Anyone making important decisions must realize that the ubiquitous “some” may have much more power over results than “others” does. I’m not even talking about the identity of the “some” being described but just mulling over the tremendously powerful ability of that single small short one-syllable word to affect our understanding. “Some” is paired with “others” so often that when you hear one, you almost expect to hear the other follow immediately. That’s not doubletalk, either.
Juxtapositioning terms affects understanding in most languages, and English permits more such tricks than most. Qualifying clauses like that can cost you money, too.
Using the wrong word, or using the right word in the wrong way, can derail a successful career. For reasons that are never made completely clear, the term “some” seems to hold more authority than “others.” Maybe it is because “some” sources of truth are typically cited before “others” are heard from. First is higher than second, so being the first up tends to imply priority. The order of position can imply that credibility, reliability or degree of authority follows the sequence of presentation: i.e., the first citation is most persuasive and the second mentioned is a weaker idea. The distance between first-rate and second-rate, for example, is clear by ordinal rank even though the interval scale remains unknown (that’s compensation talk). Or the first is the best idea and the next is a usually contrasting afterthought offered just to give the appearance of even-handedness.
Since we are now talking about “hands,” let’s consider how “some” can also be used as a sinister negative when it follows after a tremendously well accepted concept, in order to depreciate its accuracy. For example, “experts say CEOs are overpaid, but some disagree.” Insertion of a subsequent “some” after a declarative sentence introduces a contradictory element that undercuts the prior statement and drains it of its potency. “The payroll budget increase was well received… by some.” That final word just reeks of negation, doesn’t it? Funny, the way the location of simple pieces of language changes implications and understandings.
Note that when “some” comes first, its weight (although generally unspecified) looms large in the mind of the beholder, so the “others” tend to be relegated to the ranks of a tiny minority of kooks. Sentences beginning with “some” often slickly introduce a threatening idea in a manner that is difficult to combat because it is nebulously nonspecific about precise numbers. “Some people are unhappy about their pay,” is a clever way to place pressure on HR to correct this apparently unacceptable situation. “Some people” might only be two out of thousands.
How you spend words may mirror how you spend money. Is there any truth to the idea that those who are profligate with words are similarly generous in the way they dispense compensation? I have never recognized any particular pattern that showed that prolix writers or babbling speakers are any different in the way they award pay than concise writers or taciturn speakers. Some may be different than others, of course.
Look for appearances of those two words. How are they influencing the messages you deliver or receive? As you handle rewards, some may be more important than others.
E. James (Jim) Brennan was Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
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