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A New Year Message from 1949

We heard a scratching sound in a remote section of our attic, and my husband went to investigate it. While he didn’t locate the source of the sound, he did find The Seattle Sunday Times from August 28, 1949, left in the attic by a previous owner of our home. That newspaper reminded me of a common question about business writing. Let me explain how.

Some things in the 1949 newspaper are the same as today: identity theft (described as forging and counterfeiting), schoolyard bullies (known as tormentors), movies influencing real life (men buying pajamas because William Powell wore them in all his films), Sunday puzzles, and the comic "Grin and Bear It."

Others are different: The ’49 comics are all about the "little woman" waiting on her husband. Throughout the paper husbands are "hen-pecked," the women are Miss and Mrs., and the word gay is used to mean "festive."  A "leper colony" is in the news. The menus for the week include "head lettuce salad," "panned potatoes," "liver patties," "little pig sausages," and "lemon snow."

Most of the differences between today’s newspaper and the one from that Sunday in 1949 involve two areas: language (see above) and look. The old newspaper looks old–and not just because it is faded. The layout, art, and typefaces are different from today’s. 

The same is true of business writing. The language we use and the way we format documents are different. Yet I often get worried email complaining that writers no longer use the language, style, structure, and punctuation people learned in school.

Here is my answer: Get over it! This is not 1949–it’s nearly 2008. Embrace the differences. Accept "Hey" as an email greeting without cringing. Learn to like avatars in place of photos on web sites. (I’m working on this one.) Stop saying "The way I was taught in school . . ." Enjoy the new year. 

Happy 2008!


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “A New Year Message from 1949”

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