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Category : Writing Tips

More Idioms

I recently shared a very popular post on idioms. Here, some more expressions, with examples and explanations:

  • Instead of going pro, Clair took an athletic scholarship from the University of Michigan because she wanted the best of both worlds – to be an athlete and a scholar.

(While most people can only live in one world, those who get “the best of both” find a way to live in two. Their situations are ideal. Claire, an excellent student athlete, can either “go pro” – enter the professional sports arena – or go to university and continue to play on a team. She chooses the latter because it lets her live in two metaphorical “worlds” – the athletic world and the academic world.)

  • Pierre never forgave his brother for not having paid him back, but at family reunions, he acted like it was all water under the bridge.

(Pierre has hard feelings against his brother but pretends that he has moved on, just like water under a bridge, which is in constant motion.)

  • When Whitney realized her position was out of line with the company’s, she did an abrupt about-face.

(Whitney is moving in one metaphorical direction – toward a particular goal or end – but when she realizes that this is actually the wrong direction, she turns around, to face the other way. You may have heard “about-face” in a military context; troops marching in one direction are told to do an “about-face” and march in another direction.)

  • When the company unexpectedly went bankrupt, Dan was swept up in a tide of events that left him jobless.

(A major event occurs within Dan’s company that, like a tide, carries him along. He is swept up, off his feet, and unable to control events, finds himself without a job.)

  • Sarah meant to make a short speech but got carried away and spoke for an hour.

(Like “swept up in a/the tide of events”, “carried away” conveys the sense of being picked up, off one’s feet, and taken in a direction that one can’t control – and, perhaps, to a place that one didn’t want to go. Sarah intends to speak for not that long, but something overcomes her and “carries” her away. She goes “further” than she means to, speaking for an hour, rather than a few minutes.)

  • Having argued for a month, John and Bill decided to clear the air.

(John and Bill’s argument is dirtying the metaphorical air between them. They decide to resolve their issues, thereby cleaning things up.)

  • When Jennifer complained that she hadn’t been promoted, she was told by her superiors that everyone was in the same boat.

(Jennifer thinks her situation exceptional – and acts as if she is on her own. But her supervisors tell her that other employees share her plight. They are affected by the same winds and waters and will suffer the same fate, as do people in the same boat.)

Asking for a Job

Along with a solid resume, a well-written cover letter is the key to catching the eye of potential employers.

The common format for a job query looks something like the following:

Name of applicant

Applicant’s street address

Applicant’s city, State  ZIP


Date


Name of person/department/company doing the hiring

Hirer’s street address

Hirer’s city, State  ZIP

Re: Job Title (ad number, if available)


Dear name of person/department/company doing the hiring:

Introductory statement.

Elaboration of experience.

Closing statement.


Sincerely,

Signature

Typed name of applicant


Note that queries sent via email do not require the names and addresses of either applicants or hiring contacts/departments/companies. They also don’t require dates. Queries sent via email should begin with “Dear …”

A good introductory statement includes a brief summary of an applicant’s qualifications and/or interest in the hiring/company person. For example:

I am writing to express my interest in the position of Business Analyst (No. 40891). I have thirteen years experience as a business analyst at Company A, where I have evaluated entrepreneurial opportunities for clients as varied as Company B, Company C, and Company D. I am eager to join Company A’s dynamic team and believe I have the skills to advance your bottom line.

Warning: Do not begin an introductory statement with, “My name is … and I would like to work for you because …” More important than stating your name up front is grabbing the interest of your potential employer by describing why your skills and interests are a good fit with the companies’ needs. Describing your interests, however, does not mean going on at length about how great Company A is. Your letter should emphasize your interest in the company but, in general, spend more time on your proven intellectual or work abilities, which brings us to …

After your introductory statement, take one or two (short) paragraphs to describe your experience in greater detail. This is the place to cite specific examples of your accomplishments – projects on which you’ve worked, promotions/awards you’ve received, positive feedback you’ve been given by superiors. It’s also a good place to list your skills – proficiency in operating platforms, language ability, industry-specific skills. Be sure to mention areas important to the position being advertised or (if you’re submitting a query, rather than applying to a particular job) the industry you want to work in. If you know, for example, that a United Nations translator must have, say, five years of experience in a multilingual environment, note that you spent eight years working as a Chinese-English translator in Shanghai.

A good closing statement might include any or all of the following: A reminder of your skills and/or enthusiasm. A reminder that you can be reached at any time. A note that your resume is attached. A note that you look forward to scheduling an interview at the hiring contact’s earliest convenience. A note that you look forward to hearing from the hiring contact. A note that you plan to follow up shortly after sending your letter.

Warning: Stay away from statements such as, “Thus, I think it’s obvious that I’m the best choice for …” or “I would be an outstanding employee who delivers outstanding results …” or “Please consider me for this job, because I really think that I could do well at it …” or “This opportunity would mean a lot to me, and therefore I hope you consider me strongly.” It is up to your potential employer to decide whether you, the applicant, are “the best choice”, and whether you would really be an outstanding employee remains to be seen. It is evident that you think you could do well at the job, else you wouldn’t be applying, and it is obvious you want to be considered, else you wouldn’t have written a letter. Try to conclude with something more along the lines of:

Thank you for your consideration. Attached, is my resume. I look forward to hearing from you soon and hopefully scheduling an interview.

Good luck with your search!

Using Examples Well

What’s great about examples are their specificity. That said, I see a surprising number of papers that mention unnamed references or name specific books, movies, articles – and not their authors. When giving examples of scholarly works of pieces of art, be sure to include at least: the name of the work and the name of the work’s author. For example:

  • Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations describes …
  • In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith describes …
  • Adam Smith describes … in The Wealth of Nations.

When the work is well-known, as is the Wealth of Nations, for example, it may not be necessary to specify what type of work you’re referencing. And, in any case, most readers familiar with the formatting of titles would know from context that Wealth of Nations is not likely to be a newspaper, piece of visual art, or movie – any of the other types of works whose titles would be italicized.

In some cases you, may want to provide a date, as in:

  • Jurassic Park (1993) marked Steven Spielberg’s …
  • Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which hit box offices in 1993, marked …
  • The 1993 hit Jurassic Park marked Steven Spielberg’s …

Again, when the work or its author are well-known, as are both Jurassic Park and Steven Spielberg, you probably don’t need to specify their nature (e.g. “the movie Jurassic Park” or “director Steven Spielberg”). However, in more obscure cases (and depending on your audience), you may find this useful or even necessary. For example:

  • When the film Hyènes premiered in 1992, New York Times film critic Stephen Holden praised its director, Djibril Diop Mambety, for telling a story that “carries a sting.”

This sentence would be far inferior if it read:

  • When Hyènes premiered, Stephen Holden praised Djibril Diop Mambety for telling a story that “carries a sting.”

What is Hyènes? A movie? Book? Play? Who is Stephen Holden? A friend of Mambety’s? A colleague? A critic? And who is Mambety? An author? Director? Playwright?

Examples are useful in so far as they provide specific information. Be aware of your audience (consider what they know already), but when in doubt, more is more, in this case.