February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking, she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not.
I mentioned this and he realised I wasn’t concentrating on his story but wondering about the turn of phrase.
“You know what I mean!” he said.
Yes, I know what he meant, but technically, I pointed out, if she was speaking on a mobile phone she didn’t need to slam it down and actually, slamming it down wouldn’t have achieved the outcome she wanted.
So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:
- Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. That isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. From there we coined the expression ‘she’s a carbon copy of her mother’ meaning she’s very similar in appearance to her mother. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
- Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
- Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and in the first place make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
- Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
- Put somebody through the wringer – give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. We’ve used the expression since to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
- Snapping a photograph. I just used the expression in Number 3 – where did we get that from? Old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
- And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!
There must be many more phrases that, even if they’ve stood the test of time, don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.
January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
History was my least favourite subject at school. It meant nothing to me – just a list of dates that seemed to have no relevance to my life. I was more a ‘books’ type of pupil where I could delve into a good story or use my imagination and make one up. So English – language and literature – always appealed.
Only the other week I realised it didn’t have to have been like that. I discovered how I’d missed out on Britain’s richly fascinating history. Shortly after watching an intriguing programme about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, I was captivated by a programme on Queen Victoria and her faithful, beloved Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who became known as the Munshi. It talked about how he’d taught her Urdu and the Queen had ignored all protests from her court objecting to her blatant fondness for the domestic help (foreign, at that!)
That tells you quite a lot about how we learn – how we’ve always learnt. Give us a list of facts and figures and many of us will find them easily forgettable.
Slot those facts and figures into a story and suddenly you’ve given them a life. Most of us will now remember.
Think about it like this: we tell each other stories, we pass on stories, we get excited about stories, we analyse stories, we SELL each other stories. We don’t do any of that about a column of facts.
And that’s exactly how good marketing works: what’s your company story? What’s the story behind that marketing campaign? Tell the story and your customers will learn about you and talk about you. Bark your specifications and they’ll quickly forget you.
Just getting something FREE, for example, is going to stick with them for a couple of blinks. They’re not actually going to learn anything about you – as decent as it is of you to offer the free offer – and frankly, they won’t remember your name tomorrow.
You’d almost certainly be better off selling your story to your customers and potential customers (for free).
Do you know your story? You’re living your story every day so it may be difficult for you to be objective and see it, to be fair. You probably need a Bowler Hat person to talk to you about why you are, what you are and when it all began and how?
It costs nothing to call to see if we can get to the bottom of who you are and why you should be writing about yourself! 01753 831604 is the landline and 07946 450708, the mobile – let’s have a chat.
January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment
It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.
If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.
A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.
There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.
I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.
Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.
I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?
February 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again because I still don’t know the answer: Do you have a standard sign-off for emails or do you vary it for each recipient?
I would guess that most of us throw out the rules if we’re emailing friends or clients we know well but what’s a good standard sign-off for anybody who falls into a more formal group. I don’t really have a ‘standard sign-off’ and am always finding reason to tailor it.
What I mean by that is that I’ll write the email in a way that Many thanks makes sense as a finishing phrase or Speak soon because both of those seem friendlier than many of the alternatives. I’ll take you through them as I see them:
Very best wishes – It sounds a bit over-sincere, I’ve decided;
Best wishes – alright but a bit stiff;
Best – manly (I can’t really explain why I’m giving it a gender but I said this was how I saw it);
All the best – old-fashioned and somehow too ‘old’ to be coming from someone of my age;
Kind regards – I’m not sure it’s ‘me’;
Warm regards – twee;
Regards – to the point. I feel fine when I receive a ‘Regards’ but signing off with one doesn’t come naturally;
Sincerely – not right for an email, not right for anything anymore – too formal;
Yours – same problem as ‘Sincerely’;
Sincerely yours – twice the problem of ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Yours’;
Take care – I like this, both for friends and for clients I know well. It’s not too personal but it’s friendly;
Love – I write that on birthday cards (because I love the person I’m sending them to. The same can’t be said for all email recipients so it’s not right.)
Name only – sometimes I sign off with just my name, particularly if we’re having an ’email conversation’ when wishes of any kind start to make the messages look clumsy. Otherwise it looks lazy unless you know the recipient well;
Initial only – rude;
Cheers – we’re doing business not buying a round;
Smiley – no;
See you soon – you probably won’t so as a generic sign-off it’s inappropriate;
Thanks for getting in touch – I like that;
Thanks so much for getting in touch – too needy;
Many thanks – a favourite but you’ve got to have something to thank the recipient for otherwise it doesn’t make sense. That’s why this blog started out with me saying I rewrite emails in order to be able to use this sign-off;
Speak soon – I also like this. If you’re emailing a client you know well you probably will speak soon. If you don’t know the client well yet, the sign-off reinforces the fact that you’re opening channels of communication.
So having run through many of the usual suspects I still haven’t found a generic sign-off I feel comfortable with. Something you might say at the end of a meeting goes towards deciding your ideal sign-off but it’s not a standalone decider because often you haven’t met the person at the receiving end of the email so the relationship is different.
Which means that even after giving the issue much thought I haven’t got anywhere with it. There will be some who will say I’m over-thinking the issue. I don’t agree. Every piece of communication goes towards your professional reputation and the way you close an email could be seen as smooth or awkward and that matters very much indeed.
October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
I want to do yoga – frankly I need to do yoga – so when a Winter sun/yoga offer plopped into my inbox it looked just ‘the thing’. I was nearly on my way to find my leggings and book my place. And then I read the copy.
They wanted me to believe that there were professionals at the end of this venture into yoga which, they explained, means union of “body, mint and spirit.” (Please note: this is the sort of mistake your spellcheck can never pick up because although the word’s completely wrong, the spelling’s entirely right so there’s no reason for the spellcheck to question it.)
‘Whether’ was spelt ‘Wether’, sentences were constructed inside-out and back-to-front and the punctuation thrown randomly at the copy like confetti.
This was a three-paragraph email. It’s not hard to get that right – language/writing clearly wasn’t their strength, and they should have given the job to someone who could have polished it up properly. Then more people would have actually followed through, found their leggings and booked a slot.
When I see a company can’t be bothered to spell properly, I wonder what other corners they’re cutting.
Mind your language – would-be customers will doubt your professionalism if you don’t – and you’ll do nothing for your reputation.