a personal life quest to end up like so many Disney characters – a hero. 

Fast forward. 

My Starbucks Idea? 

Comcast Cares? 

Windows 7 Was My Idea? 

So, what does Disney, a global coffee chain, a cable/Internet provider and a dominant OS have in common? 

Each has created a world where its customers are the hero. Starbucks, Comcast and Microsoft get it: yes, the customer is always right. From a PR perspective, each of these companies has successfully made a connection with the end user (me) – heck, these guys make me feel smart and valued. 

But, what happens if you, like many in the high-tech business, are a B2B company? Can you still effectively connect with your customers? 

Looking at one of my clients, SolarWinds (I know, shameless plug), the company’s online community, thwack, is approaching 80,000 community members after a mere five years. For a company with 97,000 customers, this number is damn impressive and inspiring. 

So, how has SolarWinds made the connection with users? One word: heroes. 

thwack calls its heroes MVPs (which are featured on the Who’s Who page). MVPs get early access to products and periodically get briefings with product managers and the development team. On the community hub, the company also offers giveaways, has fun contests, and most importantly, offers its community valuable information (and free tools) that allow users to get their jobs done and be the “hero” of the IT department. 


Let’s take a look at Dell. Founded in the 1980s, Dell started with the PC, but has added to its portfolio, which now includes: servers, storage, networking hubs and switches, and a whole bunch of other products that read like an IT admin’s wish list. 

In 2007, Dell created the “IdeaStorm: Dream it. Share it. Make an impact.” site. 

There’s that powerful connection to the reader again. 

To date, the community has 15,000+ ideas. And, when visiting the forum, users can “promote” or “demote” ideas, integrate Facebook, visit the Twitter stream, participate in “Storm Sessions.” And, if you’re lucky enough, you could be listed as one of the “Top Idea Contributors” and get bragging rights. 

Fast forward. 

So what does this all mean for us? 

With the rise in social media, companies must continually find new ways to connect with their customers heroes. To do this, companies need to: 

1. Have a personal voice that connects with their heroes

2. Keep in mind that their heroes will always wonder, “What’s in it for me?” – freebies can go a long way … 

3. Think to themselves, “What’s going to keep driving people back?” 

I’d love to hear your input on other B2B companies that you’ve come across that promote heroes. Leave a comment here!


Tattoos Bolstering A B2B Tech Company’s Brand?


Taking the “every company is the media” mantra to the next level, Intel publishes the Free Press.

While I’m not big on the name - it is free, but not exactly the cleverist moniker - the execution is pretty darn good.

Which brings me back to tattoos and one of the articles in the Free Press that investigated the tattoos that adorn Intel employees.

Fairies. Dragons. Leprechauns. Paw prints. Chakras. A praying mantis. There’s no end to the variety of tattoos Intel employees have indelibly inked onto themselves.

Apparently not.

You can see a sampling of the tatted chip heads below.

intel tattoo story

Why does a semiconductor company scour the globe to find and photograph employees with tattoos?

It’s all part of the macro communications objective to show the company’s humanity through storytelling, a topic addressed a few months ago in Putting A Face On A Company.

I’m impressed with the Free Press and how Intel articulated the mission:

Our goal is not to duplicate the news and cover every major milestone or event from Intel. Nor do we want this to be the kind of news you may find in a press release. We aim to capture and share interesting behind-the-scenes stories that provide insight into what’s going on inside Intel and indirectly, the tech industry.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the property, I hope to interview the “editor” (put in quotes because I don’t know if that’s his official title) next month.


Exploring Language With Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green, Part III

dictionary of slang interview

I’ve enjoyed the back and forth with Jonathon in bringing his perspective on “chasing down words“ and storytelling to this neighborhood.

Before jumping to the final question, a few thoughts -

  • I spend $3.50 on a large Red Sea (coffee) at Philz a couple times a week. The Dictionary of Slang retails for $450, though Amazon has shaved 3 percent off the retail price (to encourage impulse buys?). If I can abstain from Philz for 62 weeks, assuming Amazon keeps the “discounted” price, I think I can rationalize to the wife purchasing the Dictionary of Slang. I promise to report back in June 2012 if I made it to the finish line.
  • When I decided to break up Jonathon’s answers into three consecutive posts, he wondered whether the individual answers would have enough depth, noting, “When you’re used to putting together 10.6 million-word dictionaries (well, one dictionary) everything seems a bit short in comparison.” Now, that’s context.
  • Finally, it always comes down to passion, doesn’t it? Whether you’re brewing coffee at Philz, rehabbing old chairs (my wife’s endeavor) or writing a dictionary on slang, if you love what you’re doing that passion comes through.

Without further ado, here’s how Jonathon explains his passion for language:

Q: The type of person who devotes 17 years to creating the Dictionary of Slang must like words. Going back to your childhood and school, did you have a natural affinity for words? What cultivated your love for language?

A: I have no real answer to this other than ‘of course I like words and I never feel happier than when tussling with them in one way or another’. I regularly feel quite consciously that ‘yes, you should be doing what you do’, which is of course a great privilege. I call GDoS a ‘life’s work’ not on chronological grounds – it took only 17 of my near 63 years (and I have worked on slang for 27 in all) – but insofar as slang and its collection and analysis seems to play so central a role in my consciousness, then it is indeed my life. As to what cultivated my love for language, I cannot say since I do not know. I have always loved reading, far beyond any other ‘hobby’; indeed I have never had hobbies, other than, unsurprisingly, collecting books – once the work of PG Wodehouse, more recently dictionaries of slang. I see slang as subversive and contrary and its collection is perhaps my proxy attempt at a personal subversion. The reality is of course a middle-aged, middle-class, white European male working in a study or in libraries. A voyeur, perhaps, on lives that he could never essay and which would most likely terrify him if he did. No matter: outside of certain human beings, it has provided me with the greatest satisfactions of my life. There are no boxes I can tick to explain why. Other than that which, in very large letters, says ‘Luck’.

Thank you, Jonathon, for allowing a look behind the book.

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Exploring Language With Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green, Part II

dictionary of slang

Today brings the second part of the series with lexicographer Jonathon Green.

Yesterday, Jonathon discussed the chase behind slang which he noted “far outweighs the kill.”

While one doesn’t typically associate entertainment with dictionaries, I was struck by the storytelling in his writing.

I asked Jonathon about this.

Q: I can see through various articles that your writing brings freshness, wit and even levity to the dictionary. Yet, it doesn’t seem realistic to craft a story for 110,000 words and phrases. How do you bring the tenets of storytelling to your Dictionary of Slang? Are you striving to entertain as well as educate?

A: This to me is a fascinating question, and one which I have considered, although I doubt that many would see the need. It comes down to the fact that dictionaries remain human endeavours. If one looks, typically, at that work of Johnson and of Webster, both of whom were very strong and self-assertive personalities, they both imprint that personality on their work. They are recounting ‘stories’, albeit those of philosophy rather than fiction. Johnson, a Tory and Anglican and indeed a patriotic Englishman, offers a dictionary where the definitions for such words as liberty, religion, and the parties Whig and Tory are very much influenced by his socio-political views. As for Webster, may I quote from my own Chasing the Sun (1996):

As a citizen of a new nation which based its society on a written Constitution, Webster could not fail to appreciate the over-riding importance of words. It was vital that they should be defined properly. As early as 1788 he was calling for studies that would ‘show how far truth and accuracy are concerned in a clear understanding of words’. Only by refining the language, by purifying it of its many errors and corruptions could the status quo be sustained. As Mencken noted, Webster’s main concern ‘was not to celebrate American life or to expand independence [but] to counteract social disruption and re-establish the deferential world order that he believed was disintegrating.’ To misunderstand the true meaning of a word was to pave the way to social disorder.  Thus the dictionary takes especial care with such key terms as free, equal, democrat, republican, love and laws. Freedom, other than in subjection to divine laws, was absurd; it is seen as ‘violation of the rules of decorum’ and ‘license’. Like Johnson’s defining of Whig and Tory, Webster equated a Democrat with ‘a person who attempts an undue opposition or influence over government by means of private clubs, secret intrigues or by public popular meetings which are extraneous to the Constitution’. Republicans, on the other hand, were ‘friends of our representative Governments…’ As for love, ‘the love of God is the first duty of man…’ Laws existed simply to ‘enjoin the duties of piety and morality’. Duty, as might be presumed, is highly valued: do what you are told and ask no questions might have been Webster’s credo. As for education, it was a concept that in Webster’s world had no relation to learning; education was ‘instruction and discipline’, it would fit the young for their future stations. 

This story-telling aspect of lexicography is true of all dictionaries made by individuals. The original OED is undoubtedly the product of the personalities of those who made it. The words that go in, the ones that are excluded, the biases (against, for instance, the citing of female authors), the down-playing of technology and of slang. Some is based on cultural norms, some on personal peccadilloes. My predecessor in slang, Eric Partridge, could define ‘nigger’ without any suggestion that it might be highly pejorative; he would not have printed ‘c*nt’ as actually found. This was the world (the 1930s) in which his dictionary came out. Mine, of course, holds almost diametrically opposite standards, and so do I.

I have written elsewhere that it might be possible to reconstruct me from the headwords I have included and equally so, the citations that I have chosen to illustrate them. And of course the way in which I define senses. Slang is by its nature the lexis of the concrete, and one can only define, say, the verb fuck, as ‘to have sexual intercourse’, plus of course its figurative senses. It cannot mean anything else. But in my choice of reading I have made conscious choices, opting for writers I admire and excluding those I do not.  In this I resemble Johnson, who would only admit ‘great writers’; mine are not great in that sense, but they are slang’s pantheon, whether they be James Joyce (1000 citations) or Robert L Bellem (500 citations), a long-forgotten but magnificently slangy hack for the pulps. 

Johnson was clear: a dictionary is written, not edited, not compiled. I agree. And if one writes one overlays (or perhaps underpins) that writing with oneself. I have not done it consciously, there were far too many more pressing considerations, but it is there. Seek, dare I suggest, and you can find.

Educate as well as entertain? My aim focuses on neither. But they are doubtless there. Seems to indicate the seek/find trail again. What I do is collect slang and explicate it as accurately as possibly. What I aim for is authority. Or, to use a softer synonym, trustworthiness. That to the best of my ability what people look up in my work is correct. If one takes Johnson’s famous, but surely tongue-in-cheek- definition, the lexicographer may indeed be a ‘harmless drudge’ while putting the dictionary together =-  however much I enjoy it there are inevitably longeurs – but when the book is published and becomes a tool for its users, then he/she is rendered a (very minor) deity. People believe what you offer. The important thing is to get as accurate as possible. We must publish and hope not to be damned.

I’d say that covers it.

I’ll publish the final question and Jonathon’s answer tomorrow.

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Exploring Language With Slang Lexicographer Jonathon Green

dictionary of slangI rarely read TIME magazine.

Fortunately, I made an exception last month.

The TIME story about Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang demanded attention:

“It provides a surreal, anachronistic delight one might have gotten from hearing Freud lecture on Charlie Sheen’s recent verbal diarrhea.”

How often do you hear a dictionary described as a “delight?”

To borrow from Gossip Girl, “like, never.”

As I followed the trail to Jonathon’s Wiki page, other articles – described by The Independent as the most acclaimed lexicographer since Johnson; yes, that Johnson - and finally his website, I often found myself smiling.

Take the phrase “philip, hob, and cheyney”

n. (1542), a collective term for average people, the mass (a kind of “Tom, Dick and Harry” that didn’t survive the ages).

This fun with language and an unrelenting passion for words – How else can you explain devoting 17 years to writing a dictionary? – are themes that run throughout Jonathon’s work.

I reached out to Jonathon, who was gracious enough to grant me three questions. (I’m guessing “the genie is out of the bottle” made his cut.)

Here’s the first question and response. 

Q: Your description of the work that goes into lexicography caught my attention (wonderful writing), particularly the line, “With this screen and books and book-shaped tools I chase down words.” Tell me about your most satisfying “chase” or perhaps one that you left you utterly surprised by the outcome. 

jonathon greenA: The chase, I would suggest, far outweighs the kill. There have been many and I intend that there should be many more. However the sheer size of the work, and the constant movement from word to word, era to era, country to country, means that one rarely remembers a specific instance. And the nature of my craft is serendipity. Try as one must, nothing is guaranteed, especially as regards that holy grail, the tracking down of the ‘first use’. Two examples.

My partner, who researched many thousands of words, was reading a book. In this book she found a footnote, and decided that the title to which it referred might be worth pursuing. She read it, and therein found a use of shit! as an exclamation, some 60 years prior to that hitherto recorded. The book, an academic study of soldiers’ trials in the US Civil War had been published in the 1990s. On that level the discovery was simple. But all else was fortuitous: had the records not survived, had an academic not decided to research them, had his work not been published, had my partner not happened on the footnote….

GDoS was published in 2010 (2011 in the US). Necessarily the database was ‘frozen’ for editing purposes in 2009. Last month (February 2011) I purchased a new collection of stories from the pulp magazine Black Mask. They had not been published since the 1930s, and are not on line. I had not had the opportunity to read anyone’s private collection. In GDoS the word hooptie, a  car, often old, is dated to 1968. In a 1939 number of Black Mask I found an example: some 29 years earlier. Not so serendipitous – I would always buy such collections, knowing they are slang-heavy – but again, it was a chapter of events that had gone on beyond my researches that brought me this discovery.

Given there are roughly 110,000 words in the Dictionary of Slang, that’s a lot of chasing.

I’ll publish Jonathon’s response to the second question tomorrow and close the series with the final question/answer on Friday.

Note: You can read more from Jonathon fielding questions on Quora.

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