We enjoy whacking hornets’ nests by advising writers which words and phrases they should avoid, stirring vital debate and global recriminations.
This time we asked which words we ought to use more often.
Seeking to raise our level of discourse, we queried communicators, writers, and talkaholics on commuter trains about which locutions should gain circulation.
“In the words of Wittgenstein: ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world,’” writer Steve Dempsey offers. “So a better vocabulary and subtler synonyms mean a more interesting outlook.”
He would know. A digital strategist with Slattery Communications in Dublin, he authors the blog Uncommon Parlance, which highlights words such as fastuous and slubberdegullion. This serves as “an antidote to the piss-poor persiflage like leverage, passion, solutions, etc. that seem to be coming out of people's mouths with increased regularity.”
Tom Braman—Web team lead for King County, Wash.—laments the inexplicable rarity of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, wiki-defined as the fear of long words. But his real choice is the regionalism “sic ’em,” as in “He doesn’t know sic ’em.” (He includes a link to an old William Safire column that explains it as “He doesn’t know anything.”)
“Can we bring it back, at least in my Northwest corner of the world?” he says.
Shirley Skeel, media relations manager at the University of Puget Sound, is troubled by the absence of notion (“one of those nice little words that is slipping out of use”) and hoi polloi (“such rhythm to it!”).
MediaMind Communications and PR Manager Samson Adepoju argues for “defenestration of bad ideas. Bespoke campaigns. Penultimate...although it could make a sentence voluble. Roborant. More equanimity can help to create indelible memories.”
Are we all getting too bellicose and bilious these days? Not Orly Telisman of Orly Telisman Public Relations, apparently. She calls for an increased use of compromise (“politics make it sound like a bad word”) and play (“we ‘go out’ or ‘have plans’; why don't we play anymore?”).
I before you
Commonplace words carry power, too. Dr. Robyn Odegaard, a communications and conflict resolution expert, says using you creates defensiveness. “I regularly help people understand the power of using ‘I …’ statements, particularly during a tough conversations or disagreements,” she says.
Others call you an underused tool. Deborah Grayson Riegel, president of Elevated Training and visiting professor of executive communications at Peking University, says speakers and writers should “amp up their use of the word … to focus on audience interests, not their own,” she says.
Tom Trush argues this point in a forthcoming book, “The ‘You’ Effect: How to Transform Ego-Based Marketing Into Captivating Messages That Create Customers.” He suggests that communicators use the word to “create content that reads more like a conversation and less like a
Shel Horowitz, author and ethical/green marketing expert, would like to see greater use of because, which “forces you to explore your reasons,” and easily, which “creates a bridge between where the reader is where you want him or her to be.”
PR Daily contributor Denise C. Baron, who has written about cringing when she hears no problem, would like to hear more of “Nice work!” and “Good to have you on board!”
When feeling stories…
Another PR Daily contributor, Daphne Gray-Grant, calls for an increased use of stories, when, and feelings. Corporate writers are often reluctant to push interview subjects to relate stories or describe their feelings, she says.
“One great way to elicit both of these things is to ask the question when—as in ‘when did you know this product was going to succeed?’” she writes.
Leave it to the C-suite to scoff at buzzwords and demand concrete results. Jon Gelberg, chief content officer of Blue Fountain Media, wants to hear more about metrics, results, and return on investment, “because all of these relate to advice that is actionable.”
In her conflict resolution workshops, Janet Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Power Seminars urges people to use the words sorry, appreciate, help (“how can I help you?”), and matter (“your opinion really matters to me”).
‘Words that suck people in’
Allison Way of Think Big Partners keeps handy a list of “words that suck people in,” such as miracle, harmony, bargain, how, and love.
Some others, who responded to an appeal we issued via Help a Reporter Out:
- Author Marlene Caroselli is “troubled by the virtual exclusion of reify from our everyday language. A simple word, it holds such power and such hope.”
- Jacob Young, online reputation specialist, offers the phrases, “When would be a good time to call?” and, “Is there something I can do to help you out in any way?”
- Maureen Anderson, host of The Career Clinic, asks, “Is there a sweeter phrase in all the world than this one? ‘Please, tell me more.’”
- Writer A. Leonard Lucas says, “People have thrown around love so much that it has become meaningless. But adore still has a fresh sense of romanticism.”
- Henry L. Herz, who recently wrote a children's fantasy book Nimpentoad along with his two sons, wishes people would say, ‘Would you kindly do xxx?’ rather than, ‘I need you to do xxx.’”
Will our, ahem, outsized influence in communications make this article a disaster for beloved words and phrases?
Bob Westal warns that “making up a list of good words is just setting up a bunch of perfectly innocent words to become tomorrow's annoying banned words.”
Slubberdegullions everywhere, we’re sorry.