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PipeLine: The power of words0;and meanings

As most readers can guess, those of us in the word (lower case “w”) business are avid admirers of vocabulary.

We especially appreciate people who use words correctly and succinctly (that’s one of my favorites). I just finished an interesting novel (word people tend to be avid readers, too), one that I hated to finish. It was The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer, an author I had not heard of until I picked up the book at a library sale last summer. Myrer, a Harvard graduate, wrote a bit about Harvard in the book, and his erudition revealed itself about every 50 to 100 pages. There, stuck in the middle of some paragraph, was a word I had never before seen, usually a descriptor the author used in painting his backgrounds. My first temptation was to highlight the word on the page so that I could come back to it when a dictionary was handy. But since word people are often book people, the thought of marking up a perfectly good hardbound book is tantamount to painting graffiti on a historic monument. Now that I’ve completed the book, I wonder why I didn’t use a small tablet as a bookmark, so that I could copy the words and look them up at a convenient time. My recourse really is to go back through the book at a later time and make a list. My wife, the teacher, has a small handbook-sized dictionary that I probably could have carried with my book. But a compact dictionary probably wouldn’t have included some of the more colorful, arcane, or archaic words the author used. One of the words that I’ve seen frequently lately is one that appears in almost every story about Enron or Arthur Andersen, its former auditing company. It’s really a simple little word that often is used to describe some of our congressional activities: oversight. My version of the Oxford dictionary gives the word two definitions that are quite close to being in conflict with one another: “supervision” vs “a failure to notice something.” Here at the end of January, it’s difficult to know what will happen to those two companies and all the people they employ(ed), not to mention all of the companies and people that will be affected because they did business with either Enron or Arthur Andersen, or the charities those companies supported. However, it seems clear that, as a company, Arthur Andersen’s reputation has, at best, been grievously wounded, if not fatally so. In its role as auditor, the company not only had “supervision” over Enron’s financial statements, it also “certified” that those documents had been prepared according to what the auditor felt were “good accounting practices.” So Andersen’s oversight distinctly implied a professional certification. I mean that’s why a company has an outside company check its statements. That’s much like many of us use financial experts to help us prepare tax returns. Yet it appears that the auditing company committed more than a few “failure-to-notice” oversights as it examined the Enron books. For those of us engaged in packaging, the first concept of oversight now falls more or less on the shoulders of Ed Landon and Patrick Farrey as they take on the administration of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. In these pages in the coming months, you’ll read about their plans for different parts of that organization, as it struggles to make itself viable in the 21st century. Frankly, I’m encouraged by what they say and what they’ve done so far. But I know a lot of IoPP members are impatient to see tangible results of new leadership. And as one top packaging manager told me, “These are tough times for our company. More than ever before, we need to be able to justify our membership in IoPP to our management, plus the time we put into the organization.” Many IoPP members criticized the former IoPP administration for consistently demonstrating the “failure to notice” definition of oversight. We hope that Landon and Farrey and their new staff will strongly focus only on the “supervisory” meaning of oversight. They do have exciting new plans for the bookstore, something we word people will be watching closely.

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