Susie Dent is best known for bringing a bit of class to C4’s Countdown.
Not that Rachel Riley isn’t elegant or super smart of course, but if you’re a fan of words over numbers, you’re bound to hold a place in your heart for good old Dictionary Corner.
I digress. The point is that lexicographer Susie certainly knows her stuff when it comes to words and how they work.
Yesterday, I heard her speak at the Adobe Summit where she provided unique insight into how language can be utilised for business on all levels.
Before I summarise her wisdom in a handy little list, here are the results of a poll taken by the audience during the talk.
(This might give you an idea of just how strongly people feel about language)
- 52% ‘literally’ blow up at the over-use of literally.
- 65% are annoyed by the habit of using ‘so’ at the beginning of every sentence.
- 87% have talked about ‘solutions’ and ‘paradigm shifts’ at work.
- 92% want to face-palm when they spot a misspelling.
- 60% aren’t bothered by new words like ‘face-palm’.
- 87% say their company does NOT communicate effectively.
Now, on with that list…
Don’t be scared to stutter
According to research, ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ is not always a bad thing.
One experiment demonstrated how a speech including conversational fillers was more readily understood by the same audience than one that was word-perfect.
This is due to natural rhythms of conversation aiding comprehension, with regular pauses in speech allowing the listener to absorb what is being said.
A large vocabulary doesn’t mean a complicated one
Expanding your vocabulary is one of the most overlooked ways to improve your prospects (and sharpen communication). But it doesn’t mean the words have to be complex – quite the opposite in fact.
Shakespeare had just 20,000 words at his disposal. Today, we have around 50,000.
Learning new words doesn’t mean you have to use all of them, or indeed speak like Shakespeare, but it’ll certainly help you think in a more agile fashion.
Use words with precision
The more words we know, the more we have to choose from, but often the most basic sentence can be the most powerful.
Let’s take Apple for example. With just one phrase, “Think different”, they managed to encapsulate everything the brand stands for.
And not a single mention of the product.
Know your audience
Just because more slang words are appearing, it doesn’t mean the overall language is shrinking. You just have to use them sparingly and appropriately as well as aim them at the right people.
A great example of slang is Susie’s favourite word of the moment: ‘Procaffeinating’. Which means the art of putting everything off until you’ve had another cup of tea.
Similarly, you should always be aware of cultural norms and how words will be translated.
Ditch the gobbledygook
The definition of jargon is ‘unintelligible or meaningless talk’, and in this sense, it is definitely something worth discarding.
Revenue streams, joined up best practice, digital natives… if the person you’re talking to is forced to decipher or un-pick the meaning, it’s not worth saying.
Not all jargon is bad!
According to Susie, although jargon is often annoying, it’s also helpful.
This is because jargon can be seen as a tribal language – i.e. a language that is used to bond or unite a specific group.
With marketers dealing with brand-new concepts on a continuous basis, it’s unsuprising that we’re coming up with new words to describe them.
That being said, whether this is a good enough excuse for ever saying the word ‘leverage’ is debateable.
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