What’s the difference between a visual communications engineer and a sign-writer? About 3000 bucks – otherwise not much. That said, the former is a prime example of the erosion of meaning in the English language, the type of language use that renders words with precise meanings, meaningless.
George Orwell once wrote: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” I would paraphrase him by saying “lanaguage can corrupt creativity.” Think about how often you’ve read copy with phrases like “sourcing lifecycle”, “deep domain knowledge” and “knowledge management initiatives.”
What the hell do they mean?
That kind of writing puts a bullet between the eyes of your readers. And copy must be written to read, not deciphered. Worse, still it stultifies your own creativity as a writer. Consider your own copy. How many platitudes dot your writing? How many terms of jargon? How much company-speak? Using terms and phrases like that becomes habit quicker than you think – and once it’s in you, you may as well dress in something grey and go work in a bank.
In 1946, Orwell came up with what he referred to as the “Remedy of Six Rules” (as part of his essay titled “Politics and the English Language”) – six simple points to keep every (copy)writer in check. They’re common sense when you read them, but as Dubya has shown us, common sense doesn’t always prevail (I still see copy with these errors in them).
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Why these aren’t on page 1 of all copywriter textbooks, I’ll never know…but now you know them. Copy/paste and print them. Keep them somewhere visible. And don’t say I never send you nothing…