February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – 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 – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.
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. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. 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, named after popular photographic film, 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 – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression 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 ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – 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 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.
February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Too many exclamation marks!: There isn’t a place for them in the serious world of hard news.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
The wham-bam, willy-nilly use and abuse of apostrophes drives me bonkers. It seems every day I see another way in which the poor little mite is mangled: either unnecessarily heaved into a made-up word (like RT’s or CD’s) or left out of ‘your’ or ‘its’ just at thewrong moment. The apostrophe must be the most badly taught and misunderstood piece of punctuation in the English language – or don’t people care?
Well, I’ve just found someone who does. He runs the Apostrophe Protection Society (I can sleep better at night now knowing there is one) and the good man dedicates his life to teachingapostrophe good practice. After a lifetime in journalism, John Richards decided in retirement to set up a website on the subject of his pet peeve, the apostrophe and, more specifically, the abuse of it. He thought a few like-minded people might respond but within a month had more than 500 letters of support from folk all over the globe. Eleven years later, the APS is still going strong.
Which brings me to the rules. Is it because they’re so simple that some people try to over-complicate them?
Apostrophes are used to denote:
- A contraction or missing letter: don’t, haven’t, won’t, it’s.
- Possession: Bowler Hat’s website, a month’s rent
And that’s it!
Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals so CD’s, RT’s, GP’s, sofa’s, for example, are all wrong because those words were intended to denote more than one of the items. I saw those particular mistakes recently in a variety of places (one is obviously Twitter) but there are also many good apostrophe-catastophes on the APS website. I would have thought they’d all come from cheap and cheerful street vendors or retail outlets but you’d be surprised: check out the errors from the BBC, Facebook and several district councils.
Some of the mistakes you see there are really cringeworthy: not so much the ‘Honk if your Horny’ handwritten notice which can easily be corrected with a flick of the pen but more the ‘ALL BLACK’S’ printed tee-shirt – how much would it have cost to recall that run? And, of course, if those on Twitter remove the apostrophe from their RT’s it gives them one more character to play with in their tweets. That’s never a bad thing when you have a limit of 140 characters but it makes perfect sense if it’s actually correct.
February 2, 2012 § 1 Comment
Storytelling is what brought me into the world of journalism. Storytelling is what keeps me writing and storytelling is what works in terms of catching and keeping a reader’s attention.
Once upon a long while ago, when I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with my life, I read a newspaper report about the killing of a young newspaper boy. What was remarkable about that story was the way it was written. I was tearful by the time I finished it and decided that writing stories was what I wanted to do with my life. That is, I wanted to write stories that could move a reader in the way that story had moved me.
If it that sounds a bit dramatic, I probably was at the time. It’s true that now I don’t tend to write stories that make people cry! But I still believe that stories have a force that can move their reader. Everybody has a story to tell and I make it my job to find that story and write it in a way that the reader wants to hear.
If you tell your target audience you’re the best in your field they probably won’t take much notice because they’ve heard it all before. Same if you say you’re offering best value. Same if you tell them they need you. You’ve got to do better than that to get their attention because your competitors are saying pretty similar stuff. You need a differentiator to get them to know you, to like you, to trust you and to buy you.
Your story is going to make the difference and set you apart from the rest. Storytelling is the key to communicating with your customers.