Taxi Driver Confessions

Ever try talking to a New York City cab driver?  Think about one of the things you almost always ask.
Getting to where you are going in one piece is what counts when taking a Manhattan taxi. But if you’re like me, when you’re not on the cell phone or returning Blackberry messages, perhaps you’ll engage the driver in conversation.
Are those your kids? As we all know, pictures of cab drivers’ kids often adorn the dashboard. How old are they?  How’s your day been so far?
Lauren Collins, who writes for The New Yorker and reported on an unusual public forum in Manhattan—“Out from Behind the Wheel,” sponsored by public radio station WNYC—is kinda telling us that while it’s OK to talk to cabbies, there’s one thing you should never ask.  (The forum, by the way, was for the much maligned drivers to talk about who they are; discuss strategies for coping with stresses on the road; and figure out ways to improve the industry.)
Collins reported that cabbies have lots of beefs that are not that unusual, from coping with drunks, to paying a $.50 MTA tax that ostensibly funds city workers’ pension plans, to credit card readers that don’t work, and more.
The one passenger question, however, that gets the goat of New York City taxi drivers, is “Where are you from?” Unfortunately, Lauren did not tell readers why the cabbies said they dislike that question so much, but she reported that passengers should “never” ask it.  Thanks for the advice.  Hopefully, at least some of us will remember it next time we are in a New York City cab.


Roger Pondel,


Strange Words from the New Yorker Not Typically Known to Most of Mankind
Since words play such an important role in what we do as corporate communicators, the editor-in-chief of this blog asked me to do a periodic posting on this subject, following the initial one I did late last year.
As a kid, I always read the Word Power feature in Reader’s Digest, a subscription to which I received from a great uncle. It was the only part of the magazine I read. For PW Insight, I will continue to bring unusual words to your attention from my favorite magazine, The New Yorker.
Try your luck at these ten, scrolling down for the answers. Scroll further to see if you can pick out the word that was invented by the mother of late author David Wallace:

  1. Maw
  2. Shtarkers
  3. Heterodoxy
  4. Fillip
  5. Greebles
  6. Abstemious
  7. Chockablock
  8. Krait


  1. Symbolic center of a voracious hunger of any kind
  2. Extremely tough guys
  3. Any opinions at variance with the official position
  4. Anything that tends to rouse, excite or revive
  5. Little bits of lint, especially those which feet bring into bed
  6. Characterized by moderation
  7. Extremely full
  8. Any of several large, banded, usually placid but highly venomous snakes


…As to the totally fabricated word by David Wallace’s mother—Number 5, greebles.


Roger Pondel, Chief Etymologist, PondelWilkinson, Inc.,

M&A Advice You Rarely Read About

The New Yorker—my all-time favorite magazine and the one I read to steal myself away from business news—had an insightful piece about mergers and acquisitions.
Tucked inside the Financial Page column (June 9 & 16, 2008 issue), which focused on CBS’s recently announced acquisition of CNET Networks, were some hidden gems of advice for acquirers of companies:

  • It is not necessary “to own a company to make money from its properties. Much of what mergers are supposed to accomplish can be achieved through partnerships and alliances.”
  • Mergers “that rely more on cost cutting from such actions as combining back-office operations and eliminating redundancies than on promises of vast growth are more likely to be successful.”
  • “Acquisitions of smaller, younger private companies are usually wiser than acquisitions of publicly traded firms,” where the acquirer must typically pay a steep premium to an already known public valuation.
  • While acquisitions may “boost a company’s growth rate, they too often make it bigger without making it better.”

The article’s author, James Surowiecki, aptly quoted Warren Buffett: “Executives see the companies they acquire as handsome princes imprisoned in toads’ bodies, awaiting only the ‘managerial kiss’ to set them free. Unfortunately, most toads turn out to be as warty as they look, and magic kisses are harder to bestow than executives think.”
Surowiecki has written a well-received book, The Wisdom of Crowds—Why The Many Are Smarter Than The Few And How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies And Nations, which describes systematic ways to organize and aggregate the intelligence available in organizations in order to arrive at superior decisions—often better than those that individuals would make, even if they are ‘experts.’


Roger Pondel, President,