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Dictionary

Sorry, Wayne State. Dead words are best left buried

Just as it has for more than 40 years, Lake Superior State University recently released its annual list of words for banishment. The list is certainly worth reviewing, especially for marketers as a reminder to keep language simple and avoid trite phrases.

I especially like eliminating “nothingburger” (silly), “onboarding/offboarding” (corporate gibberish), “hot water heater” (redundant) and “fake news” – although something tells me the last term won’t go away anytime soon.

As a counterpoint to the banished word list, yesterday Wayne State University released its ninth annual Word Warriors list, a collection of words it would like to revive. Among the exhumations are “eucatastrophe” (a happy ending), “frangible” (fragile or brittle), “nugatory” (of no value) and “couth” – something we could use more of these days.

Jerry Herron, dean of Wayne State’s Irvin D. Reid Honors College and member of the Word Warriors editorial board, says reintroducing words like these in our daily conversations will “expand our ability to communicate clearly and help make our world a more interesting place.” (To be honest, I’m not sure if Mr. Herron’s comments are tongue-in-cheek.)

Now, I’m all for vocabulary expansion. But there are reasons why words like “eucatastrophe” died and should remain resting peacefully in the lexicon graveyard. (This word isn’t even included in the 10th edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or listed on merriam-webster.com.)

As the content marketing field becomes increasingly crowded, it’s more important than ever to have a solid understanding of your target market and (as Mr. Herron suggests) communicate clearly. Unless you’re targeting academics, the Word Warriors list will probably be of little use to you.

I suggest relying on simple, plain language for almost all your marketing, regardless of audience. Since people have less time to absorb content marketing, the easily digested messages will stand out most.

This doesn’t mean you should write your next blog or e-newsletter in “See-Dick-Run” style. Develop unique, authoritative content—but keep your audience engaged without making them reach for the dictionary.

Write short sentences (18 words or so) and short paragraphs (about three sentences). Opt for the simple word (“worthless”) over the obscure (“nugatory”). And before publishing, check your Flesch-Kincaid Readability Statistics and find ways to further streamline your writing. 

Oh, and check spelling and make sure your copy is couth.

Before parting, I’d like to add two items to the “banish” list:

  • “On a daily basis” (use “every day”)
  • “Scuffling” (baseball managers like to say this about players who are “struggling”)

Do you have other advice for keeping your marketing messages on-target with language that resonates with your audience? Are there other words you’d like to put six feet under? Let us know in the comments section below.

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