George Carlin, the brilliant and controversial stand-up comedian, understood the impact of words. He was a harsh critic of language use, and most of all disliked jargon and euphemisms. “I don’t like words that conceal reality,” Carlin said. “And American English is loaded with euphemisms…Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it.” In an on-stage routine Carlin noted, “We have no more deaf people in this country. ‘Hearing impaired.’ No more blind people. ‘Partially sighted or visually impaired.’ No more stupid people. Everyone has a ‘learning disorder.’ Because thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won’t have to die. I’ll ‘pass away.’ Or I’ll ‘expire,’ like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they’ll call it a ‘terminal episode.’ The insurance company will refer to it as ‘negative patient care outcome.'”
In the public relations world, words are our primary tools but some of us seem to rely on jargon, euphemisms and superlatives. In an article published this week, Bulldog Reporter‘s Steve Beale focused on journalists’ complaints about annoying words they see in press releases. Leading the list were words more typical of advertising: “best,” “most,” “highest,” “lowest,” etc., without any supporting evidence. “Even worse,” he wrote, “is claiming that your client’s product or service is ‘revolutionary’ or represents a ‘paradigm shift.'” Beale added “solution” to the list, which “does not give me the understanding I need” to understand how the product solves the problem.
Tom Gable of Gable PR put “solution” at the top of his list of words to avoid in PR writing. He added “leading,” “seamless,” “cutting edge,” and “state-of-the-art.” In his website article, Gable called for “jargon-free PR” and created a Jargon Trash Index we can use to clean up our PR writing.
In PR, we’re not writing ad copy; we’re writing truth. That being said, I’m taking my well-fed, follically-challenged self to the best, state-of-the art sushi restaurant in town and have an adult beverage. It’ll be revolutionary. Your thoughts?