May 2021 Vol 3 Issue 5
Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):
Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling
Let me tell your story!
Welcome Mid-May, 2021!
Until very recently, we have had a late spring on the Prairies, with cold mornings and very few days reaching 20 degrees, Celsius. And yet, last week brought more lasting warmth and record breaking heat is forecasted for today!
Have you noticed trees, bushes and lawns “greening up?” I’ve met some of you drinking in the plants, trees and bushes at our local garden centres.
The lengthening of our daylight hours makes life feel easier, despite our pandemic fatigue.
My writer-friend Julie Barnes enjoys this good weather, by punctuating her work with short breaks to weed a flower bed or a vegetable patch. I’ve been walking in my neighbourhood, to witness the wonder of spring.
In “Article One” of this month’s issue, I present redundancies and cliches to avoid in copywriting (and in fact all kinds of writing), as chronicled by writers of the online network, “ProWritingAid.”
And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” I visit the concept of “defamiliarization” of English idioms, from theorists and philosophers who first identified it, in the 1950s.
These articles offer a small taste of how complex our use of language truly is, and remind us to be conscious of its ethics and politics. Power inheres in our linguistic practices.
But, as ladybugs and bees fly by my laptop and I find myself reading by daylight until 9:00 pm, I am conscious, too, of the miracle of our spring!
I hope it also brings you joy, good readers.
IN THIS ISSUE:
ARTICLE 1: Tips on avoiding redundancies and cliches, from “ProWritingAid”
On idioms and “defamiliarization”
Article One: Tips on avoiding redundancies and cliches from “ProWritingAid”
The British-based, online writers’ network, ProWritingAid, offers many resources for writers of all genres, including copywriters.
This month, I’m sharing some of the sometimes laughable pointers from the network’s ebook, “Business Writing Hacks for Flawless Communications,” by staff writers, Kathy Edens and Lisa Lepki.
Edens and Lepki present (1) common redundancies to delete and (2) common cliches, or “corporate speak,” that we would all do well to avoid in business communication (and in any form of communication).
Many of their pointers are witty and insightful and may tickle your funny bone, as well as alert your mind!
(1) On redundancies to avoid:
Edens and Lepki write that one way “to declutter your writing . . . is to eliminate the common redundancies rampant in business writing today. You want to remove . . . double expressions that add nothing to your meaning.”
They stress that not all repetition is bad: “You should still repeat key phrases” for emphasis, clarification and therefore, coherence.
But redundancies must go. Your copy will be stronger for it!
From their alphabetized catalog, here are some of the “worst offenders” (along with an explanation of why they’re redundant–which may amuse you):
- “Absolutely essential” (if something is essential, it can’t be less than absolute).
- “Advance planning” (Planning is always done in advance).
- “Basic fundamentals” (Fundamentals mean the basic components).
- “Brief summary” (A summary is a brief description of something).
- “Component parts” (Components are parts).
- “Current trend” (A trend is something happening currently).
- “Desirable benefits” (Benefits are by nature desirable).
- “End result” (Results always come at the end).
- “First conceived” (Conceived means something started at the beginning or first).
- “Foreign imports” (To import something is to bring it from a foreign country).
- “Free gift” (All gifts are free).
- “Future plans” (Plans always concern future occurrences).
- “Harmful injury” (Injury means harm has already occurred).
- “Integrate together” (Integrate means to bring together).
- “Joint collaboration” (To collaborate means to work together or jointly).
- “Knowledgeable experts” (Experts are by definition knowledgeable).
- “Later time” (Later already indicates a place in time).
- “Major breakthrough” (All breakthroughs are major).
- “Meet together/meet with each other” (To meet means getting together with someone/each other).
- “Mutual cooperation” (Cooperation is always mutual.)
- “New construction” (Construction means to build something new).
- “New innovation/new invention” (To innovate/invent is to create something new).
- “Outside of . . . ” (Outside means being on the other side of something).
- “Past experience” (All experiences are in the past).
- “Postpone until later” (Postponing means putting something off until later).
- “Proposed plan” (A plan is something you propose to do).
- “Reply back” (To reply means to get back to someone).
- “Scrutinize in detail” (Scrutinizing means looking at something in detail).
- “Still persists/ remains” (To persist or remain means you’re still doing something).
- “Time period” (Time indicates a specific period).
- “Unexpected emergency” (All emergencies are unexpected).
- “Usual custom” (A custom is usual or customary).
- “Very unique” (Unique is always one-of-a-kind).
(2) On business cliches (“corporate speak”) to avoid:
Edens and Lepki cite an article in “Inc. Magazine” as a source on how “corporate speak makes your organization dumber.” Here are some deadbeat expressions to avoid in your writing, even (especially) if everyone around you uses them:
- “At the end of the day” (try “what’s crucial is”)
- “Start building consensus” (try “persuade others to”)
- “Core competency” (try “our advantage”)
- “Low-hanging fruit” (try “simple opportunities”)
- “Sweet spot” (try “effective qualities”)
- “Mission critical” (try “top priority/goal”)
- “Leverage synergies” (try “combined effort”)
- “Paradigm shift” (try “fundamental change”)
- “Break down the silos” (try “collaborate/work together”)
- “Run it up the flagpole” (try “test an idea”)
- “Limited bandwith” (try “capacity to deal with”)
And now it’s your turn: Do you hear or read these redundancies and cliches in the language with which you work? Whose interests are served by sloppy thought and writing?
Please share your examples or stories about them. I’d be delighted to share them in future issues!
STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . .
STORYTELLER’S CORNER: On Idioms and “defamiliarization”: Language matters
Readers new to the English language are often surprised and charmed by phrases in conversation or in artistic work that disrupt how we commonly perceive the world. Words in a text or a film can briefly, for them, seem new and fresh.
Such language has drawn readers’/listeners’ attention to the rhetorical strategies or devices that underpin our idioms.
Many idioms that first struck me in childhood as hilarious (providing examples of what Russian formalist thinkers in the 1950s called “defamiliarization”), now sound mundane to me. They are no longer funny or amusing and instead sound cliche.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that when speaking with others who have not read much English literature, some of these expressions elicit the kind of laughter that I recall from my first childhood encounters the words. This happens because the language is for these users “de-familiarized” (made to seem unfamiliar).
Do these examples also sound passe or cliche to you?
These idioms have made some of my contacts laugh:
- You can “nuke your coffee in the microwave.”
- Please do not “reinvent the wheel” and call it new research.
- S/he is an “evolutionary throwback” to study that topic for so long.
- Most hotdogs are “mystery meat.”
- S/he was “coughing up a lung” in the doctor’s waiting room.
- I had to “get up at the crack of dawn” to make that meeting.
- The reviewers found that the leader was “asleep at the switch” . . .
Russian formalists in the 1950s argued that idioms like these sound funny when they disrupt an uninitiated reader’s perception and making of meaning. Common concepts or ideas are presented in “defamiliarized” ways. But once heard, the idioms quickly become familiar and so no longer amuse us.
One critic who wrote at length on “defamiliarization,” Viktor Shklovsky, says that this distinction between artistic and common language exists in all forms of art. He applied the Russian term “ostranenie” to it.
The above examples come from mainstream conversation. But dramatic examples occur in the literature of many countries, from Alexander Pope to Bertolt Brecht. They also permeate a lot of political discourse.
If an artist can “shake up a familiar scene,” as literary theorist Uri Margolin writes, “as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”
There are political implications whenever the making of meaning in language is involved, and literary theorists and philosophers have found connections between “defamiliarization” and Freud’s “uncanny,” Brecht’s “estrangement effect” and Derrida’s “differance.” These are all (loosely termed) “postmodern” insights and theories from our last century that hold as much (if not more) value now.
They have altered the way we perceive and express ourselves, our subjectivity and the world we occupy.
Put more simply: language matters!
And now it’s your turn. Have you noticed how familiarity with language can alter the way you perceive it, by you or those you talk to? Please share your examples for a future issue!
I’m particularly relieved to have found a happy home for an elderly family member at the end of last month, so that I can finally return to writing and teaching at “Storytelling Communications.”
Special thanks for the supportive cards and notes from family and friends (far and wide) which have brightened challenging times.
And thanks thus far to the staff at Revera seniors’ assisted living in Saskatoon, who cultivate empathy and caring for our seniors without sacrificing professionalism.
I was delighted to talk about one arm of a large “Ethical Digital” project this month that is being undertaken by tech guru Katrina German and her team, including Kelly Tidalgo.
Using digital tools these days can raise a lot of ethical questions. Haven’t we all worried about that vulnerable teen or that overwhelmed senior, who has fallen prey (respectively) to online bullying or social media scams?
Katrina and her team will enlighten us in future conversations on the ethics of digitization, through their project.
I encourage you to stay tuned for more on their website:
In other news, I’m delighted (and proud) to share that my Uncle Harvie Barker (of Penticton, BC) has been awarded the city’s highest Rotary Award, for his 18 years of writing columns in the “Penticton Herald.”
His collections of those columns has spawned dozens of books and raised more than $25K for local service clubs and agencies for the region’s vulnerable population.
Not everyone thinks of writing and publishing as a community service, but Harvie (a retired United Church minister) has lived that mission and inspired many others, along the way.
I remember in adolescence trying to brainstorm “helpful” ideas for my uncle’s sermons when he visited, none of which passed muster (but many of which ended in peals of laughter).
Congratulations, Harvie Barker!
|And, as I review my training materials to teach English as a second language, I am grateful to friend and accomplished teacher (of philosophy, classics and writing), Steve Cavan, who has graciously shared stories and resources with me.
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.
Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now write marketing and communications documents and lead workshops that help small- and medium-sized businesses and and newcomers to Canada to close more sales or secure better jobs.
Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).
After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).