So I said in my profile that I wouldn’t write about copywriting that much, but sometimes I can’t help myself. I just get tired of lazy fool writing.
I am a PR copywriter by trade, but I don’t like to think I’m a particularly pedantic, nitpicky one. Language evolves, and what can seem like rubbish-speak one year can turn into accepted phraseology 12 months later.
BUT, some words and phrases just keep coming up in the PR copy I see every day and they make me sigh. Getting rid of them won’t necessarily help improve standards of writing, but it will help make me happy, and that is what the world is here for after all.
Here, in another post that is simply a list (look, I like lists alright) are my top words and phrases that we should ban in 2009.
1. Key (when used to mean ‘important’, ‘pivotal’, ‘fundamental’)
The word ‘key’ is a wet word, a filler word. It is used to make ordinary sentences sound important and business-like. Lots of things become ‘key’ when PR people write about them: stakeholders, considerations, solutions, industries.
I sigh when I see the word ‘key’, because it means the person probably won’t have thought hard about what they’re saying. For example: “We talk to key stakeholders.” What does that mean? No one knows, least of all the person writing the sentence.
2. In the current economic climate (and variations)
Lazy-slag copywriting at its worst. It is estimated that 10 million articles in 2009 will begin with these words; around 99% of those articles will be explaining how you can ‘get ahead’ during a recession. Only 1% of the authors will have any clue what the ‘current economic climate’ is. Other variations include ‘in today’s fast-paced business world’.
This word should have been laughed into oblivion by now, goddamnit. When people use the word holistic what they mean is ‘takes a lot of stuff into consideration’ – for example, a holistic health practitioner might take into account the patient’s state of mind, star sign and pet preference as well as their physical symptoms. A ‘360 degree, holistic solution’ might, oh god, who knows. Say what you mean, copy slags.
I don’t want to get rid of this word altogether, just carefully monitor its use. In the past, when it wasn’t used by every company that had an incremental product refresh cycle, it was quite a powerful word, linked with Victorian inventors in stovepipe hats and smart engineers working for NASA. Now it is so abused it has become meaningless.
Again, I don’t want to get rid of this word altogether, just limit its use. In certain contexts, the word strategic can be fun and sexy, for example ‘strategic missile command’, ‘strategic troops’, ‘strategic thermo-nuclear heat death’. Outside of war, however, the word strategic is just another Teflon corporate-speak piece of nonsense.
In communications agencies, adjectives are in short supply. What do you call version 6.3 of a product when ‘new’ won’t do? The thing about ‘revolutionary’ is that ‘revolution’ describes a process or effect rather than a state of being. Ergo, a new, untried product cannot be ‘revolutionary’.
OK, OK, I’m guilty of this one. It is really difficult to avoid using the word enabling when writing PR copy. You’re trying to sell a product or service, after all, and that product or service is helping someone do something. So, when drawing up lists of benefits, you generally plump for ‘enabling’. It would be an interesting exercise to find out how many enablings a journalist reads in one day.
Sometimes, just for variation, I use ‘allows you to….’ or ‘helps you to’, but these are equally as sappy. The solution is to go about the problem a different way. Instead of: “The xxx phone enables you to send video messages,” you could try “video messaging is fast on the xxx phone” or something a bit more descriptive such as that. There’s always a way around it.
These grate because of overuse, generally in copy related to technology products. They are really, really boring words, especially when repeated numerous times over the course of an article/release/white paper. They also sound a bit robotic. Skynet in ‘Terminator’ probably maximised and optimised its technology solution when wiping out the human race.
Private Eye already takes the piss out of this one but we still use it. The problem is, some solutions simply have no other word to describe them apart from ‘solution’. What do you use to describe a product that includes software, hardware and management consultancy? It’s a bleeding solution. What can be done? You can use the word ‘product’ instead, or ‘offering’, or ‘package’, or ‘service’. They’re not perfect but they’re better than solution.
‘Proprietary’ and ‘bespoke’ go together, and often with ‘solution’. There is a place for them. Software is often ‘bespoke’ and ‘proprietary’ and that’s OK, because those are the actual technical words for software that’s been created for a particular business or application.
But when these words creep outside the world of software there is a problem, because they rust up copy due to their technical associations. I’ve been trying to do away with ‘proprietary’ for a while. My solution (aarrgghh!) is to use ‘exclusive’ or ‘xxx-developed’. Hopefully I’ll come up with something better soon.