Have You Used Word’s "Smell-Check" Features?

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Air Quotes
You know them, whether you use them yourself or have seen others use them: the little vertical hooking gesture made with the first and second fingers of both hands when using a word or phrase. I remember when I joined one team and asked about coding standards, a team member told me, “Oh, sure, we have ‘standards,’ but they’re really just guidelines; we don’t have to follow them,” using air quotes when he said the word standards.

Recently I ran into a colleague and he mentioned his company’s “cleanroom,” enclosed in air quotes. I asked him what the air quotes were about and he said, “Oh, we wear Tyvek and all that, but we don’t actually meet any clean air standards, so we call it a cleanroom but it’s not, really.” Sometimes air quotes are used derisively, such as when the speaker mentions the “help desk” or “quality assurance.”

I see air quotes as a sort of visual disclaimer, a wink-wink, a way for the speaker to say, “Someone else calls it that, but I haven’t bought in,” or the expression of a personal opinion that might not be shared by others. This is another “visual smell” that could indicate lack of agreement or norming amongst the team.

While we may want to minimize documentation and the use of Word, we can mentally use some of Word’s features to sniff out some whiffs of smells.—just the way George could sniff out a drop of vermouth in those “dry dry” martinis.

User Comments

2 comments
Joe Astolfi's picture

Thank you Terry for this article!  It provokes me to think about my own speach and behavior patterns.  I now have an awareness about using a word twice, which will prompt me to explore why I am doing that.  I am also making an intention to not use air quotes, and when we do, explore further why we are using them.

As you mention, there may be some clarity we need to gain when using a word twice and utilizing air qoutes.  In my coaching experience, clarity amongst a group is key to success.

Thank you again!

January 25, 2014 - 9:48am

About the author

Terry Wiegmann's picture Terry Wiegmann

Currently Quality Assurance Service Offering Lead with Quick Solutions, Inc., one of the largest privately-held IT Consulting firms in Columbus, Ohio, offering leading edge consulting services around Strategy, People, Process and Technology. www.quicksolutions.com. Curious and passionate about exploring continuous improvement, the intersection of analysis and quality engineering, and building community by presenting, teaching and creating opportunities for others. IIBA CBAP; ASQ CSQE; Scrum.org PSPO; Toastmasters International ACG; Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Ambassador. Experience crosses methodologies (concurrent engineering, plan-driven, Lean, Scrum); local and global geographies; commercial and back office software; public and private sector; custom, COTS, SaaS, products and services.

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