Blog in 12 2014.
This year, for the first time ever, I’ve been given the responsibility of cooking Christmas dinner. So I’ve been looking into whose recipe I want to follow. To Delia or not to Delia? After much toing-and-froing I decided on the warm, cheeky, down-to-earth scribings of Jamie Oliver.
Whilst writing my shopping list (or shopping scroll, as it were), I remembered a conversation I’d had with a client recently. They were gushing about their new CEO: ‘He’s just so friendly and inspiring. And always to the point. We really need his voice to come across in our writing.’
Admittedly, this isn’t a luxury every company has. But identifying your brand with a familiar personality can be a great reference point for writers. By asking yourself ‘what would (actual human person) do?’ you can get a huge team of people writing in a consistent tone.
It’s not just celebrity status that helps Jamie Oliver to sell books, salts, sauces and seats in his restaurants. It’s his humble public persona. And the fact that his team (of TV producers, publishers, FMCG marketers, festival promoters, waiters, tweeters and charity workers) all completely get it, and reflect it in what they do. Hats* off to them. And crossed fingers for me on the big day.
*Santa hats, obviously
‘I've said “jiminy jillikers” so many times the words have lost all meaning!’
Milhouse Van Houten, The Simpsons
My wife and I were Googling potential honeymoon spots the other day when we came across this advertorial on Fodor’s site: 20 of the world’s best romantic hotels.
Regardless of the substance of the slideshow, and how romantic these hotels actually are, I like that title. A lot. Because it shows something that’s becoming increasingly rare in internet headlines: respect for the English language.
Think about it. Nine times out of ten these days, an article like that gets the title:
The 20 most romantic hotels on Earth
20 hotels that will redefine your perception of ‘romantic’
The 20 hotels you have to honeymoon in before you die
It’s obvious that the author, Megan Suckut, had to accommodate search engine optimization (SEO); hence the generic title and the counterintuitive choice of ‘best’ over ‘most’. But I appreciate her not using SEO as an excuse to go the superlatives-on-steroids route. Instead, she’s saying:
‘Here are 20 very romantic hotels. Are they the most romantic hotels on earth? Not necessarily. But they’re up there. So they’re probably worth checking out if you’re looking for a romantic place to stay.’
As a writer, it’s important to me that people use language as correctly and precisely as possible. It’s the most important tool of my trade, and when people misuse it for click bait-y titles, they’re blunting that instrument. Eventually we all lose. Even, if not especially, those same headline writers.
Because how many times can you write things like: The Hanukkah video you will not be able to stop watching before you reach boy-who-cried-wolf status?
That’s a real headline I saw on my Facebook feed today. Will I really not be able to stop watching this thing? It was originally posted on 22nd November. If the people who started viewing it then haven’t been able to turn away, they’re all either dead from starvation, or concerned family and friends have hooked them up to IVs while they sit half comatose, watching this four-and-a-half-minute video on an endless, Sisyphean loop.
Of course I know this hasn’t happened to anyone, but nevertheless, I can cross the website in question off my list of credible go-tos for amusement.
How about: A pretty cute Hanukkah video that’s bound to put a smile on your face?
That would stick out and get my attention.
Russell Brand has just been awarded this year’s Foot in Mouth award from the Plain English Campaign. It’s an annual prize for the most incomprehensible writing around. They’ve called Brand’s choice of language a ‘seemingly endless stream of gibberish’. They say that his diatribes on democracy and revolution don’t actually make much sense.
Well, yes, it’s true that if you’re going to bang on about politics and revolution, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that people can understand what you’re saying. And yes, we suspect that Mr Brand isn’t exactly an avid reader of, say, Ernest Gower’s Plain Words. Here’s an extract from Brand's most recent book Revolution:
This attitude of churlish indifference seems like nerdish deference contrasted with the belligerent antipathy of the indigenous farm folk, who regard the hippie-dippie interlopers, the denizens of the shimmering tit temples, as one fey step away from transvestites.
But then clarity isn’t always the point. There’s also intriguing, provoking, engaging. He chooses the words that are interesting; he obviously likes the shape, the flow, the sound. He’s a logophile:
On what basis can an energy corporation claim to own gas at the earth's core? What's next? Are they going to claim they own our earwax and our uncried tears and start burrowing into our heads for a few sheckles?
He’s got a distinctive voice. You can instantly recognise the, ahem, Brand brand. You can’t say the same for most people talking about politics in the public eye. In fact, Mr Brand, we award you our inaugural mellifluous language award.
But it’s true he might benefit from a bit of help structuring his argument. Fancy coming to our Writer’s secrets workshop, Mr Brand?