I was in the big Kennington Tesco the other day (Tesco being the UK’s biggest supermarket, international friends), and over the cabinet with the sandwiches, crisps and cans of Coke was a big old sign:
What is snacking? It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone say positively (‘ooh, I really fancy doing some snacking during my afternoon lull’). You do hear health campaigners talking about it, though (‘constant snacking is at the root of the obesity crisis’). Which makes that cabinet much less tempting.
But it’s part of a trend for businesses to –ing things into nouns in a way that feels distinctly unnatural to me. So our utilities talk about ‘billing’ (‘I’ll put you through to someone in billing’); I bought a shirt the other day that had a label in it that said ‘quality shirting’; and nigh-on all our clients talk about ‘messaging’.
It seems to me that the new versions shift the focus from the things you and me can touch or hear or eat (snacks, bills, shirts, messages) to the process that involves them. And because the process matters much more to the company (or maybe justifies the existence of a team within it) than to me, it feels weirdly corporate and remote.
But it looks like it’s on the rise. Tweet us @TheWriter if you spot more corporate –inging.
Shove in a hashtag. Plonk in a couple of capitals. Crowbar in a number or three. And you’ve got a secure password, right? Something like P4rR0t! (with a zero, of course).
Ugh. Coming up with one is enough to give you a migraine. Never mind remembering it.
Thing is, all that effort is a waste of time.
What’s wrong with these passwords?
They’re not actually very secure. Hackers might try and guess your password. But more often they’ll just get their computer to hash out every combination. And computers don’t care about the difference between the letter x or a question mark. So it’s length that really slows a computer down, not complexity.
And they’re a nightmare to remember. So you have to think of something like your favourite animal or number. (How many people probably have the password Dragon13?) Or you forget it over and over and have to faff and reset it.
The secret is stories
XKCD said it best. Use a few random words and you’ll make your password stronger, because it’ll be longer. And it’ll also be easier to remember.
The reason comes back to how we’re hardwired for stories. You don’t even need to try to give a password meaning and you’ll end up doing it anyway.
It’s like how you can’t watch a video of random shapes moving without assuming there’s some meaning behind it. Or how people remember the order of a deck of cards by imagining them around their house. If you pick a few random words, you’ll probably be able to think of a narrative to link them together. And it’s easy for us to remember stories.
So next time you need a new password: grab a dictionary, jab a pencil into it a few times, and think of a story.
You might have noticed there’s a bit of football on the telly at the moment.
Yes, the World Cup’s here, bringing with it hundreds of analysts, bloggers, commentators, pundits and podcasters.
TV punditry is dominated by ex-pros, fond of telling people that ‘the Pirlos of the world’ (pretty sure there’s only one Pirlo, Andy) like to play ‘in and around the opposing number ten’ (pretty sure he can’t play in the opposing number ten, Andy). They’re also fond of phrases like ‘he’ll be disappointed with that’ and ‘if anything, he hit it too well’. Players are ‘unveiled’, small teams are ‘minnows’ and transfers are ‘protracted’. Words you’d almost never use in a sane conversation pop up constantly.
At the other end of the spectrum are the bloggers and podcasters. These guys are so knowledgeable on the game that they’ve coined an almost entirely new language to debate it in. If you don’t know your trequartistas from your registas*, and your inverted wingers from your false nines, you’ll struggle to make it through a match report.
But there is one pundit who’s managed to unite both camps in something approaching admiration: part-time pundit and England coach Gary Neville.
And his secret? No jargon or clichés, he just uses everyday language. Here he is breaking down where Liverpool went wrong against Chelsea at the end of last season.
This is a team that did some absolute no-nos. There is a way to chase a game: you don’t shoot from unrealistic distances, and you don’t cross from deep areas unless you’ve got big men in the box.
As ever, it’s the person who can explain complex ideas in a straightforward way who gets the most respect.
And thanks to England’s performance this summer, he’ll be back in a commentary box soon. (He’ll be disappointed with that.)
*These aren’t technically new terms, they’re Italian positions that have been around for decades – but they’ve only found their way into English commentary in the last few years.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought a picture frame from Habitat (don’t worry; this blog gets more interesting). At just the wrong moment for them, they’ve asked me to review their service on ‘independent review community’ site Trustpilot. And in the middle of my grumpiness about the seemingly endless and impossible task of getting a picture frame from one part of London to another (sorry, I know I promised), I got a nice surprise.
When you go to post a review on Trustpilot, you get some writing advice.
It kicks off with ‘Your opinion in one sentence’. ‘Write a catchy header to make your review stand out’, it adds.
And then, when we get to the main bit, it tells you to ‘write as if you’re speaking to a friend’.
Really simple, and really effective. And most importantly, it nudges you in the right direction at just the right moment. At The Writer, we’re always moaning about the fact that even brands who’ve bothered to decide how they sound too often hide that advice in guidelines documents that no-one ever looks at.
Better to stage an intervention: surprise people with useful ‘tone of voice’ direction in the PowerPoint template everyone has to use, or on the timesheet everyone has to fill in. It’s much more likely to hit home at the point when you actually have to use it.
No, not that hash.
I’m talking about hashtags.
I used to hate hashtags. More accurately, I hated how a lot of people used them.
I thought they should only be used to tag topics of interest, which was their original function on Twitter, the site that made them popular.
As in: ‘Stubborn Love is my favourite #Lumineers song.’
Twitter automatically turned a hashtag phrase into a hyperlink to search results for that phrase, which made for a tidy, useful system. If a tweet intrigued you and it contained a hashtag, you could click on it and quickly find all the other tweets on that topic.
But soon enough people started using them to just add free association nonsense to their tweets. And later, Facebook posts.
You know what I mean.
‘Going to see the #Lumineers tonight! #SoExcited #CantWait #GuitarsAndFedorasTogetherForever #LoveMyLife #DontHate #Blessed’
Why’d I hate stuff like that? Mainly because it was unwieldy. Aesthetically unpleasant, like getting to your hotel room to find a sweeping view of a brick wall.
But it also annoyed me because I felt that people were using hashtags as cover to say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say. Like they knew the things they were writing were obtuse but they were shoving them in my face anyway.
But I’ve had an epiphany. This ‘liberal’ use of hashtags ain’t so bad after all.
See, while I want things to look nice, at the same time I also wish people were less afraid of writing. Less reticent about expressing themselves.
And if my social network is at all a realistic sample, there’s no question that hashtags let people who ordinarily don’t say or write much of anything in public show another side of themselves. On balance, I have to say that’s a good thing.
It also got me thinking. If hashtags let people say things they wouldn’t normally say, and if they let people who wouldn’t usually say anything say something, then they might be a great cure for writer’s block.
I’m not suggesting that when you have writer’s block you get on Facebook and fill your status update with random thoughts.
But I am suggesting you pretend you are. Think about what hashtag phrases you’d use for your topic, and I bet you’ll free your mind up to produce words you wouldn’t ordinarily come up with.
So if I were coming up with a theme for this post, I might think about: