4 words no Copywriter should ever use…ever…

A damp squid. Sorry.    

A damp squid. Sorry.

Recently Oxford University Press published “Damp Squib –  The English Language Laid Bare”, which included a list of the world’s 10 most annoying words or phrases. Among them are: “shouldn’t of”, “fairly unique” and “it’s not rocket science”. The first-mentioned is a personal annoyance. It’s “shouldn’t HAVE”, damn your little pink socks.


Copywriting is no different. From copy-deck to copy-deck, there are repeat offenders when it comes to style and form…mostly because the copywriters that use these dull and dreary words and phrases have no idea how to use them. It’s tantamount to a Stradavarius being played by a 3-year-old; the instrument is nothing more than a cacophany of caterwauling unless played by a professional.

These are the most offensive (mostly because they’re used incorrectly):

  1. Whereby: it’s a word used by all politicians in order to try to sound clever. Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t know how to use this word correctly. Moreover it just sounds pompous. Drop it (along with thereby, therein, therefore, wherein…). 
  2. Synergy: It comes from the Greek syn-ergo, which means literally “working together”. It’s a term that describes a situation where the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. It does not mean “super energy.” It does not mean “hyper-mega-awesome-power”. If you’re going to use it in either of those contexts, don’t. 
  3. Whilst: It’s archaic. It’s bombastic. It breaks a cardinal rule of copywriting: writing the way you speak. 
  4. Irregardless: What the hell does that mean? Someone please tell me. 

Other common offenders: stakeholders, paradigm-shift, up-sell, begs the question, gone cold, ramp up, decimate…. In fact, as far as you can you should steer clear of all platitudes and buzzwords. None of them make for engaging or remarkable copy. Your readers will switch to auto-pilot and edit your copy even as they read it. So look for more interesting ways to say something. Set yourself apart from the herd. Use phrases that excite or intrigue, words that say exactly what you mean…and the less syllables you use, the better.

A little something extra: If you want a list of really useful phrases and words, get a copy of “Perfect Phrases for Sales and Marketing Copy” by Barry Callen. It won’t write copy for you and it won’t turn you into a killer-copywriter overnight but it will spark ideas and it’s a quick reference guide that will keep you from falling back on stale, tired phrases that may become your stock in trade – especially if you write hard-sell or direct-mail copy.


7 thoughts on “4 words no Copywriter should ever use…ever…

  1. oh..I’m busy editing some cycling packages. There’s meant to be a SYNERGY with the tour operators and our company WHEREBY they give me decent content to edit. However, their ‘writer’ (good thing I didn’t use inverted commas..) has the job description IRREGARDLESS of the fact that he/she can’t string together a coherent sentence. So I’m sitting with a big fat ‘WHILST’ in the middle of the awful content. Thought you should know. ;o)

    Fantastic blog.You definitely know what you’re talking about…fan for life.

  2. I have personally banned the phrase “in today’s [highly competitive /ever-changing / insert banality here] world…”. And I try to reread Politics and the English Language every few months, just to remind myself what the stakes are.

    • Hi. Thanks for the comment.
      I totally forgot about that phrase.
      I still get it from time to time in a copydeck – but only from the client’s side.
      After which, it gets erased PDQ!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s