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Cup of Copy: Language

This is a bittersweet Cup of Copy for me as I will be handing it off to my fellow cynical wordsmith Tommy Wyher for the foreseeable future.

What should I write about for my last hurrah?  I was riding in the car on the way home last weekend when I heard a segment of George Carlin’s stand-up related to soft language which was both brilliant and entertaining. I decided to take a brief look at language, words, and the ultimate power behind each unique constellation of letters.

Soft Language

The concept of “soft language” describes words that are used to weaken the meaning or conceal reality. George Carlin lists several examples such as:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder instead of shell shock
  • Performing Arts Center instead of Theater
  • Substance Abuse instead of Drug Addiction
  • Economically disadvantaged occupying substandard housing instead of Poor people living in slums

The issue is that we have taken the life out of words and hid it under fluff and jargon. Although they have the same definition, the words themselves have lost power or influence. For instance, the term “kill” carries much more of a punch than “neutralize.”

Unfortunately we have slowly transitioned into a society that lacks directness and confuses assertion with aggression. In language, especially in marketing and writing, this is counterintuitive. Your ultimate goal is to communicate a message as clearly and concisely as possible, so muddling down the meaning in a plethora of misinformation will only insure an absence of understanding.

Direct Language

On the other side of the spectrum is direct language.  This is an effective and simple approach to communication. What is direct language? It is the quickest and clearest way to communicate a message. There is a meaning/reason for every comment, sentence, or phrase. Using a direct approach will not only guarantee a better understanding, it also evokes more emotion than the aforementioned soft language.

Soft:I was not able to wrap up the assignment within the allotted time parameters.

Direct:I did not finish the assignment. 

A great way to make a sentence more direct is to eliminate any excess adjectives that do not add to the meaning. Words for the sake of words will not add any benefit and only prove to confuse the message.

Shorthand and Acronyms

Language has a funny way of changing with the times and our current transition encourages soft language and discourages clarity. One of the most obvious examples is with shorthand or acronyms that are frequently used in text conversations. Although people joke by verbally saying LOL or OMG, I would not be surprised to see this type of communication become more popular in online writing.

The main issue with this change is that there’s a huge gap between who actually understands shorthand. It’s creating jargon with common words. This could develop into a huge communication issue if it gains traction.

Balancing communication with today’s society and maintaining a direct approach is an ever-changing strategy. Take the time to watch the George Carlin video and see just how much language has changed.

About the author

Derek Miller