I know I focus too much on words. This was pointed out to me by my good friend Henry when I commented on the poor grammar within a sub-title on a magazine.
The sub-title, next to a scantily clad, curvaceous young lady in a provocative pose and sporting a “come hither” look in her eyes, read:
“100 women, 99 bikinis. Never has math been so fun!”
My immediate thought was that this should have read, “…so much fun.” or “…such fun!”
Henry pointed out that I might be focusing on something other than that which the magazine intended its readers to focus upon.
I came across a piece in the humor section of a popular periodical that presented a requirement that was not specific enough and which used a rather poor choice of words.
The requirement read as follows:
“It shall be the responsibility of the supplier to keep their private areas clean. Please refer to the rules and regulations if you don’t know where your private area is.”
I’ve no doubt this would make for some pretty interesting responses.
There’s a video making the rounds which illustrates the power of words and reinforces how using different words can have a significant impact on how the message is received and the effect it has on people.
It’s worth watching both for the message it delivers, as well as for reinforcing once again how important it is for us to carefully consider the words we use.
You can watch the video below, or click here to watch it on YouTube.
I have always enjoyed humorous word play. One of the earliest examples would be something I read (and amazingly still recall) was on a comic that came with (Actually wrapped around as many of you will recall, a piece of Bazooka bubble gum (and if you do recall Bazooka bubble gum and the aforementioned comic that accompanied each piece, then you too have a few years on you. And, I’ve no doubt, Jon and my colleagues on the other side of the pond will be asking, “Ok, what’s Bazooka?”),
The comic had a character (I don’t recall which one), say to Bazooka Joe (he of the turtleneck collar over the lower half of his face, but I digress here), “My mom says there are two words you should never use. One of them is stupid and the other is lousy.” Joe responds with, “Okay, what’s the stupid one?”
These came to mind while I was reading a newspaper article on a recently condemned apartment. The article cited one of the reasons, among many, for the apartment being condemned as it being infested with bedbugs. Also cited was the fact that the apartment could not be heated to an appropriate temperature due to, and I’m quoting here (as will be obvious to many of you, or at least I’d hope it would be!), “lousy insulation”.
I suspect you can see where the problem, and the, I suspect, completely unintentional humor, lies. For those that might not be aware of the definition of the term “lousy”, it is, “to be infested with lice.” So, one could assume, given the infestation of bedbugs that was mentioned, the insulation probably was lousy. But I’m pretty sure what the writer meant was it was “insufficient”.
This misuse of the term lousy completely distracted me from the article itself. Jon and I have both reviewed many proposals that contained misused words that caused similar distractions (in our opinion, it’s the humorous ones that are the most distracting) and we’ve offered up a number of our favorite examples over the years.
I offer this one for your amusement and as a reminder to chose/use your words carefully.
An interesting article on the BBC News site the other day discussed the impact of spelling mistakes on online sales.
An entrepreneur, Charles Duncombe, noted that “sales figures suggest misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility” – especially when one only gets “about six seconds” to capture the viewer’s attention on a website. He quotes a proof point: after a spelling error was corrected on one of his company’s websites, revenue doubled.
The article added:
William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, says that in some informal parts of the internet, such as Facebook, there is greater tolerance towards spelling and grammar. “However, there are other aspects, such as a home page or commercial offering that are not among friends and which raise concerns over trust and credibility,” said Professor Dutton.
Now, doubtless you’ll find proofreading errors here on our blog. BJ and I write this for fun in our respective spare time; we love sharing ideas and good practices. It’s not a commercial exercise; readers (we hope) understand that. But when it comes to proposals? We’re acutely conscious that the reader draws conclusions about the likely professionalism of your company and solution should they award you the contract from the professionalism of your written proposal.
So where’s the acceptable limit: one proofreading error in the document? Ten? One hundred? A thousand? At what point does a reader’s tolerance for “the occasional mistake being inevitable” and “nobody’s perfect” compromise your credibility – and are you prepared to take the risk?
Not Quite What I Was Planning. That phrase has, no doubt, been uttered by a great many proposal folks before, during and/or after a proposal effort. However, in this case, it’s the title of a book (thus the use of title case, for those that thought this was incorrect.
This simple little book is a compilation of “Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure” drawn from Smith Magazine (edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith, published by Harper). Talk about word count limits!
I found the entries delightful and very clever. And it certainly got me to thinking about mine own six word memoir. (This will be a work in progress for a bit as, as many of us are well aware, the shorter it is, the longer it takes to write. :) )
A couple that I really like are:
- “I colored outside the lines.”
- “Full life. Impossible to summarize in…
And one or two that really hit home for me:
- “Next time, better parents, better hair.”
- “Oh sweet nectar of life, coffee.”
Then there are those that could definitely be said about proposal efforts are:
- “Filled blank spaces with ambitious endeavors.” (proposal writer)
- “Indeterminate, not enough data for conclusion.” (a customer/decision maker)
- “Once was blind, now I see.” (a sales person [Hey, it could happen!])
- “It was embarrassing, so don’t ask.” (a proposal manager)
I suspect this post will have many of you thinking about the “six words” that capture one of your proposal efforts. If that’s the case, Jon and I would love to read it and share it with our readers so please do send them in (as a comment.)
A recent letter to the editor in my local paper was on the topic of dog owners who do not clean up after their dogs. The title of the letter was, “Dog owners, please do the right thing.”
This letter failed on several levels and the parallels are such that I thought I offer to our readers as a reminder to keep their strategic messages on target and directed to the intended audience.
Okay, right at the start, that being the title, this misses the mark and causes me to be a bit skeptical. Surely the definition of what the “right thing” is for any one dog owner is, in my opinion, open to interpretation.
The article then leads with, “This article is intended for all irresponsible dog owners.” So, I shouldn’t read this, is that what the author is saying?
The article then goes on to read, “It seems to me the city has become a toilet for dogs. (In a court of law this would be objected to with a resounding, “That’s an opinion, not a fact.”) What is wrong with people. (And that’s just way too loaded a statement to include here!).
This writer then goes on to point out the amount of dog droppings they encounter on their daily walk with their dog. They point out this is disgusting and “really annoying to the rest of us who won dogs.”
So what’s the strategic message here? That these individuals should be embarrassed? If such individuals are so inconsiderate as to not clean up after their dogs, will they really be persuaded to do so by this attempt to embarrass them? I think not.
A better strategy, in my opinion, would be to target what these offenders have to lose if they don’t change their ways. In this case, that is the privilege of walking their dog and the risk to the health of both their dog and themselves and their family. I’d point out, “If you continue to not clean up after your dog, people will eventually complain and the city will respond by making it illegal to walk your dog in this area.” I also offer the risk to both their dogs and themselves. “When you and other dog owners don’t clean up your dog’s droppings your dog is at risk of stepping on them. Your dog could easily get sick from this and also could track excrement into your home and put yourself and your family at risk.”
I’d title the letter, “Dog Owners – Help keep the park open to dog walking and keep your dog and family healthy by cleaning up after your dog.”