Words, words, words

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.
and
The trendy advertising guy touts the latest gimmick needed to turn a respectable product into a slick package. He’s onto 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. Care must be taken to avoid giving the wrong impression, or endangering the impact you intend.

Secondsight Blog is of course largely designed to stimulate discussion on a variety of issues. Sometimes these are serious and important, others are rather lighter. Nothing pleases me more than contributors disagreeing – including of course disagreeing with me. It is interesting to note how contributors choose their language to support their impact.

When I wrote recently about rhetoric I did of course include rhetorical writing. And we considered whether rhetoric could be judged a little underhand since we are deliberately choosing to persuade our readers by using techniques of which they are not aware.

So we might pause for a moment and consider how often, whether on this blog or elsewhere, we use rhetoric to get our point across – perhaps at the expense of our reader.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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2 Responses to Words, words, words

  1. galerimo says:

    The theory goes how birdsong and animal sounds formed the basis of language for early humanity as it began to emerge from the landscape.

    In the 60,000 plus years of continuous human habitation in Australia there exists the belief that early indigenous people left words of poetry and song as they travelled the vast country. These were called dreaming tracks; the dreaming being closer to our understanding of spirituality than anything else.

    The English man Bruce Chatwin, 30 years ago described for the first time these ways of communication between far-flung places and distant peoples.

    After his travels in outback Australia he gave us the first insight into this ancient way of communicating the geography and how to map a way through country. It was a cosmology as well as philosophy of life and a productive way of living it, which these “Songlines” conveyed.

    The words which are contained in song, are passed on through the elders of different family groups throughout the indigenous nations (there were 50+ different nations in Australia before Cook invaded – just like the Europe of his day).

    These “Songline” words were associated with the land and conveyed to generations the different cultural, geographical, historical, ecological and accumulated wisdom that a person acquired as they walked and journeyed through the vast countryside. The “walk about” carried a much more sophisticated transaction than the title suggest.

    It all happened long before rhetoric was invented. A technology based on the words whose sounds were learnt, audibly and spiritually from the surrounding country. Not only would it guide the footsteps but the heart and soul. More laden with power than rhetoric or any other mere words of persuasion.

  2. Barrie Machin says:

    As usual Quentin has turned up a very debatable scene but as he and I know very well the sales that are made in the Advertising World (or for that matter in any sale) are made to a large extent using the spoken word – what he is quoting is what two different commentators may write about their observations of the advertising sales process. What is actually said between the two parties in setting up a contract would be quite formal and measured in its content.

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