She slammed the phone down or did she?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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’.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

 

 

 

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

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?

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10 Top Press Release Mistakes

February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

Magazine display in a bookstore.  Présentoir de revues dans une librairie.

  1. Clunky headlines: Don’t try to get everything, including the name of your company, in the headline. The name of your company is a turn-off anyway. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  2. Written in the first person: You’re verging on the advertorial if your press release is a ‘Me, me, me’ or ‘We, we, we’ document. Think about how you’re adding value to the reader’s life.
  3. A press release with no news: To be fair, what can the press do with that? Journalists are looking for something newsworthy and meaty that they can their teeth into.
  4. Full of jargon: You may have news but it might be buried under jargon that is industry speak but alien to journalists. They’ll bin a press release like that.
  5. Grammar and spelling mistakes: Journalists receive tons of press releases and reject those that look unprofessional. Anything that’s badly put together with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or typographical howlers is not going to get their attention. Proofread, proofread and proofread again.
  6. No quotes to back up the news: If you’re going to suggest that doing such-and-such saves money, for example, get someone to explain how they made it work. Again, it’s all about getting away from the advertorial slant and making your story proper news.
  7. Too many exclamation marks!: There isn’t a place for them in the serious world of hard news.
  8. Sending to the wrong media: This usually means a bit of extra work for you because you’ve got to tailor your press release to fit and can’t send a blanket release to a bunch of titles. But in the long run it’s a bigger waste of time sending exactly the same release to Nursing Times as the one you’re sending to Construction News – for example.
  9. Bad timing: It can make or break a story. Talking about Easter in August isn’t going to find many takers – an extreme example, but you get the point.
  10. No follow-up: What a waste of time if you’ve done all the right checks but then sit back and never find out what happened to all that hard work. Having been a journalist on many titles, I can let you into a secret – it’s all too easy to overlook a press release particularly if a zealous PR person isn’t on your back, checking whether you need more info/more pictures/more quotes/more figures/more anything, frankly, just so they can make sure you use their story. That’s what you need to do.

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