Friday, January 21, 2022

Look Before You Leap (MY Eng #38)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff', 'let sleeping dogs lies', 'open a can of worms', 'light at the end of the tunnel' and 'trial and error'.

Last time round, I talked about how making mistakes is part of progression. There's more to learn from our failures than successes. If we're not tripping over our feet enough, it's likely we're not pushing ourselves to run faster and further.

Still, that doesn't mean we should jump into the thick of action with guns blazing, throwing all caution into the wind. Don't be marching into a field of landmines without doing a proper reconnaissance. As much as we've got deadlines to keep, time pressure shouldn't be an excuse to hand in shoddy work product. Prudence is the first step towards perfection.

It's good to aim for the stars. But be sure you've got your rockets in order before launching into space.

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Yes, it's one of the catchiest advice out there: Look before you leap!

Instead of rambling on in abstract, let's pick some real-life specifics, shall we? Just today, I rushed to sending an email without double-checking as I normally would. Only after the email went out did I realise that I had clicked 'reply all' instead of 'reply'. So the email got cc-ed to a mailing list that was cc-ed along in the original email. Small error, but still infuriating. Fortunately, there's nothing exceptionally revealing in the contents. But what if I slipped up next time on an email of a more private and sensitive character?

Even with the advancement of instant messaging apps (Whatsapp), email remains as the predominant mode of communication at work. It's more formal, and more permanent. Don't mean to sound grouchy and nit-picky, but millennials really struggle with perfecting the art of email drafting.

Time and time again, the emails that I received from my students are littered with basic errors - typos, clunky and unclear language, lack of formalities and proper introduction, etc. I'm not sure why exactly is this so. When I was in school, we were taught how to write formal and informal letters in language classes. Not my favourite part in creative writing, but it's a painful pill that we all had to just swallow.

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But the problem really goes beyond just emails and social habits. It's more to do with the mindset of youngsters. They're too impatient. Short attention span. Easily restless.

Yes, the rapid pace of our digital age bears a big part of the blame. There's little time for deep thinking. Quantity over quality.

As an old saying goes, only fools rush in. Most of our mistakes can be mitigated by taking extra care with what we say and do. Better to be safe than sorry.

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