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'Just Not Sorry': Gmail Tackles Qualifying Words In Professional Communication


It's January 1 - so how are your New Year's resolutions going? Software developer Tami Reiss has one for you. In 2016, she wants you to think about how you write, especially if you're a woman. Her mission is to get women avoid using words like sorry, as in sorry to bother you or just, as in I was just reaching out because - you get the picture.

TAMI REISS: We edit ourselves out and we minimize ourselves. And these qualifiers we do because we're afraid of coming off as too strong when in reality, by adding them, in we're making ourselves come off as weak.

CORNISH: To help people stop using these words, Reiss' company, Cyrus Innovation, launched a plug-in that works on Gmail. It's called Just Not Sorry. It underlines such qualifiers so you can think twice about using them. It came out this week and already has about 15,000 users. Tami Reiss got the idea after watching Comedy Central's "Inside Amy Schumer." Here's a sketch from the show about a panel of women - top innovators in their respective fields - who have trouble talking about their work.


DOUG MOE: (As Moderator) Do you need some water?

MANDY SCHMIEDER: (As Professor Sasha Baron) Yeah, sorry. That'd be great, but if you can't no worries. Don't worry about it.

MOE: (As Moderator) No, why don't we just come back to you?

SCHMIEDER: (As Professor Sasha Baron) Sorry.

MOE: (As Moderator) Amy, can you give us a little background on the research you're involved with?

AMY SCHUMER: (As Amy) Absolutely. I - well...

SCHMIEDER: (Professor Sasha Baron) Oh, thanks so much.

SCHUMER: (As Amy) Sorry.

SCHMIEDER: (As Professor Sasha Baron) Oh, no, no, I'm sorry.

SCHUMER: (As Amy) No, no, no, please - I...

SCHMIEDER: (As Professor Sasha Baron) I'm so sorry. I just thought that - yeah.

CORNISH: Ann Friedman has been thinking a lot about women and language, too.

ANN FRIEDMAN: Policing language is sort of like treating a symptom rather than the disease.

CORNISH: The New York Magazine columnist has been writing about this topic.

FRIEDMAN: Linguists that I interviewed about this said, you know, these words serve a purpose. They're not just filler. And so I think that when you look at the ways communication happens in the workplace, this is actually - can be frequently a positive. But because women sometimes have a hard time being taken seriously in this more general way, it becomes easier to focus on language as something that's kind of a quick fix toward being - I don't know - heard more clearly.

CORNISH: The take away - don't be sorry for saying you're sorry or for downloading a plug-in to help you stop saying it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.