Month: December 2021

Jar-gone! Let’s just call a spade a spade.

I’ve learnt a lot from my kids during my copywriting career. For instance, I’ve realised that lacing my requests to tidy their toys or get ready for school with an irresistible benefit (like the reward of a precious sticker or bonus screen time) gets a much better response than when I turn into ‘shouty mummy’.

Another thing about children is that their world is a heckuva lot simpler than ours. One shining example is the stuff they say, versus the utter balderdash us ‘grown-ups’ come out with.

My seven-year-old is an insatiable reader (cue proud writer-mummy). And he’s storming through the Harry Potter series faster than you can say ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named.’ While reading aloud Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, he came across the word ‘irresolute’. Frowning, my son asked, “What does that mean Mummy?” I explained it was another way of saying ‘unsure’. “Oh, so why doesn’t it just say that?” And from then on, when ‘irresolute’ popped up he read it as ‘unsure’. This was a word he was at ease with, making him so much more invested in the story.

Just a load of gibberish

Which got me thinking about the words we use in business. What words do we use that put our customers at ease and which words make them feel decidedly, well, more uncomfortable than a weekend scaling cliffs and drinking bodily fluids with Bear Grylls?

That, my friend, would be jargon.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes jargon as ‘unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; nonsense, gibberish.’

Gibberish. A word that evokes side-splitting scenes of the Monty Python lads spouting gobbledygook to confuse and confound. All jolly hilarious in a comedy sketch, but not so much fun in the boardroom. And even less amusing if this ‘gibberish’ starts creeping into your marketing, or (shock-horror) when talking head-on with your clients. Gibberish – AKA jargon – has no business with customers.

Calling a spade a long-handled metal excavation tool

And take it from me, I know jargon. After spending several years working in the NHS, where phrases like ‘acute foundation trusts’, ‘quality and outcomes framework’ and the rather eerie ‘never event’ are commonplace (not to mention the giddying number of acronyms), I spent a great deal of time looking utterly mystified, trying to decode the cryptic utterances of my colleagues.

I realised the thing about jargon is that it’s kind of like a secret password. Once you understand the elusive speak, it gains you entry into an exclusive club. Know the lingo? Then feel free to take your seat at the high table – talking NICE guidelines and primary care baselines with the best of them.

Of course, the downside is if you don’t know the password you ain’t even getting past the bouncers. And how unwelcoming is that?

Imagine then, how this feels to your customers? A bit of a snub? Somewhat baffling? Not to mention all terribly exhausting.

Take out the brain ache

Donald Miller of Building a Brand Story says a fundamental marketing mistake that businesses make is that “they cause their customers to burn too many calories in an effort to understand their offer.” Simply put, you gotta keep it simple (stupid). And using jargon in your marketing is one helluva head spinner.

Granted, there will be times when your audience is familiar with certain phrases relating to your industry. For instance, with marketing clients, I’ll freely talk ‘calls to action’ and ‘tone of voice’ all day. And if it’s not exclusive then that’s just fine.

But when your insider-speak – in other words, the internal language that keeps the cogs of your organisational machine turning – creeps into the language you use with your customers, then you’re putting them metaphorically face-to-face with that unwelcome, burly bouncer at the back door. And access to your product or service is suddenly a slammed door in the face.

Plain and simple, if you want your customers on the inside, then cut the gibberish.

What did my true love give to me on the first day of Christmas?

Ask anyone that question and it’s likely that they’ll be able to tell you. Belting out ‘a partridge in a pear tree’ and the better-after-a-few-mulled-wines, ‘five gold rings!’, feels like a rite of passage each Christmas. 

But where do the lyrics come from and what on earth do they mean?

Theory 1

There’s a popular theory that each of the verses represents a catechism of the Catholic faith. The theory goes that the original rhyme (it wasn’t arranged to the tune we know now until 1909) was written in the 1700s by Catholic clerics as a way of teaching children about the central aspects of the faith. Its first printed appearance was in the 1780 book Mirth Without Mischief, although evidence suggests it existed before this.

The religious interpretations of each verse are as follows:

  1. A partridge in a Pear Tree represents Jesus, because a mother partridge is the only bird that will die for its young
  2. Turtle Doves represent The Old and New Testaments
  3. French Hens symbolise Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
  4. Calling Birds represent the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
  5. Golden Rings represent The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the ‘Pentateuch’, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace
  6. Geese A-laying symbolise the six days of creation
  7. Swans A-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
  8. Maids A-milking symbolise the eight Beatitudes, the blessings listed by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount
  9. Ladies Dancing represent the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  10. Lords A-Leaping refer to the Ten Commandments
  11. Pipers Piping symbolise the eleven faithful Apostles
  12. Drummers Drumming represent the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

Sadly (because the TPW Collective loves unravelling hidden meanings!), it seems that this theory is pure conjecture. First circulated in the 1990s on an internet forum, it appears that this may simply be a fanciful tale that has gained in popularity, as there is no historical evidence to support the idea. On to the next theory then!

Theory 2

A much more likely explanation of the origin behind the – frankly quite bizarre – items in the lyrics is that the rhyme was a festive memory game. Games which required a group of children to take turns at verses of a rhyme, remembering what the child before had said, were very popular in the 1700s and 1800s. If a child forgot a lyric, a forfeit of a kiss or sweet was usually required from them.

This explanation has much more basis in historical fact so, whilst we enjoy a hidden meaning, we have to confess that it’s much more likely the song is adapted from an early playground game. It also goes some way to explaining why there are quite so many items, as well as why they’re repeated in each verse.

One thing we did learn from our brief delve into the etymology of this festive classic is that the ‘four calling birds’ originated as ‘four colly birds’, meaning ‘birds that are black as coal’. 

The 12 days of Christmas

However the song originated, all the gifts in the lyrics would set you back over £30,000 today. American financial services group PNC calculates how much the twelve gifts would cost each year in their annual Christmas Price Index! (A good read, if you have a couple of spare minutes).

Whether you’ll be spending £30,000 on an assortment of birds, musicians and milkmaids for your beloved, the twelve days start on Boxing Day and run until 6th January. We hope you get to enjoy every single one of them.

Did I lie to you?

A few months ago I was pitching to a client for a new content job, when said client took me to task on how I described The Power of Words as a ‘content consultancy’. I was rather taken aback. Now, true to my trade, I looked up ‘consultancy’ in the Oxford English (which seemed completely daft, but we can gloss over that) and this is what it said:

“A professional practice that gives expert advice within a particular field.”

One thorny word

Clear as day. We were professionals. We were experts. Still are! We advised. And we had a specialism (discovering and writing untold stories for businesses, if you haven’t heard). But then it struck me: the thorny word is ‘practice’. We were not a structured ‘proper’ company per se, with me employing staff – all working exclusively for The Power of Words. We were, in fact, three freelancers – with our own gigs, but working under the TPW umbrella when the right client / content fit came along.

Climbing the content mountain

Not long before that The Power of Words was just me, TPW. But the recent insatiable thirst for content meant it seemed like the right time to strike while the iron’s hot and expand – from copywriter of x1 to mini consultancy of x3 freelancers.

I’ve been a freelancer for most of my working days. Does that make me less professional? Does that make my writers less worthy? Hell no. And, in the words of R&B singers Charles & Eddie: ‘Would I lie to you, baby?’ Certainly not – not intentionally, anyway.

A forced re-think

But perhaps, I had, unwittingly. The good news is, it’s forced a rethink. And a re-name, of sorts, so clarity rules. Over the past 12 months, I’ve been building up a fantabulous ‘collective’ of freelance writers. All women. All excellent. And all, I’m thrilled to say, are proud to be part of TPW’s burgeoning writing hub.

Not a consultancy, but a six-strong (and counting) collective.

A quick stock-check and the OED kindly confirmed that as ‘a cooperative enterprise’ I am not (unintentionally) pulling any wool over anyone’s eyes.

More experience, more skills….more power!

So, what does this mean for TPW’s clients, I hear you say? Well, it means that I have an even more veritable smorgasbord of writing skills available, as well as much greater availability and deadline smashing potential. More power, if you like, behind The Power of Words.

So, without further ado, let me introduce the new TPW writer collective (going left to right of the photo)…

Fiona Adams: Fiona was previously at Surrey’s Sheengate Publishing for 11 years, where she took charge of several of its titles, before finishing in 2021 as editor of its flagship publication, The Richmond Magazine. In the line of duty, she’s risked life and limb dog sledding in the Arctic, braved vampire facials and fat freezing and interviewed celebrities as diverse as Samira Ahmed, Liz Earle and Suzanne Vega.

Jess Watson: Part of the original TPW ‘consultancy’, Jess is a former journo – now turned B2B copywriter, who is relentless about finding the best way to tell and sell a story. She once visited Sweden to film a survivor of the Asian tsunami who had been pictured running towards the wave to save her children.

Tessa Thornley: The other Tessa is a professional, qualified copy editor and writer. She’s recently edited a novel about the acid house scene, a book on women’s intuition and is currently working on a million-word memoir.

Miranda Jessop: After a ten year career in food and travel PR, a stint at a national glossy magazine allowed Miranda to find her true vocation: journalism. She’s been writing ever since and easily adapts her style to suit a wide variety of content formats. From Julian Clary to Jacqueline Wilson, Miranda has been lucky enough to interview so many iconic personalities.

Tania Lewys-Lloyd: A copywriter and content crafter for brands big and small and an experienced marketer with 20 years under her belt – Tania knows her AIDA from her PAS. Always one for a bit of globetrotting, she loves to indulge in a good yarn about that time she stayed in a convent in Jerusalem.

And TPW has more writers entering the fray, every day. Ok, more like by the month. But, it’s an ever-expanding enterprise – one that’s built on quality, experience, no-nonsense and storytelling know-how. A collective, not a consultancy – one with hugely exciting times ahead.

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