`Words carry their own luggage by way of overtones.’ The English language is remarkable for its richness, and often allows for a choice of word or expression according to the flavour which the speaker intends to convey. The two versions of the same statement which follow are both saying the same thing. Or are they?
The modern advertising executive is full of creative ideas which can turn a rather staid image into something new and exciting. He knows what aspiring consumers want and he makes sure that the product really fits their expectations. He makes the best use of the latest scientific and psychological methods to ensure that a client’s major investment in publicity gets the very best return. After all his fees depend on satisfied clients.
The trendy advertising guy touts the latest gimmick needed to turn a respectable product into a slick package. He’s on to the yuppie wavelength and knows just how to appeal to the punters’ greed. He’ll describe the current, fashionable theory of consumer behaviour, with a good sprinkling of psychological jargon, and suggest that you can safely bet a fortune that it’ll work for you. Win or lose, he still gets his cut.
I’ll leave it to you to decide between those two descriptions. But it’s worth spending a minute or two analysing the methods they use to convey totally different impressions. What is the difference between `creative ideas’ and `latest gimmick’, or between `major investment’ and `betting a fortune’? The contrast is exaggerated in order to make the point; but it reminds us of the importance of the choice of language needed to appeal to the right patterns in the Target’s mind.
The above is am extract from a book on persuasion in business which I wrote in 1990. It had a good, international, run but as, almost invariably happens, it eventually disappeared without trace. I do occasionally get query letters from South American university students, but that’s all. However the idea here is interesting because we are all prone to choosing our language in order to make our point effectively. And certainly religious language makes use of it.
We occasionally hear those in authority telling us that this or that is a ‘mortal sin’. More precision could be achieved by ‘this or that is potential matter for mortal sin’. If we take this further we come across ‘grave disorder’ – and we are really frightened. But it would be more accurate to refer to ‘serious mismatch’. ‘full knowledge’ and ‘full consent’ are conditions for mortal sin. What does this mean? No one has full knowledge about anything, and we have no way of telling whether our consent is full. When the choice is heaven or hell I think we need a little more clarity.
It’s the same at the other end of the scale. We cheerfully use the word ‘grace’. But we can mean it in so many different ways. In fact there are different forms of grace but we might be hard put to produce a short definition of any of them. How about ‘virtue’? Or even ‘love’ itself? That’s a word which has distinct different meanings, but we use it frequently because it helps the emotional force we need to get our ideas across.
I notice this subtle use of language in many contributions to this Blog. And I would be critical if I were not aware that I am given to it as well. You may like to consider some of the ways in which, perhaps unconsciously, we use manipulative language in order to persuade.
It starts young. I recall, from over fifty years ago my small son moving from “Granny I want a Ghostbuster’s gun” to “Granny, I need a Ghostbuster’s gun.” And he got it.