Tag Archives: literally

Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities

brass-knuckles-1258994_1280Hi everyone, I just came back from giving a keynote speech in Vancouver Canada, complete with pictures of baby animals. I am condensing the key concepts here. A couple of notes before we tackle today’s exciting topic. First, I want to thank my awesome colleague Dr. Jondou Chen for introducing me to the term “weaponized data.” If I ever start up an alternative rock band, I am going to invite Jondou, and we’ll call it “Weaponized Data.” Sample lyrics: “From the start/you returned begrudging correlation/to my foolish causation/like an icepick to my heart.”

Second, for the grammar geeks out there—and I am one—I’m going to do something blasphemous and use “data” as both a singular and a plural noun in this post, depending on context. I know, I know, technically “data” is the plural for “datum,” so we should be saying, “The data are inconclusive” and not “The data is inconclusive.” Kind of like “media” is the plural of “medium” and “panda” is the plural of “pandum.” But, fellow grammar geeks, we must choose our battles. Let us save our energy to fight, with patience and compassion, crimes against decency like “that time works for John and I” and “you were literally on fire during your presentation.”

So, data. Data is pretty awesome. As a proud nerd, I love a good set of data and can spend endless hours looking at a sexy chart full of numbers. If data were turned into a syrup, I would put it on my soy ice cream all the time, because it is just so sweet. In the past few years, there has been more and more pressure on nonprofits being able to produce good data. Getting more and better information on practices and outcomes can only be good for our sector.

However, like fire or Jager Bombs, data can be used for good or for evil. When poorly thought out and executed, data can be used as a weapon to screw over many communities. Usually this is unintentional, but I’ve seen way too many instances of good intentions gone horribly awry where data is concerned. Here are a few challenges we need to pay attention to regarding the game of data, which is a lot like The Game of Thrones, but with way less frontal nudity: Continue reading

8 grammar mistakes even smart and sexy people like you are making

 

portrait-1072696_960_720A while ago, I wrote about people’s misuse of the word “literally,” a condition that has reached pandemic level, with even very smart people saying stupid things like, “My board is so great, I’m literally in love with all my board members.” I carry small rocks in my jacket, just so I can throw them at people who use “literally” wrong

Well, after writing that post, dozens of readers wrote to thank me for raising awareness of the issue, and by “dozens,” I mean two people. So I thought we should shed light on other common grammatical mistakes that occur in our field, where 90% of the work is done by talking and writing.

Now, first of all, a disclaimer: I am not a grammarian, and I don’t claim to have perfect grammar or anything. Anyone who scans NWB posts will see countless mistakes.

Second of all, not all grammar needs to be correct all the time. Sometimes for the sake of flow I make grammatical mistakes on purpose, e.g., “Someone did not pay for their ticket to our fundraising dinner, so I am going to hunt them down and put this horse head in their bed.”

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This literally makes my head explode

Hi everyone, I normally post on Mondays, but recently the dictionary people have changed the definition of the word “literally” to also mean “figuratively” since enough people have used it wrong, and thus have literally destroyed the English language. I cannot in good conscience stand back and let this travesty continue without declaring shenanigans. I don’t care what the dictionary idiots say, people are using “literally” wrong, and each time I hear it, for a split second in my head it’s like having to plan an annual event, and we all know how awful that is. Here are some examples of how we nonprofit folks use “literally” wrong:

Example 1: “One of my staff literally hates my guts.”

Wrong! Your staff probably does not specifically hate your intestines. You just mean that your staff hates you with a passion, including and certainly not limited to your digestive system.

Example 2: “It was an awesome fundraising luncheon. Literally everyone in the room donated.”

Wrong! This would only be correct if ALL of the people in the room actually donated, including the serving staff, the AV dude, the children, the clients, the MC, the auctioneer, the volunteers, everyone.

Example 3: “My board is literally making me crazy.”

Most likely wrong! You probably mean that the board is causing you a lot of stress and anxiety. If, because of board members’ actions, you seek counseling and are diagnosed with a severe psychological disorder, then yes, they literally made you crazy, in which case, you may want to stop working in the nonprofit field and do something less stressful like make organic pesto to sell at the farmer’s market or something.

Example 4: “We need a better database. Our donors are literally disappearing.”

Wrong, wrong! Your database is crappy and it’s not recording information accurately or something so it is hard to find certain people. Your donors are not literally disappearing, since teleportation technology has not advanced to that stage yet.

Example 5: “That site visit literally kicked me in the teeth.”

So wrong that I want to literally freeze a banana and beat you with it. A site visit is an event, which is intangible. It cannot physically kick you in the teeth. It has no legs. Program officers, however, are tangible, and most can certainly literally kick you in your teeth. And if that should happen—worst program officer EVER—your organization may have hit the jackpot (just sue the foundation for “dental injuries resulting from excessive force.”)

Every time you feel the urge to use the word “literally” when talking to me, just punch me in the throat, because that will be far less painful (not literally), unless you actually know what you’re saying, for instance “I literally have over 1300 emails in my inbox” or “Parking was so bad that I had to park literally half a mile away.” That’s the beauty of “literally” when it is used right: It helps to separate reality out of all the hyperbole and exaggerations of which all of us are incredibly fond.

How can a word also mean its complete opposite? Where does the madness end? This has been a sad, sad month for those of us who love language and the power of words. Words are important, since our clients rely on many of us to advocate for them and to help them tell their stories. Look, I’m all for slang and I know that language is an evolving thing. But this is not slang. Slang is like “Dude, your afterschool program is so literal!” That would be OK with me. It’s also not an evolution of a word. It is just a bunch of people using a word wrong!

A while ago I wrote a letter to my newborn baby, detailing the lessons I want to pass on to him in case I die early. The very first lesson is:

Never judge anyone for anything ever. Even people who create stupid commercials, like those Subway commercials with the annoying adults with kids’ voices, what the hell were they thinking? Also, people who don’t know how to correctly use ‘literally.’ They say ridiculous things like ‘that meeting literally made my head explode.’ It’s easy to judge them, but try not to, since it doesn’t make you any happier in the long run.”

Well, son, if you’re reading this, I’m making special exceptions so you can judge people who use “literally” wrong. You can also judge the dictionary morons who decided to change the definition of a word just because a lot of people suck at using it. Heck, by the time you’re old enough, who knows what other “evolutions” the language has made. Maybe “principal” can now also mean “principle” since enough people get those mixed up. Heck, why just keep to language. We should also officially change pi to exactly 3.14, since those are the only numbers people remember anyway, screw precise calculations that has led to achievements like space exploration.

I’m going to bed. This is making me sick. Figuratively, but maybe even literally.

Example 6: “This is literally the worst Nonprofit with Balls post you’ve ever written.”

Uh…well, um, your FACE is literally the worst post ever written!