A couple of days ago I read a piece about teachers banning slang in classrooms and jumped on a quote in the piece from linguistics expert Ian Cushing, a lecturer in education at Brunel University London who said, “There’s no incorrect or correct way of using language”.
The absolute beauty of words and language is that they are constantly evolving. I’m pretty sure I’ve said in previous blogs that words enter the dictionary due to an increase in usage. So, the more a word is used the more likely it is to enter the dictionary, and then get used more. You might not like it but that’s how it works. So should we be dictatorial in schools about banning slang and allowing evolving language? I’m a passionate advocate for literacy, but I’m inclined to think we shouldn’t ban slang in schools.
Words come and go, it’s how it works. There are words and phrases we seem to see everywhere and then suddenly nowhere. And there are words and phrases that grate, for no particular reason. I can imagine that it’s irritating if pupils at school appear to be speaking a whole different language to that of the teacher, but that’s not enough reason to ban the slang.
I always ask new clients if they have any words and phrases they don’t like. Sometimes they have a list, other times not a single irritating word. Often we just don’t like words and phrases and we can’t necessarily articulate why. Here follows some of mine…
Woke – up? I can’t articulate why I just dislike it
Direction of travel – should only be used if you are talking about booking a seat on a train
Pain points – I hear it and I think of my Achilles tendonitis and my bad back
Deploy – are you in the forces or maybe GI Joe?
Mobilise and utilise – bleugh
Menstruators – reducing women to their biology – just no
Outside my wheelhouse – conjures up a hamster on a wheel for me
Curated – I hear vicar
Onboarding -I hear the theme tune to The Love Boat and see Julie the cruise director
Drinking the Kool-Aid – the back story to this is horrific and yet it’s still used. And back in 2012 it won first place in an online poll by Forbes Magazine as “the single most annoying example of business jargon which suggests it was massively overused in the run-up.
As I said, language is cyclical and evolving. So what?
I bang on about straight-talking, plain-speaking and plain English a lot. I’m a massive fan of brands that make it easy for the customer to understand who they are, what they do and how to buy from them. I LOVE that language is colourful and evolving. It’s what makes it wonderful and interesting. But, what matters above all is that your target market understands what you are saying. If people can’t understand what you are saying they won’t buy into the message you are selling and they won’t buy from you. There’s no point trying to be edgy with your copy if your target market isn’t edgy, for example.
What matters – in copy, whether it’s web copy, marketing material, sales emails, newsletters or press releases – is that the words need to be easy to understand and inclusive. Jargon turns people off. It doesn’t demonstrate knowledge and prowess, it just puts people off. Words or phrases that offend put people off. Words or phrases that grate put people off. Admittedly that’s much harder to gauge and avoid. But, you can avoid the obviously offensive, the potentially offensive and the jargon. Every piece of copy produced in the name of you or your business should be on brand and appealing to your target market – in a language they understand, trust and believe in.
Language evolves – make sure your written words reflect this.