Your Copy Sucks: Fancy Language

Normally, any attempt to stifle what little creativity we have in this business makes my skin crawl. Really takes the cake. Gives me the pip. But in this instance, I have to put my foot down.

Three old books, studio shot

Guys. Stop using figures of speech in your business writing. If I had a nickel for every time someone mucked up some folksy sayings, well, I’d have a bird in hand, which I’m told is worth two in the flora.

Okay, I’ll put the stupid jokes on the back burner now. My point is, writing pitches and press releases is hard enough without figures of speech ruining everything. Two reasons: colloquialisms are easily misused, and easily misunderstood.

Example time. I used to work in a restaurant down in Florida. Because the owners were all from up north, their business slang was northern. They always said they were “snowed” when they were too busy. But most people, and especially southern people, don’t use that restaurant slang; they say “in the weeds” instead. So imagine two cooks standing over a rare side of beef, enacting a bizarre version of a Who’s On First double-act. One is shouting, “You’re where!?” And the other is answering, “In the weeds!” “Well, I’m snowed!” “What?”

Generational and regional differences in figures of speech can make things go to Crazytown really fast. Plus, how convincing is business prose that relies so heavily on a cliché? Would you rather your client be known as “the best of the best” or would you rather list your client’s specific accomplishments? There are very few instances in which a figure of speech perfectly illustrates what you’re trying to say. Invest the time in finding the right words instead of borrowing an old and boring construction.

Oh, and let’s not forget the sports metaphors. That kind of thing might fly in sports PR, but trust me, the rest of us find it annoying and presumptuous.

It’s hard to stop using colloquialisms because they’ve become so ingrained in our collective vocabulary. But I would urge you to pay attention to what you write; run it by a colleague if you can; don’t assume they’re being dense if they say they don’t understand something.

Eliminate figures of speech and your writing will be a homerun better than it was.

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