September 10, 2015
Do you know where you’re going to?
That’s the signature line from the Theme from Mahogany by Diana Ross. A lovely number, back in the day it was a sensation. But that line. Well, as tuneful at it is it also happens to be wrong. As a sentence it’s grammatically incorrect. Ask any 7th grader. it ends in –or should I say ends with- a preposition. Spell check will tell you the same thing. That “to” is tacked on. Technically, the line should be, “Do you know where you’re going?”
However, the correct line would also be the wrong line. Without that tiny,”incorrect” word the song may very well have failed. Theme from Mahogany might not have even happened.
Which got me to thinking about copywriting. How many times have we also used poor writing (grammatically speaking) to deliver stunning creative results?
“Think Different” anyone?
It’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Good copy takes poetic license with the written word. And sometimes that means ending a sentence with a preposition. Or starting one with one. Or repeating words like “one” to make a point. To stand out. To shine. That’s the same reason I just used two phrases as complete sentences, even though spell check implored me not to. And look at that. There’s “to” at the end of another sentence. For that matter there’s “that.”
I realize all this may seem quaint in the age of social media and texting. Never before has the written word taken so much abuse by such a mass audience. Brutal spelling, abbreviations and the like have manhandled the world’s languages into grotesque shorthand.
But that is how people choose to communicate. We like it. And for the most part, any and all marketing communications must adjust accordingly or risk dying off like big words and good manners.
July 10, 2015
Jabbing at the keyboard like a monkey…
I’ve written three novels, dozens of short stories, probably thousands of ads, as well as maintained this and other blogs, and I composed all of that content with basically one finger: the index on my right hand.
Weird right? Most professional writers know how to type. Well, one finger has been my normal since I started using machines to compose text.
In high school and then college, I wrote on a typewriter given to me by my father. Back then I drank and smoked (what serious writer didn’t?) and I used my left hand for that and my right to work. Needless to say, I did a lot of both. It all became second nature, especially the booze.
As time went by I stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes but I never learned to properly type. That’s not to say I didn’t evolve; I did. Like every writer, I memorized the keyboard. Subsequently, my finger tapping became faster and faster. I never timed it but when I’m in the zone I can probably hammer out forty or fifty words a minute, maybe more.
I use my cell phone keyboard the same way.
This will never change. I’ve gotten too competent in my dysfunctional approach to bother learning another method.
Oddly, I don’t know a single person who types like I do. All of you seem to engage your keyboards properly. Even you non-professional writers. Am I wrong about this? If so, let me know. I’m curious: Am I the only one-fingered typist who is not a child or a monkey?
Last I checked there were over 800 hundred million billion pieces of written content floating around in cyberspace or near by. The number might actually be higher. I stopped counting to walk my dogs.
The point is that everything has been written. A lot. And over again. Which means there is nothing original left to say.
Therefore, the only vital form of writing left is copywriting. What I mean by vital has nothing to do with good. Just that, whether it is read or not, copy always has to be written. Those web pages won’t just fill themselves. Yet.
Guys and gals like us do it. We get paid, albeit triflingly, to make those paragraphs that live deep beneath the touts on a never-ending plethora of websites, which always needs to be refreshed.
Ah, refreshed! What a glorious word. It means for us steady or at least wobbly employment.
Clients demand content, and that takes the form of sentences. All kinds of sentences. Sentences just like the ones I’ve written here. Except they are ostensibly about something. Like Big Data. Or aftershave. Solutions.
And let us not forget infographics, which the Urban Slang dictionary lovingly calls “web pollution.” Or shiny white papers. Like non-alcoholic beer they are seldom selected by anyone but my lord, those are filled with sentences, too. Great big, slobbery ones! The size of great danes.
And we write them.
Make fun of banners all you like but there they are. To the left. And to the right. Taking over! Some beseech us to visit fake news stories, which we call branded content or native advertising. Hail Hydra! Those are like whole new ways to write sentences.
Yes, when we go home for the Holidays grandma will still ask: did you do that commercial on TV? The one with the cat and the giant toothbrush. If we are smart we lie and say yes and that the cat got paid in freshly caught tiger shark.
But, alas, her days are numbered. Soon we will be showing off responsive web pages on our smart phones and everyone around the dinner table around the world will lose interest because nobody wants to read white papers on an iPhone or anywhere else for that matter. They will shake their heads and say they can’t believe we get paid for writing crap like that.
And we will say, “I know, crazy right?”
August 22, 2014
As a writer (and copywriter especially), I pay closer attention to words than most “regular” people. After years of alliteration, turning phrases and forcing puns I can’t help it. For me certain words are riper with meaning than others. Some words have more than one meaning, which I also find interesting, in particular when the people who use them altered their definitions. Like when real estate marketers use code words to mask unattractive features in their listings, the classic being the word “cozy,” subbing for tiny or worse.
“Cozy” is a very specific example. What about words that have changed in a broader context? For example, the evolution of the word “gay.” In the olden days it simply meant carefree and happy. The subtext of showiness and flamboyance evolved, rightly or wrongly, into the primary descriptor for homosexuals. But the word still wasn’t done changing. It has acquired darker hues. Not long ago “gay” started being used in a derogatory way to suggest something lame, overtly fey or just plain wrong.
Less controversially, the word “random” has evolved. Random once just meant something “out of order or sequence.” Somewhere along the way this largely mathematical term became poetic slang for silly, weird or (like the word gay) just plain wrong. Saying something off topic, seemingly out of the blue, is random. An odd observation or a joke that misfires is random. In the cra-cra life of a teenager just about everything is random. In 2011, Disney even named one of their teen TV sketch comedies, “So Random!”
But “random” isn’t just for young people. I like using it as well. For me it’s a way to make fun of something without being (totally) offensive. Yes, random can be the runt of the litter. But it can also mean something unexpected or quirky. Usually, it’s all of the above.
On a base level the slang meaning of “gay” and “random” cross paths. (Those shoes are so random. Those shoes are so gay.) Obviously, the former is a lot less mean spirited than the latter. One is offensive to more than just shoes.
Reexamining this essay I can’t remember why I began writing it in the first place. Did I have a larger point to make? As is it just seems so… random.