On the Matter of Words, Words Matter
Every year or so, I am reminded of the expression that words matter. Words matter in our personal relationships and words matter in how we build our business ties. Recently, I had a client who, in order to describe a competitor’s actions, used the term “it’s as if they were smoking crack.”
Red flag? Yes. And an excellent learning moment as well. In our Small Business Marketing Plan bootcamp we sometimes include an entire section on “words that work in marketing.” I bet you can easily guess some of them: New, Free (except in the subject line of an email), Healthy, and Sale to list just a few.
With the help of a lot of friends, I thought I would compile an up to the minute list of phrases that are out there in the marketplace of ideas which are causing negative reactions.
Here is how I compiled the list
At 9:30 in the morning, I went onto my personal profile on Facebook and posted this: “Info needed for a blog: what phrases do you find most over used and trite? (Example…” It’s like X, on steroids.”) Thanks, in advance!”
That’s it. Within 24 hours, I received over 80 responses from people who think that words matter. I will give you the list, along with my comment. Let’s go!
“We’re committed to being transparent.” Use this and your audience will test you. I DO use this one. I WANT to be tested. Sharyn and I tell people all the time that we pull the curtains back, so though this gets used a lot, we are starting off with a phrase that can help you. Surprise!
“This lady did X… and you won’t believe what happened next.” This is quite popular right now for online marketers to use. It’s used to generate a lot of click throughs because people are curious what that lady did next.
“In all honesty” along with “believe me.” Several people posted this one. The phrase implies that if you have to tell people when to believe you, the rest of the time you are not telling the truth.
My friend Cristin Williams posted this: “It’s pretty industry specific, but those “One call, that’s all,” and “one click, that’s it” phrases drive me bonkers. I think it started with one person, but now it’s everywhere, with every lawyer, and it’s just incredibly annoying.” The other side of this is that if people have to click too many times, they will NOT click to buy.
Any time someone is referred to as “the LeBron of” a different job, it’s annoying. It’s also not specific enough. Do we mean that he or she is a star? Or a leader? Or a household name? Or a diva? Or a philanthropist? It could be anything, both positive AND negative. It’s not just LeBron James, either. Any time you compare two people in entirely different fields, there is the possibility, unless it is specifically explained, that your words could be misunderstood. Similar to this one is “Legendary.” Being good or even the best at something doesn’t make you legendary. Not even close. In fact, most people of legend never existed.
“X” is the new “y” doesn’t work anymore, either. The minute Orange is the New Black became a television show, it was over. Oh, and something being ‘over’ is over, too.
“Whatever” along with “just saying” are two of the most dismissive, negative terms you can use in your writing. Use them with a prospect and you will see how much words matter.
“Revolutionary” is overused, too. Everything isn’t revolutionary, and most of the things that use the word aren’t even all that impressive.
“Getting to the next level …” along with “Game changer, next level, or take your business to the next level.” Those got taken to a whole new level of negativity with the people who answered. I am guessing far too many business gurus (we, for the record, are NOT marketing gurus, we are marketing ORACLES) include it in their presentation and now next leveling is no longer a thing.
Having someone get “Thrown under the bus” is just plain overused. Figure out some other way to talk about getting stabbed in the back. Perhaps something from Hamlet when he stabs Claudius with the poisoned rapier and then forces him to drink from the poisoned goblet. That’s going a bit highbrow!
“Follow Your Dream” is great on a poster or a facebook meme, but not in your writing.
“Cattywompus.” Someone added this and I just agreed. Besides, I never used it in a blog before so maybe I will get an SEO point or two.
“Patootie” as another word for butt is icky.
“Some people say…” is a just plain lazy way to make your point. Who are “some” or “everyone?” There are ways to do this properly, but I would suggest we chat about it first. Head to BoxFullOfMarketing.com and when we have our time scheduled, ask us about the NLP method.
“Literally” and “come with.” These two literally come with ways to misuse them.
“Team player.” She is a team player. She goes to all the meetings our department has and takes notes. She never SAYS anything, but she is in the room. If you are on a team, you are a player on the team. Unless you are the coach. Then you are aware that there is “no I in team,” that “everyone’s opinion should count” (no, it shouldn’t), and that there is “no such thing as a stupid question” (my goodness, there IS).
“Hands on. Turn key.” Nothing gets done if you do not put your hands on it in some way. Even if it is to tell your assistant to put his hands on it and turn the key.
“Best thing since sliced bread.” Seems to make this list every time. Has there been NOTHING better than sliced bread since bread was first sliced instead of torn apart in 1928? At the very minimum, I would go with air conditioning and microwave popcorn.
“That said…” When I hear someone say this, I always say “What did you say?” Try it. “For what it’s worth,” it’s a funny way to let them know they using a cliché.
“Basically.” This is a personal hatred for me. Basically, when people begin their explanation with basically, they are telling me that the rest of the story will not matter or that I am too dumb to understand the intricacies of their story. Or maybe I have it wrong and they are telling me that theirs is a simple story. Words matter.
My friend, Mark Shinn, shared this: Ok, this is mine: . . “I know, Right?” . . . Think about it . . . if you already know, why exactly are you asking for validation?
I can agree with that, Mark. In other words: I know, right?
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”…I’ll usually respond with “you just did. Do you have another?” or something like that.
“Deja vu all over again.” was added a few times. I will probably add it again. Just say you had a feeling of déjà vu, but could not place it. Besides, isn’t it redundant?!?
“”It is what it is”…”that ship sailed”…”so be it” I didn’t realize it until Judy Cantu added these three in one post, but all of those drive me crazy. I would have to add that “missing the boat” would go along with the ship leaving the harbor.
Stand up comic, Sal Rodriguez, responded with “It’s in God’s hands.” What if you are communicating with someone who has had a falling out with the Deity or is not a believer? I think it would be better to substitute something about Nature. But not Mother Nature.
Another phrase that goes along with this one is “Getting Closure” which most every therapist loves to use when setting our schedule of visits to their office. When it comes to religion, words matter deeply so be aware.
Most folk do not use the word “LIKE” as a modifier in their writing, but when we speak, it’s like, so totally incorporated in our speech patterns, that like, we don’t notice it.
My skin crawled when I read Janet Pheiffer’s contribution: “Agree to disagree.” Oh, so you are telling me that I am wrong and you are verbally patting me on my head and sending me to the Dunce corner?!?
One of my respondents added “‘Reach out to…’ makes me want to reach out and strangle that person!” Wow, those are some strong feelings.
Several people said that AMAZING and AWESOME are overused. That’s sad because awesome is one of my favorite words. Another phrase I use all the time is “In other words” because it is an easy crutch for me to use when I want to teach something from a second or third point of view. And what follows is not better when I wrap up my soliloquy with “the bottom line is…” Didn’t I just get you there???
So “at the end of the day” words matter so I am asking you to be cognizant of the words you use. Avoiding the cliché brings your written and oral communication “to another level” which is always a solid choice.
Three rules borrowed from the world of fashion
(because they came to mind so I will use them here)
- Dress better than the people you are on stage in front of. This includes being on stage in front of one new client. In this case, watch your language.
- Dress for Success. Use words without being lazy and falling back on tired phrases that everyone else is using. You are different. You are better. Allow your communication to speak to it.
- Coco Chanel said “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” As we end, let’s change that to “Write shabbily and they lump you in with the crowd. Write impeccably and they will remember you.
When you would like help with crafting your messages, please give us a call at (800)705-4265. Even better, jump onto our website BoxFullOfMarketing.com and get scheduled into our calendar.
Shall we lighten the mood a bit?
George Carlin’s soliloquy of trite phrases in advertising
With Gratitude To….
I would like to thank the following people who added phrases into this “words matter” blog. I appreciate you all!
Butch Leiber, Cristin Williams, Jed Bauman, Jaelline Jaffe, Sharone Rosen, Bliss-Ann Herlihy, Mike Schenker, Joe Ivone, Geri Whaley, Deb Jones, Mary Nolan, Christine Dellosso, Mark Shinn, Lisa Miles, Cara Biradi, Judy Cantu, Dawn Duffy, Michael Capozzoli, Sal Rodriguez, Lori Ellison, Leighla Kelly-Altilio, Jeff Donovan, Jude Cormier, Bob Haywood, Linda Boyne Coneen, Mark Eisenberg, James Mercal, Nancy Kelel, Dennis Burnham, Dina Hubbard, Denise Schickel, Star Tomlinson, Lisa Riley, Holly Croft Rasey, Alane Wainwright, Marlea Evans, Janet Anderson, Barry Shapiro, Marie Robinson, Michelle Goldwater, Joy Kennel, Randy Gold, Kevin Hannah, Eric Floyd, Jeffrey Grimshaw, Portia Franklin, Cyndi Ridge Bergerhofer, Phil Clement, Gregg Fritchle, Janet Pheiffer, Bill Dehart, Joyce Parsons Doull, Frances Gandy Walsh, Leslie Kapner, Jonathan Walters, Anna Marie Russo, Dave Braun and Mr. Wil Bowers.