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):
- 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…).
- 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.
- Whilst: It’s archaic. It’s bombastic. It breaks a cardinal rule of copywriting: writing the way you speak.
- 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.