Picking the write ... word

As PR people, we've all agonized over paper or keyboard, trying to conjure up the appropriate words for a news release, bylined article or pitch letter. Faced with a pile of reference material, some scribbled notes from the client and the insistent passage of time at the lower right hand corner of the monitor, we have to balance our many creative, cerebral and sarcastic impulses to produce an intelligible document on time. On a caffeine-laced or sleep-deprived day, this can result in some horrible grammatical twists and perversions. On other less inspired days, our dedicated concentration may only produce turgid prose.

I've found two perspectives on the anonymous task of crafting corporate documents:

Lucy Kellaway over at the FT tells us that "woolly words negatively impact the premium message:"

Sometimes I feel smug about being British. In particular, I like the way we talk. Brits have a greater respect for words than Americans, who have never seen anything wrong in using "leverage" or "impact" as verbs.

Last week I had a change of heart. I spent an entire afternoon reading the chairmen's letters in a stack of new annual reports from UK companies, and discovered that senior British businessmen talk just as badly as Americans. The only difference is that Americans instinctively know how to get away with it, and Brits do not.

... Jeff Immelt at GE bangs on for a full nine pages in his letter, which is generously sprinkled with "world class commercial culture" and "growing revenue" and "leveraging capabilities". However, he knows how to use these words, and we understand what he means.

Meanwhile, the WashPost took a look at the deliberation, secrecy and wordsmithing that surrounds the announcement of the monthly U.S. labour statistics:

... On Tuesday ... [Tom] Nardone [chief of the U.S. Division of Labor Force Statistics], the three writers and two supervisors met to begin hammering out the language of those first sentences. "Verbs," he said, "are the big part."

What is an acceptable verb? "Declined," Nardone said. "Rose. Grew." What about dropped? "We've used dropped," he said. Shed? "Shed we use." Bled? "No." Plunged? "No." Nose-dived? "No. The thing we're trying to avoid is being judgmental. . . . If you use nose-dived, or bled, or soared, or skyrocketed, then you're not just providing direction, there's some judgment of the direction."

Slumped? "No, I think we would really stay away from that one."

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