Does your writing have ‘umami?’ What that means, in the September issue of TYSN

September 2021 Vol 3 Issue 9

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-September, 2021!

We have enjoyed milder than usual temperatures this September and as I write this issue, autumnal sunshine is pouring in my office window.

While many Saskatchewanians dread the coming of winter, autumn’s crimson and golden leaves bring remarkable beauty to our surroundings. I hope amid the rushed pace of our schedules, good readers, that you’ll find time to observe this beauty and to store its warmth in your minds.

There are many issues weighing heavily on us, this month, especially as the “fourth wave” of Covid-19 in Saskatchewan drives up infection rates higher than we have seen in 18 months.

Human Rights’ Watch and environmental scientists report  violations of human rights in many nations and of our earth’s precious natural landscapes.

And yet around us small miracles appear, in human endeavours, resilience and redemption, showing us that life is still good and that goodness still permeates our world.

Despite these Covid-weary times, may this autumn be a time to conserve your health, renew professional accomplishments, relationships with family and friends. And may you find gratitude for the blessings that continue to grace our lives.




Storytelling Communications






ARTICLE 1:  Does your writing have ‘umami?’ 


Word Etymologies from the “Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter”





Article One:  Does your writing have ‘umami?’ Can writing be delicious?

Growing up in a part-Chinese Canadian family, I learned as a teenager that different countries within Asia (not to mention beyond it) can be deeply ethnocentric. Historical and political divisions between and within these countries have been terrible. Yet immigrants to Canada and their descendants (me included) have benefited from encountering each others’ cultures with greater tolerance, respect and an attitude of equality. One powerful area of cross-cultural exchange can occur through eating these countries’ favourite foods.

Although I have part Mandarin heritage, I have greatly enjoyed other Asian and African foods that some of my ancestors might have refused to try. International foods are of course more available nowadays through locally owned businesses and restaurants throughout Saskatchewan, and through our local farmers’ markets.

In Saskatoon, authentic Thai food is close at hand (Keo’s Kitchen at Broadway & Taylor). And, more recently, I sampled amazing flavours of Japanese food (Café Japa Bowl, also on Broadway, which I highly recommend).

At Japa Bowl, I have eaten at various times delicately prepared ramen, dumplings, deep-fried sweet potato and marinated tofu—to name only a few of the staples on their menu.

I was particularly interested to read recently that scientists view “umami” (a Japanese word for “savory,” “meaty” or “broth-like” flavour) to be one of the five basic tastes humans experience (along with sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness). Umami is characteristic of broths, cooked meats and fermented products. We experience it through our taste receptors that typically respond to glutamates and nucleotides (common to meat broths, mushrooms and fermented products, like soy sauce, miso, etc.).

Because umami flavour has its own human receptors (and does not simply arise from a combination of other, recognized taste receptors), scientists consider it to be a distinct taste.

Umami can be detected in various Asian dishes and is not limited by geographic or cultural differences.

Without knowing what it was called, I have learned since childhood to taste umami (one of my parents was a skilled cook) and now delight in consciously experiencing its range of flavours from Chinese and non-Chinese cuisines, alike.

But what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with writing and communication?

Imagine my pleasure to recently read one of my favourite bloggers, the Scandinavian Henneke Duistermaat, likening effective writing to umami. She writes: “A good writing style has umami, too.”

You have to sample many Asian foods over some time if you are to learn the taste of umami. Henneke says the same holds true for writers who want to “taste and learn to appreciate different writing styles.”

Like me, Henneke reads a various “diet” of fiction, history, memoir, drama and also non-fiction guides to the writing process, amongst other genres.

If we want to improve our writerly umami and to make our prose a pleasure to read (whether as a business blogger or a novelist), Henneke says that we need “three magical ingredients”: meaning, rhythm and word- play.

(1) Write with meaning, she urges us. Much business writing these days is “full of meaningless drab, and opening sentences often are yawn-inducing because they’re so obvious.”

She cites an example she recently read: “SEO experts love to talk about Google ranking factors,” when this is a truism for all SEO specialists.

Elsewhere Henneke laments the emptiness (“gobbledygook”) of statements from “Business Solution Providers” who claim to have worked “for 30 years to hone our solutions and meet your needs.” (From such writing, no one really knows what that company does.)

By contrast, she says, good writing brims with meaning and uses clear (persuasive) imagery. She cites Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep, in which a protagonist “slammed her glass down so hard that it slopped over on an ivory cushion. She swung her legs to the floor and stood up with her eyes sparking fire and her nostrils wide. Her mouth was open and her bright teeth glared at me . . . .”

Such writing adapts “vivid imagery” to relay its meaning. Even the tech giant Apple does this in some of its advertising: “We put the brains of iPhone 11 Pro in the body of iPhone SE. A13 Bionic is the fastest chip in a smartphone. So everything feels fluid . . . ” (emphasis Henneke).

Good business writing must have legitimate meaning. Using vivid imagery is one way to achieve that.

(2) Write with rhythm, Henneke also says. Writing can “hop, skip and dance” or “stutter and stumble” by its syllables and sounds. “Punctuation, sentence length, and sound or word repetition” are some of the ingredients that contribute to sentence rhythm.

She cites Raymond Chandler again, in The Long Goodbye, describing a lazy morning: “It was the kind of morning that seems to go on forever. I was flat and tired and dull and the passing minutes seemed to fall into a void, with a soft whirring sound, like spent rockets.”  The rhythms and onomatopoeic sounds of these words (words whose sound evokes their meaning) struck me even very early, on the morning I first read them.

(3) Playing with words, Henneke recommends, to give your writing umami. Wordplay can give writing precision and therefore persuasive power. Raymond Chandler describes a high pile carpet that “almost tickled my ankles” and a “stuffy office” as having “The musty smell of years of routine,” (which also evokes “urine”).

Wordplay is also evident when we use similes, so that a character in Chandler’s writing “talked with commas, like a heavy novel.” Haven’t we all met someone like that?

My point is that good writers and creatives need to read in order to collect words with umami, words that we love and can apply to our work.

And these truths apply to business writing, too. Henneke admires the work of Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick), unnamed copywriters at Apple and many others.

We can find our own favourite writers by observing the meaning, rhythm and word-play of what we read—and by reading it aloud, as well, so we can adapt these strengths to our own style.

She returns to the concept of “umami” as an essential ingredient to our writing, rooted in the Japanese word “umai,” which means, simply, “deliciousness.”

“Umami” carries connotations of food that is “kind to the body,” and that leaves us “feeling good after eating” (Katoh in Duistermaat). These are my feelings, especially when I pull away from a table at Japa Bowl.

When we make our writing similarly “delicious,” readers’  lives, whatever their ethnic origins,  can be enriched by it. Henneke concludes that such writing “lingers in our readers’ minds” like an indelible taste; and it leaves behind an indelible trace.

And now it’s your turn: How can you increase the “umami” factor of your writing? What authors do you read who convey “deliciousness?”



STORYTELLER’S CORNER: Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . . 

Word Etymology: The “Australian Writers’ Centre  Newsletter” (September 2021):

Can you identify which is the correct meaning of each of these words?

  1. MELLIFEROUS: Honey-producing OR Foul-smelling
  2. IRENIC: Quick to anger OR Peaceful
  3. POLLEX: Another word for a human thumb OR Medieval skin disease
  4. OOLOGY: Study of bird’s eggs OR Study of comets
  5. MOUE: A tuft of hair protruding from the ear OR A small grimace/pout
  6. PHALANGES: Finger and toe bones OR Identical twins of opposite gender
  7. BLEB: A zigzag pattern OR A blister
  8. SUFFUSE: To spread through something OR To deaden/stifle


  1. MELLIFEROUS: Honey-producing
  2. IRENIC: Peaceful
  3. POLLEX: Another word for a human thumb
  4. OOLOGY: Study of bird’s eggs
  5. MOUE: A small grimace/pout
  6. PHALANGES: Finger and toe bones
  7. BLEB: A blister
  8. SUFFUSE: To spread through something

Do you have a story, riddle or joke on any aspect of writing or communications? Please share it with me; I’d be delighted to use it in an upcoming issue. 



Thank you to the administrative and operating staff at The Franklin Retirement Residence (Revera), for working hard to support seniors of all ages and abilities, in their later years.

The quality of life, including diet, openness to home-care support and other programming is second to none in Saskatoon, and has become home to a senior in my family.


Special thanks also to the committee of the Language Training Unit, Open Door Society, Saskatoon, for discussing ESL instruction at their organization. I look forward to applying my ESL training there (to lead a conversation circle) and to learning more of the amazing work Open Door teachers do.


An enthusiastic thank you this month to colleague Megan Kent, of Little Ox Film Company and coach Deanna Litz of Powerful Nature Coaching & Consulting, Inc. , who have assisted me in learning the finer details of screen-sharing inside Zoom’s “Breakout Rooms.”

Long after my nine months of studies in startSMART at the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship (PSE), I continue to find fruitful relationships with these fabulous, deeply talented entrepreneurs and with mentor (PSE Chief Visionary Officer), Monica Kreuger.

Readers, if you (or someone you know) are entrepreneurially minded or have “just some kind of an idea” for a business, the startSMART program of the PSE can help you make it a reality. The program offers many benefits–its network of support continues long after the program ends!

Contact program administrator Elaine Mantyka today for more information. An intake is already underway. Don’t miss out: (306) 664-0500  and



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 career and communications documents and lead language and writing workshops that help newcomers to Canada land their first or better jobs; help SMEs to close more sales by communicating more effectively; and help major companies to promote their legacy stories.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information (