Wednesday, 22nd May, 2013 by Rupert
In a recent Guardian article, Steven Poole had an enjoyable dig at office jargon. Among other things, he suggested that asking for something by “end of play” might be “trying to hypnotise you into thinking you are having fun”. I am similarly suspicious of the corporate fondness for prettifying everyday tasks and functions, the word “cascade” being one of the most preposterous examples.
“Please cascade this email to your direct reports,” ran a sentence in an email I was sent the other day in preparation for a workshop. I challenged my clients to find an alternative way of expressing this request, and was delighted when they came up with: “Please share this message with your team.” I was even more delighted that they unanimously preferred their revised version.
In this instance, replacing the words “direct reports” with “your team” was probably just as important in conveying the everyday human warmth so lacking in the original. But the word “cascade” retains a grim fascination for me.
Not only is the introduction of a waterfall metaphor unnecessary and distracting. It also suggests an old-fashioned top-down management style. What about the poor soaked and huddled masses underneath?
Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013 by Will
If you love using your tablet, but you wish it were a phone too, you are probably the target market for the latest addition to the mobile device family: the phablet.
Yes, we have smartphones, and large tablets and mini tablets, so it was only a matter of time before someone developed the obvious portmanteau for “small tablet you can make phone calls on”. Look how earnestly Techcrunch use the word in this article*: http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/18/lumia-phablet-rumour/
Why don’t I like it? It doesn’t sound enough like a phone. A “fablet” (which is what you’d say out loud) might be some sort of “fun tablet” or a “fake tablet” or any number of other things. It’s not immediately clear what a phablet is. Beyond that, it’s a pretty ugly word – “phab” is not an attractive collection of letters. It seems that companies are desperately keen to carve their own niches in the mobile device market, and will use neologisms, suffixes and any other weapons they can to do that.
So let’s take this to its logical conclusion, shall we? If there are netbooks – how about one that stores everything online? A “cloudbook”**? If we have laptops something half the size would be a “thightop”. A netbook you can make calls on would have to be a “netphone” (after all, “phonebook” is taken). And a fax machine for your lap would be the “lapfax”. How about a netbook without internet access? We could call it just a “book”.
What’s my point? Much as I like new words, there are things that have been coined that really never needed to be. “Phablet” may yet take off, but the word sounds about as awkward as holding up a 7″ tablet to your face and talking into it.
*To be fair to the author, she does express misgivings about the word before using it repeatedly.
**I’m aware that I have basically just described a Chromebook – maybe a ChromebookMini?
Tuesday, 26th March, 2013 by Susannah
If anyone needed proof of the value of summarising, Yahoo’s purchase of Summly for millions of pounds is surely it.
Summly is an app, created by 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio, that uses an algorithm to provide automatic summaries of news stories found on the web. Announcing the deal with Yahoo on Summly’s website, Nick D’Aloisio said
“As we move towards a more refined, liberated and intelligent mobile web, summaries will continue to help navigate through our ever expanding information universe.”
He developed the app to save time, having found searching the web on his mobile laborious. He was getting far more information than he needed as he revised for his history exam.
We all need summaries. Busy executives want a single page that gives them the main thrust of a long report. Web users want an idea of what’s in a site, a section or an article before plunging in. They don’t want to waste time reading things that aren’t relevant. Summaries or blurbs guide them through a site to what they want.
In our Clarity training courses, we cover summary writing and give people tips on how to do it. For example, select a single strong message and back it up with one or two telling facts. If you include too much detail, the reader won’t be able to take it all in.
Thursday, 7th March, 2013 by Rupert
We can all learn something from the activities of the government’s so-called Nudge Unit, which applies elementary psychology to make it easier for people to act in their own and the public interest – insulate lofts, keep cars off the streets, pay taxes etc.
Its official name is the Behavioural Insights Team, and the headline “Pay your tax or lose your car”, composed for the DVLA, was a very effective example of scare tactics in action. Almost instantly, it doubled the number of people who paid their car tax on time. But there are many other persuasive techniques, and one of my favourites is flattery.
Whenever I suspect that it will be difficult to convince someone to come round to my point of view, I always look for something in their position with which I agree. “You are quite right…” I say or write, and describe their rightness on one particular aspect of the issue, before going on to introduce other considerations.
In my experience, someone who is smiling inwardly at being recognised for their rightness is much more amenable to reason.
You’re right to be sceptical of glib advice, but might you try it all the same?
Monday, 4th March, 2013 by Will
When I saw a particular advert this morning, I was tempted for the first time in my adult life to vandalise a poster. If, like me, you’re a bored train commuter, perhaps you recognise the following:
“This is for those who take their own route. The ones whose spirits can’t be dampened, even by the rain. For the ones on a constant journey. For those who try, try again. This is for those who live by the saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.”
Can you work out what this advert is selling? Possibly a backpacking holiday somewhere cool and exotic like Brazil or Thailand? Or maybe a shiny new 4×4, perfect for offroad trekking?
Or maybe glorified ibuprofen. That’s right, this is the latest advert for the irritatingly-spelled Nurofen. So what’s my problem with it? Mostly I think they’re kind-of overreaching a bit. Their tagline for the campaign is “for lives bigger than pain”, but what they really mean is “for headaches”.
Nurofen’s Facebook page is filled with stories of people bravely taking their own decisions, living life to the full etc. I guess when you’re competing with every generic manufacturer out there, you’re forced to try to differentiate yourself somehow. That said, I can’t help but feel that the “normal” approach to selling drugs – sciencey words and images or maybe before-and-afters – is more effective than desperately wishy-washy life-affirming claptrap.
In fact, maybe there’s room in the market for a new drug that takes the Ronseal approach – “Headache pills. For when you have headaches. Take two with water and your headache will stop.” At least that advert wouldn’t give me a headache!
Wednesday, 21st November, 2012 by Will
It’s been a few months since my post on PIIGS and BRICs, so I thought I’d update you on the latest financial crisis jargon.
“Grexit” (Greek exit from the Eurozone) from last time has been joined by “Brixit” (British exit from the EU. It also appears less frequently as “Brexit”), “Spexit” (Spanish exit) and the more awkward “Fixit” (for Finland). I’m coining “Netherlexit” now. :)
The US “fiscal cliff” has had a lot of press thanks to November’s elections. I don’t want to get too technical but the fiscal cliff refers to a bunch of tax cuts that are going to expire on 1st January 2013 at the same time as spending cuts come into force. Many economists are worried that, unless the US government takes steps to mitigate its effects, the cliff will badly damage the US and other economies.
I think it’s an effective metaphor because it conjures up the image of a car speeding towards a cliff then hurtling off, Thelma and Louise-style. It sounds ominous and, assuming the situation isn’t resolved soon, I expect the US stock market data to resemble a cliff – suddenly plummeting in January. Others are more optimistic, saying that “fiscal hill” or “fiscal slope” would be a better, less alarmist term.
I look forward to seeing what new financial words 2013 will bring. In the meantime, you can always expand your knowledge and sound clever to your friends with the Wikipedia list of Eurozone crisis acronyms.
Thursday, 4th October, 2012 by Susannah
On National Poetry Day, a poet appeared on BBC Radio 4 this morning to criticise what he called the daily abuse of language by politicians. Michael Horovitz said every politician should learn a poem and say it back before making any public pronouncement.
That should keep quite a lot of people quiet, but we might extend this rather startling advice to all of us who write as part of our job.
It is echoed in a lecture given some years ago by the Nobel Prize-winning author, Joseph Brodsky. In Brodsky’s words, “Poetry is not only the most concise, the most condensed way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation – especially one on paper. The more one reads poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity.”
It reminds me of Matthew Arnold, another poet who came up with a wonderfully pithy comment on writing style. “People think that I can teach them style,” he said. “What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”
Thursday, 13th September, 2012 by Will
Everything Everywhere is the name for the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile, but that’s about to change. It’s going to become EE, following other companies in ditching words in favour of letters. PricewaterhouseCoopers would rather you thought of it as PwC and Marks & Spencer is slowly moving to become M&S. Even BT hasn’t been British Telecom for more than 20 years, but I’m sure some people still think of it as that.
Unlike EE, the abbreviations for those other companies were all being used by their customers and the media before they were adopted. Everything Everywhere is so new that barely anyone knows what it is and it’ll be gone before they can learn. So EE (can you say it?) will be a terrible abbreviation for what many people have criticised as a terrible name, hence the rebranding.
At Clarity we often see writing in which abbreviations are used thoughtlessly. Unless you’re certain your audience will know what you mean, you should always give the full name when you first mention it and put the abbreviation in brackets afterwards, for example “The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy was written by …”
Like Aviva (formerly Norwich Union) before it, EE can expect to be followed by its former name in explanatory brackets for a while at least. Or maybe the even more awkward construction: “EE (formerly Everything Everywhere, the company formed by the merger of Orange and T-Mobile)”. Awkward and annoying. No wonder Prince went back to his old name.