Blog in 03 2011.
We’re always saying that words can make and save companies money.
But they can impact on the less tangible stuff in our lives too (though I don’t want to come on too ‘Paul McKenna’).
For example, I was walking though Oval station this week. It’s a strange cocoon of a station, sheltering you from the elements and the bustle of the streets outside with classical music and rousing quotes.
On this occasion it was a quote written on the staff noticeboard that grabbed me. One of Tolstoy’s finest:
“Music is the shorthand for emotion”.
What a lovely thought, I thought.
And I sauntered merrily down the escalator toward the tube, briefly inspired and touched by Tolstoy’s insight. Shortly afterwards I found myself getting far too intimate with a man’s elbow on the tube.
But despite that, Tolstoy stayed with me. And even in business writing, there’s always an opportunity to cajole, to inspire and stir your reader. Take it.
David Cameron has become a bit weary of the language of axe-wielding, budget-chopping government, and has decided on a change of direction.
Hoorah, that must mean the coalition’s cut agenda is off.
Except that it’s not.
But one thing that is off is the word ‘cut’. We won’t be hearing it as much from now on (well, from Cameron anyway) as he is rebranding it to ‘savings’.
Excellent stuff, that sounds much more palatable.
In the dark days after graduating from university, and before convincing someone to employ me properly, I paid my bills by taking on the usual string of temp jobs and piecemeal work. One of these jobs was to transcribe audio files.
The audio files had to be typed up verbatim. The rules were that I could cut out the ‘erms’ and ‘errs’, but nothing else. So every ‘yeah but’, every ‘like’, every ‘you know’ and every false start to a sentence had to go in.
The finished texts were some of the more surreal pieces of writing I’ve ever come across. It’s not what people said that was odd (though I could tell you some stories). It’s how they were saying it. Here’s an example:
Well, I mean, I think it is slightly more than, like, you’d have for a smaller car but I think I have heard via, kind of, the news and, sort of-, they’re going to really be, you know, penalising, you know, four by four owners.
And here’s another:
No I kind of do the whole leftover thing so if I get a chance to do Tuesday then I, kind of, do a big thing so that serves me until-, both of us until Thursday-, kind of, type deal.
That’s what speech – actual speech – looks like. It’s incoherent and rambling, even though, when spoken out loud, it makes perfect sense. That’s because when you’re talking to someone you can use other signals, like your facial expressions, or intonation, to get your message across.
When you write, the reader doesn’t see your face or hear your voice going up and down. You need a different set of visual clues. Grammar and punctuation take the place of a raised eyebrow, a hand gesture, or a pause.
So when we say to write more like you speak, we don’t mean grammar and punctuation go out the window. They’re your best friends; use them wisely and you’ll keep your reader’s attention.
Little Red Riding In Da Hood
Biggie Bad Wolf
Lil' Tiny Tim
Da Joy Luck Clubz
Wind Willows Clan
Grand Wizzard Gandalf
Sherlock Homie and Dr Wat'sup
Long Island John Silva
Shy-Lox and Porsche
Tim-E the dog
The Fresh Prince (Hamlet)
Flau (bert) Rider
E. Eminem Forster
Virginia da Woolf
Of Mice and Eminem
The Kite Stunna
The Furious Famous Five
The Jungle Book Brothers
Snoop Doggs of War
Fantastic Mr Freddie Foxx
Spot The Dawg
*That’s Twitter Challenge, for the unrapducated among you.
We asked Twitterers what they’d call pancakes if they weren’t called, well, pancakes. This was the result.
Failed Yorkshire Pudding
Spongey Frisbee Flatbreads