Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let's Learn Some Business English with a Story about Jesus (the Brand)

An advertisement for Jesus Jeans
(It looks like this model could have 

gone for the next size up!).
No, this is not going to be a post about religion. It's going to be a post to help you improve your Business English (and your legal English). But we are going to be talking about Jesus today. That's because an Italian clothing company has trademarked the name "Jesus" and uses it on its Jesus Jeans. It's now fighting with other clothing companies trying to use the name Jesus too.

In conversational English we sometimes say "Jesus!" to express anger or outrage (or the shortened "Jeez!"). Some of the people in the newspaper article we are going to look at today are definitely saying "Jesus!" They are very unhappy that one company is not sharing the "Jesus" name. Who would have though that dozens of clothing companies would choose "Jesus" as their brand name? And then start fighting about it? All of this is not in the spirit of Jesus himself, but it does make for interesting reading (and English study!).

Let's take a look at the newspaper article, which is entitled "If You Take These Jeans' Name in Vain, Prepare to Meet Their Maker" and is from the Wall Street Journal. The expressions we will study are in blue.

Inspired by his time leading a singles ministry in Virginia Beach, Va., Michael Julius Anton came up with an idea for a clothing line that he thought was catchy and unique—"Jesus Surfed." He was on good ground with "Surfed." But when he went to register the trademark, he found someone had beaten him to Jesus.
In a branding coup of biblical proportions, an Italian jeans maker persuaded the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2007 to register the word "Jesus" as a trademark, giving the company exclusive rights in America to sell clothing bearing the name of Christianity's central figure.
Since then, the owner of the trademark, Jesus Jeans, has clamped down on Jesus-themed apparel, pitting its litigators against more than a dozen other startup clothing lines it claims appropriated "Jesus" without the company's blessing. The company doesn't have a trademark on images of Jesus, just the word.
Before taking on Jesus Surfed, Jesus Jeans objected to "Jesus First," "Sweet Jesus," and "Jesus Couture," among others, which abandoned their trademark efforts. In some cases, when met with resistance, Jesus Jeans warned that it could sue for damages.
Now let's look at the definitions of vocabulary:

(to) come up with – to think of

catchy – memorable, appealing (Note: You will often heard the phrase "catchy tune," meaning a song or melody that stays in your head and is fun to sing, though eventually it might drive you crazy)

on good ground  safe with (Note: this terms first appeared in the Bible, which is probably why the author of this newspaper article chose to use it in a story about Jesus: Here is a quote from Luke 8:15, King James Bible: But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.)

(to) register a trademark – to formally register a symbol (name, logo, etc) for a product with a governmental patent office (in the USA, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, USPTO)

(to) beaten someone to – to do something before somebody else has a chance (in this case, Jesus Jeans beat Jesus Surfed to register the "Jesus" trademark)

of biblical proportions – great; having big consequences; large in scope (Note: This often refers to natural disasters -- Example: A wildfire of biblical proportions swept through California and destroyed hundreds of houses). Biblical is the adjective form of Bible, so here we have a play on words.

(to) clamp down on – to get strict about

(to) pit someone against – to put someone up to fighting someone or something

blessing – two definitions (which is what makes this word choice another play on words here): 1) approval and 2) a favor or gift bestowed by God (Note: there are some other definitions of this word also)

(to) meet with resistance – to face one's objections to something 

(to) sue for damages – to take someone to court and try to get money (or other compensation) from them for harming one's business

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Love Business English: in Honor of Valentine's Day

Pam and Jim from the Office. An example of a
successful office romance.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I've chosen an article on workplace romances to help you improve your Business English. Ahhh, the workplace romance. We all have stories of love at the office. I remember when an old boss of mine disappeared for several days in Europe immediately following an official business trip. Coincidentally, a young assistant at the office was also in Europe for those same three days!

An old friend of mine fell in love during a summer internship. She ended up leaving her husband. The man she fell in love with left his wife. They now have children and are, as far as I know, happily married. So sometimes the office romance does end happily (even when it starts out as "an affair," because one or both of the love-birds is married).

Now, let's get down to business and look at our article for today. It's called "When Cupid Visits the Office, Rules Can Cut Risks" and it is from the Wall Street Journal. We will look at an extract from the article first, with words and phrases to study highlighted in blue.
Companies by now are well-acquainted with the hazards of workplace romance. But, if recent incidents are any indicator, they still find it tricky to put a lid on office passions.
Some companies have attempted to regulate the romantic sparks that fly between co-workers, mindful of the potential legal fallout.
Still, even the best-crafted rules can't guard against workers who follow their instincts instead of consulting the employee handbook.
Inappropriate relationships can topple careers, and allegations of unwanted attention or favoritism can cost companies millions of dollars and land businesses in the headlines for all the wrong reasons…
Lawyers say companies that do lay out ground rules for dating may be able to head some lawsuits off at the pass—or at least curb corporate liability should matters end up in court.
"It's not just about warding off or fending off a claim of harassment. You also don't want to create the kind of environment or perception that that's a way to get ahead," said David S. Baffa, an employment lawyer and head of the workplace-compliance practice at Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Now let's look at the highlighted words and phrases:

(to) put a lid on – to stop; to stop something from increasing. This is often used to discuss spending. For example: Expenses are getting out of control. We need to put a lid on spending.

sparks fly / make sparks fly / when sparks fly – this refers to the reaction between two people. Here, the reference is to "romantic" sparks -- in other words, two people attracted to each other. Taylor Swift has a popular love song called "Sparks Fly" (¯Sing it: 'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile'¯). Also, note that the sparks flying can refer to anger between two people. For example: Doug and Marie disagree on everything. If they're both at the meeting, sparks will fly.

fallout – consequences; bad results of a situation (in this case, the "legal fallout" refers to the lawsuits or legal troubles that may happen following an unsuccessful office romance)

(to) topple – to cause to fall (in both the figurative and the literal sense: when you stack blocks on top of each other and the tower gets tall, you put one more on and the whole thing topples over).

ground rules – basic rules; rules that everybody should be know and follow (Note: I've never worked at a company that laid out the ground rules for dating. All the employee manuals I've seen are pretty boring -- how many days in advance to ask for a vacation day, insurance policies -- nothing so interesting as How to Behave if You've Fallen in Love with a Co-worker).

head something off at the pass – to stop something from happening (in this case, to stop a lawsuit from happening).

(to) curb – to reduce (This verb is also often associated with spending.Example: Money is tight. We need to curb spending).

(to) ward off – to stop something from happening; to hold something off (This phrasal verb is often associated with illness. Example: Many people at my office are sick right now. I'm doing my best to ward off illness).

(to) fend off – to stop something from happening (Note that this is very similar in meaning to "ward off").

(to) get ahead – to advance in one's career (Yes, one way to get ahead may be to become romantic partners with the right person in the organization -- but the lawyer in this article says the company should not create an atmosphere where people think that).

I hope you've enjoyed this Valentine's Day lesson. If so, check out More Speak English Like an American, which is full of more useful idioms and vocabulary for Business English. And office romance, too!