Theo Coggin

A blog on communications

Archive for the tag “Quo Vadis Communication”

Style is not fashion

TwiggyUnlike the concept of style in clothing, which changes at the whim of a celebrity such as Twiggy (remember her?) donning a skirt barely below her derrière (we have italicised it as our style is to do so when using foreign words), style in writing is critical. Yet few writers, and even fewer organisations, seem to give a hoot.

With increasing regularity, I am presented with documents, all intended for public consumption, which will use full stops, commas and other punctuation marks inconsistently; capitals similarly so; the use of ‘s’ and ‘z’ with gay abandon in the same word (eg criticise and criticize) and so on.

A sloppy stylistic practice serves simply to illustrate a writer’s laziness, ineptitude and an organisation’s lack of professionalism.

No organisation worth its salt should be without a style manual. The great newspapers and news magazines of the world, reputable publishing houses (and here I do not refer to vanity publishers which increasingly satisfy the egocentric trips for those who cannot get published elsewhere and are therefore guilty of stylistic applications that are sometimes laughable) all have style manuals which are updated regularly and applied religiously.

Style manuals apply to rules of grammar, spelling, idiomatic expression, the use of capitals, the way in which one writes figures, brand names, and the company’s own name. In South Africa, for example, the government’s department of Trade and Industry has a somewhat quaint style of writing its acronym as ‘the dti’. It is a pain to implement, but it builds a brand name of what is otherwise a controversial government entity.

Stylistic inconsistencies in any document serve only to impede a reader’s progress and negatively impact on the author’s credibility.

For organisations such as Quo Vadis Communication, for which I work, this means using a number of style books for different clients. It is sometimes time-consuming and even confusing. It is, however, critical because the image the organisation wishes to present is one of consistency and professionalism.

Writers similarly should adopt a consistent style and create a style book. If your business or organisation does not have a style manual, contact a reputable organisation to assist you in producing one.

It will immeasurable enhance the way in which you and your organisation communicate.

Keep Cupid’s place proper

One of the things that makes English an interesting language in which to work is its dynamic nature. That’s not strange since it is a living language.

If, like me, as a student of the language, you have at one time (and perhaps still do) scratched your head as you have read the richness of a Shakespeare or Chaucer, you will know that we are involved with an ever-evolving tongue.

But dynamic though it is, one can stretch the elasticity of its use too far. This is often done as writers strive to invent new phrases in an attempt at emphasis – or just laziness.

Sometimes the use of such strange epithets can conjure up the most bizarre images.

For instance, today I was urged to try a new wine because it was “dead sexy”.

It is not the first time I have heard the word “sexy” used in a bastardised form. As a writer myself I can recall being asked, in describing a new product, to make it sound “sexy”. I wondered at the time what sort of “sexy” the lady asking me to do this had in mind. Did she envisage, in her mind’s eye, some hunky fellow with enormous biceps, a tattooed torso and slicked-back hair? Or was her sexy not words at all but a cartoonist’s depiction of her product dressed up as the latest Mr Universe? Perhaps, who knows, it was of Miss World?.

From Cartoonstock.com

Whatever the case, her use of the word sexy was inappropriate. She had no idea of how to define what she meant by sexy writing when asked to do so and it became clear that her use of the word was based on her own scant vocabulary and inability to express herself. But instead of using simple language to say something straightforward, she chose to try to be clever.

So too, with the phrase like “dead sexy” (and there are plenty of other similar phrases I am sure you have heard).

On reading it today it made me chuckle immediately for, just a few days ago, a friend had told me of the sad death of a distant relation. He was said to have died while “cuddling”.

Now, at the risk of sounding macabre, that can sound humorous and be described as “dead sexy”.

But we would never idly use the phrase like that, or I hope not – and it is used here simply by way of illustration in an attempt to underline the importance of according value to each word we utter or write. A phrase like “dead sexy” has no place in advertising or any other written form unless one intends harm or perhaps, in the proper context, black humour.

When exploring the principle of cultural language in communication in the courses Quo Vadis runs, we inevitably unearth new phrases and words that are sometimes commonly used that can demean without intending to do so. Care in the manner in which we express ourselves must always be paramount.

We must underscore the value of words in everything we communicate, recognising that every word must mean what it says and say what it means.

Cartoon from Cartoonstock.com

Introduction

Family, friends and colleagues have for years been urging me to start a Blog or several! So here goes with my first one – on writing tips. I have been running highly successful writing courses since 1976 (ouch!) and many have benefited from those experiences. I have been particularly pleased that among them have been people in the civil society field, although not exclusively so, thus enabling them to communicate more effectively in a world in which the Information Age reigns supreme at present.

From time to time the contents of the Blogs will be made available on the homepage of Quo Vadis Communications and its Facebook site. I am happy for you to use and refer the contents but would be pleased to be kept updated as to who is using it and what positive value there has been.

So with this Introduction comes an invitation to you to follow this Blog!

 

 

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