EuPhemisms and jaRgon

      51 Comments on EuPhemisms and jaRgon
George Carlin (1937-2008)

George Carlin (1937-2008)

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?

51 thoughts on “EuPhemisms and jaRgon

  1. Pete Bogue

    It’s funny – ‘Public Relations’ is itself a euphemism for ‘Propaganda’ in its’ original usage. Edward Bernays – look it up!

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  2. Christina Sewell

    Oddly enough, the first word the popped into my head is “midget” a word that is offensive to many. But why is it offensive exactly? According to the merriam-webster the word midget is defined as follows —

    sometimes offensive : a very small person; specifically : a person of unusually small size who is physically well-proportioned

    Because it’s considered offensive, we say little people. This applies to many other words in the English language. We deem words taboo and harsh to sugar coat the things around us. But at the same time, in the words of famous comedian Dave Chappelle, “What happens when keeping it real go wrong?”

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  3. Chris Swenson

    I totally agree with some of the arguments in this post in the sense that it’s bad to use flowery language that exaggerates or does not actually convey any real information, such as the phrase “revolutionary.” However, regarding certain euphemisms, I think it’s part of the job of a PR professional to understand the kinds of phrases that the public tends to prefer, in some cases. Being too straight forward, for the sake of being straight forward, could come off slightly off-putting. Like most things, I think it’s all about finding a balance.

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  4. Hector Bonilla

    Relying on jargon, catchphrases, or other attempts at eye-catching buzz words is something I’ve been guilty of many times in the past. It often feels like you can only be so creative so many times when you have to produce so much content in a given day. However while I will admit PR professionals must stay away from such shortcuts, I do not completely agree with Mr. Carlin’s statement. While I also admit to being such a Carlin fan that I’ve read and re-read that same quote before, I still believe that as communication specialists we should expect to have to tailor our language at times when targeting certain audiences. Whether it is using a more polite description, such as handicap versus crippled, or using more technical terms (sparingly) for specially educated publics, we still need a certain amount of flexibility in language.

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  5. ainsleyrufer

    I like this. Usually this kind of critique is reserved for shady advertisement ploys, but it’s important to call out PR traits as well. The industry tries hard enough to shake its (deserved? undeserved?) reputation for “spinning” a story, and things like this are part of the problem. The more transparent a company can be, the better. In a society of growing skeptics, people aren’t likely to take you seriously if what you’re saying sounds too good to be true anyway. Your message will have more of an effect if you’re clear, detailed, and honest with your information.

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  6. Candace Brown

    I think that although the point is truthful and well-made, it’s hard for PR people (at least in my case) who are intrinsically creative and wordy to break things down to their basest facts and attributes. In my experience writing as a PR major so far, I’ve struggled with losing the floral language in copy. I think it’s instinctive as a creative writer to want to paint a picture and create and image. Though I do agree that it tends to muddle the purpose.

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  7. Brenna O'Shea

    I agree with the article. Public relations writing should not use jargon. I would say that it’s frowned upon because we as PR practitioners are suppose to gain the publics trust by being honest. Jargon and euphemism is often times used to cover something up, therefore we should not use it in our writing and try to avoid it at all times.

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  8. Samantha

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. The English language has such a rich and colorful vocabulary that any writers who rely on jargon are really doing themselves a great disservice. There is a plethora of online reference material out there, but it all comes down to reading. In essence with writing you are what you eat. Reading a wide variety of articles and books on a range of subjects may be one way to alleviate this jargon pandemic.

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  9. Kalli Dionysiou

    While I agree that it can be misleading to use jargon and euphemisms in PR writing, it is sometimes helpful in describing something and making it newsworthy. PR writers should try to be as careful and honest as possible when using these words.

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  10. Nyala Stagger

    Jargon and “fluff” are not only prominent in the professional world, but also in academia. I think, in an effort to impress others, people often take the long away around saying what they truly want to say, which is why the art of communicating concisely and effectively tends to be hard for students fresh out of high school. I know that I personally struggled with writing a 500-word essay for my college applications, often receiving feedback like “too descriptive” or “more hard information”, because I tried to flex my creative writing muscles. However, in PR, I don’t think it’s wrong to use words creatively if it shows your client or product in the best light. Many people and companies boast about “being the best” without factual proof, but I don’t consider it lying.

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  11. stephleal

    The professionals and the public often gravitate to use “fluff” words because this often is faster and easiest to digest. I couldn’t agree more with George Carlin is our job to convey the message stating the facts. Using our creativity, good writting and strategy is how we make a successful PR campaign.

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  12. Kelly Farrington

    I have to agree with his article as well. As PR professionals, our job is to get the facts out. If the journalist wants to use jargon or euphemism, maybe that’s different, but PR people should be as straight forward as possible. I found this post and the “Jargon Trash Index” to be useful because I realized there are probably some terms I’ve used before that I probably shouldn’t have. I will definitely look more closely at my word choice now to ensure I am avoiding jargon.

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  13. Kendall Berman

    I completely agree with George Carlin – the truth hurts and people don’t want to face reality, so they purposely avoid blunt and straightforward words. And word choice, as we discovered in chapter three of the text, is crucial. But we throw words around, to make light of a situation, or make ourselves sound better than we really are, without lying–per say. One example of this is when President Obama speaks. Sometimes I’m just like “spit it out already.” It’s like dancing around a question.

    One important note I’ve heard about writing time and time again is to be ‘concise.’ Don’t make wordy sentences, just simply state what you’re trying to say clearly.

    As far as PR is concerned, it is frustrating to hear the same words thrown around time and time again. How many things can be ‘revolutionary?’ I think our advertising, and PR is lacking creativity these days and we need to introduce some new words in press releases.

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  14. Nina Vasiljevic

    What George Carlin said about euphemisms is the truest thing ever. The professionals and the public are so afraid of the power that the certain words have that they feel the need to soften them and even substitute them with something more “agreeable.”

    Then we have the nausea-inducing jargon and redundant, often very deceiving superlatives that everybody uses. I definitely think that jargon, euphemisms and superlatives undermine our credibility and professionalism. That’s why we desperately need to “clean up our PR writing.”

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  15. LIhunger

    George Carlin makes a great point in saying that we fabricate and fluff things up to sound less negative. Especially in the situation of writing, it is difficult to omit all fluff. It’s very easy to fill the space of your sentences with extra descriptive words that may not actually contain much meaning. As PR professionals it is imperative that we bring the truth to the public in the simplest language so that it can be understood as it is intended rather than put in a different light than the information deserves.

    As a writer, it is often helpful to use such descriptive words to gain the attention of readers, if you are not positioning yourself as the best than why not use a different product? In the context of news, all messages should be as truthful and honestly worded as possible, omitting general terms that are not directly applicable to the message. However, if you are actually promoting something that you think is the best, explain why it is the best rather than simply stating that it is. By showing the reader the information which led to the conclusion that it is the best, they are likely to come to that conclusion on their own and it will hold more meaning.

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  16. russellrothenberg

    I simply cannot argue with this article. A PR professional just cannot lie to the public. We read and hear stories that often stretch the truth or tell stories that are exaggerated and that is simply unethical. Whether it’s good or bad news, the story has to be honest. If a person or organization does lie, the truth will come out eventually and if that happens the public will not like it. It will leave a lasting impact on your reputation and the people might not be able to trust you ever again.

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  17. Catherine Benny

    I agree with Shayla as well. I believe that jargon actually tends to scare people rather than put them at ease, which is the exact opposite of what any professional would hope. We should be sensitive and straight-forward with all audiences, even children. Any situation good or bad, should be explained in terms people can understand so that no one has questions and everyone is on the same page. One of the most important things about PR is reaching your audience, what better way to do that than by using simple, straightforward language?

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  18. Alexandria Alicea

    I am very much in favor of George Carlin’s dislike towards the use of jargons; oddly enough, I was brought not realizing I had always used them. My mother is very big on manners, grammar and what some would call being ‘politically correct’. It was not until I was older, and began using my own language, that I realized it was okay to say someone had ‘died’ and not “passed away”. I am not completely against the use of them, I just honestly don’t see the need. The only time I find it most reasonable to use a jargon would be explaining a situation to a minor and using the most “soft” terms possible. Using a jargon to me is almost like giving a crutch another crutch. It may sound ignorant, but if I were challenged with a disability -being deaf for example- I would rather someone refer to me as deaf than “hearing impaired.” It is almost as if those who are challenged with these issues aren’t strong enough to hear the title of ‘deaf’ when it is in fact the exact opposite. Again all in my personal opinion, but I believe that someone with a challenge is much stronger than the credit we give them and we shouldn’t simplify our language in fear of hurting their feelings.

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  19. Marissa Kopech

    I believe that the jargon we hear and see in people’s writing is an outcome of society using these words so often. Our culture does not particularly like when words shine a negative light because we want to portray this perfect world that, frankly, does not exist. Using jargon makes it easier for everything to seem “sugar, spice and everything nice”.

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  20. Marissa Kopech

    I agree with George Carlin in the way that our society tries to down-play things that can be seen as negative or as a problem. Our society has begun to soften around this idea that nothing can be put in a negative light. The world is not always full of good things, people struggle and deal with loss. It happens. It is a shame that our society tries to use words to downplay the seriousness of someone who is deaf as being hearing impaired just because it sounds “nice”. I believe that we need to go back to stop this use of jargon because it is effecting people’s writing skills in PR and otherwise.

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  21. Yejide C

    As a PR professional I think it is important that you truly believe in your product and by that I mean you know it is the “best, exceptional, groundbreaking, etc”. If you believe in your product you will realize how obvious it is to use words like jargon. There is absolutely no need to say “my product is the best” because if that were in fact truth it would show for itself. Instead of highlighting the obvious you should use your writing space to highlight the facts that are not so obvious. Things that tend to stray from the norm are the things to help catch consumers eyes not the usual cliche.

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  22. Avalon Bohunicky

    I believe that our society has become extremely sensitive. It is good in some aspects, but it has caused the need for people in the media to be extra cautious about what they say. Due to the social media-crazed society that we live in, it is easier and quicker for the media to receive backlash from people that were offended by what they wrote. This causes people to refrain from using any words or phrases that could possibly be offensive. Countless stories in the media are sugarcoated or over-exaggerated just to get attention. I believe that honesty is the best policy, and that public relations practitioners should be straight-forward and tell it like it is in order to receive the most respect from the public.

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  23. Amanda Torres

    First off, excellent choice of food (sushi). Secondly, I completely agree with Shayla. The worst thing one can do is confuse the public with jargon. Throughout my career at Hofstra I’ve been badgered to NOT use jargon in my pieces. In a way, I guess that’ll make for better PR professionals in my generation. I think there is a way to use jargon and still be straight forward/honest, but not everyone is capable of doing so. SO, it’s probably best to just not do it at all.

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  24. Olga Varnavskaya

    I just finished reading this article, and I got e-mail. I looked it up, and here is what I see in the subject line of the message: “LinkedIn Sales Solutions.” Certainly, I didn’t even bother to read it; the message went straight to the garbage. Paradoxically, these ads words, that are supposed to attract our attention and to cause more interest to what is written, actually became markers, that help to distinguish spam from useful information. So yes, I agree, PR professionals should do their best to avoid being judgmental and evaluative in whatever they are writing. That’s the privilege of another profession – advertising.

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  25. Dan Savarino

    I feel the way PR professionals are now; many try to just spin their client in an positive manner just like an advertisement. Obviously, when someone is working for the company, product, person, etc., you want to make them sound as good as possible. However, just like in journalism, back up your statement of why someone is the best. Why can Babe Ruth be considered the best baseball player of all time? Because he hit over 700 home runs and dominated the game. You cannot just throw jargon in, and say your client Ike Davis is the best baseball player of all time. That is an obvious false statement. Lying is bad PR. Just give the truth, and give an honest way of communicating to the public.

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  26. LaChele Prophet

    I LOVED George Carlin. He was a genius when it came to delivering comedy. He definitely had a “tell it like it is” approach. He was always straight to the point. PR professionals must be honest with the clients they work with and avoid fluff words or jargon when representing them. Just be straight forward because using jargon and euphemisms can be confusing and annoying. It’s like don’t beat around the bush just freaking tell me the truth already. I must admit that sometimes I use such terms, but in some situations they are needed.

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  27. Mike Iadevaia

    George Carlin was a comedic legend who couldn’t be more correct. Public Relations can be defined as the relationship between a company and its publics. However, this relationship cannot be wholesome if press releases are being disseminated with jargon that intends to mislead or sugarcoat information. It is a PR professional’s responsibility to be honest and open with the public for the benefit of the company.

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  28. Francesco Vivacqua

    I do get George Calin’s point. It is correct that people do use a lot euphemisms, however this is within people’s right to speak however they wants. We live in a society where people have become crafty with words. The reason why we use euphemisms is to not offend people or make them feel bad. George Carlin was the type of guy that wasn’t easily offended if something was told to him straight. However, other people are different and rather hear negative terms in a way that makes it sound less severe. Carlin’s statement is true, but I think that the majority of people use euphemism, which is why it is commonly used. I don’t know if I agree or disagree with Carlin’s premise, but I do know that his statement is relevant to our contemporary society.

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  29. David Salomon

    I believe some jargon is unnecessary, but it can be useful at times. A job of a PR practitioner is to make his or her story as compelling as possible to keep his or her audience interested. Adding jargon such as “best”, “highest”, “worst” capture the attention of the reader. There are many ways to use jargon and not be deceiving.

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  30. Geena Pandolfi

    I agree with this article, however, sometimes those words such as ‘best’ and ‘highest’ get you to read the article or press release. It is not the job of the PR person to lie, however it is their job to make their company or person that they are representing appear favorable. Using the jargon might spark an interest but cutting it out leads to the point and makes the story less ‘flowery.’

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  31. Sydney Myers

    I think that many professional’s in all fields rely on jargon because American’s are extremely sensitive and no one wants to offend anyone. I think in today’s society, words like “best”, “revolutionary”, and “highest” don’t have the same impact they maybe once held before. Every product you read or see is the “best” one out there, so we’re almost numb to these jargon terms. I find this post to be accurate when talking about today’s use of words and terms. As potential professionals, we need to learn how to express the truth without any “fill in” words.

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  32. sfoley62014

    Since the first day of my first PR class it has been drilled into our head to not use jargon. When using jargon it is taking away from the meaning of what us PR people are trying to get across. In today’s day and age society wants the bare minimum words with the most meaning.

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  33. Christina Li

    I really agree with the view that the article point. Since the basic purpose of PR releases is gaining publics’ support, so PR writing should be based on the truth. The writing papers with euphemisms are easy to confuse publics. The direct words will give people the sense of credible, the sentence with many uncertain words will increase its persuasion. Also, publics are difficult to accept the hollow description, the real evidence and accurate numbers will help PR practitioners to complete a convictive PR writing.

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  34. Kerri Tortorella

    While I wouldn’t use euphemisms to “conceal reality,” it is our responsibility as public relations practitioners to consider audiences and political correctness in our words/writing. Terms initially used years ago have the power and tendency to become derogatory. If it is not misleading and sends the same message, language that considers inclusiveness, the public and all audiences, should take priority.

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    1. Colin Sullivan

      I have to agree with my colleague on this one. People who work in certain industries need to stay on top of politically-correct terminology. It is not only so the person/organization can be sensitive to changing perceptions, but also to demonstrate a higher level of understanding and awareness.

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  35. Kristin Neuman

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. In today’s society, we have euphemisms for almost everything. It’s interesting to think about because in every day conversation, you don’t realize just how prevalent it is. For some reason we feel the need to sugar coat things or introduce them lightly. In a profession such as public relation, it’s important to present the facts in the best and most efficient way possible. You shouldn’t beat around the bush or make something seem less serious with a euphemism. This can cause confusion or distrust around your message. I think in order to be as credible as possible, you should write in a way that eliminates euphemisms and gets straight to the point.

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  36. russellbenner

    Devon seemed to touch on a really, almost perfect point on how when using jargon like mentioned above it becomes almost of a selling point. We are here to provide the truth and and when jargon like that fills press releases and other PR tools, it becomes almost misleading and confusing to the public.

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  37. Devon Hambrecht

    Thankfully I have been well taught to stay away from words like these in my press releases and other PR materials. It begins repetitive and many of the jargon words allow a disconnect from unique attributes of your product or service. It starts to appear as advertising, which is not what PR is aiming to accomplish. It is hard to stray away from this jargon and euphemisms because we as Americans have made it a priority to utilize them.

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  38. Brittany Witter

    I will agree that jargon is an extremely annoying and “fluffy” way of explaining simple things. Every industry has their own set of jargon but people need to think about the individuals reading their writing that aren’t in that industry. I think that Gable’s index is an ideal tool for PR professionals to write more successful releases. If you want a reporter to write on story on your pitch, making sure that your not writing words that annoy them can only help your chances in my opinion.

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  39. Kim Gray

    I must admit this article was very interesting. I did not realize my excessive use of euphemisms and jargon until you listed some of them. Society is afraid of the truth. However, as PR professionals, we must break from that use of language and be as transparent and honest to our clients. We only look credible in the long run.

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  40. Christine Wallen

    In the world of PR, I think we have to think carefully of the words we use to describe our clients and companies. If use too many phrases we run the risk of misrepresentation. However, I do believe we use such words because America has gotten “soft”. As a media professional, I think we have no choice but to incorporate jargon and euphemisms in our writing so that our audience can embrace our messages. Also, I think people would be more inclined to read messages that are more on the sensitive side.

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  41. Jen

    I agree with all the comments above that spinning, sugar coating, etc. are wrong to do. They don’t give the full picture and insult the reader’s and client’s intelligence. However, I don’t agree that artful language always distracts from the message at hand. It is our job to write well, write clearly, and write professionally. PR professionals are supposed to be able to set themselves apart by not writing like everyone else – they should have a more vast knowledge of vocabulary and grammar rules than the average person because their job depends on it. So I say use flowery language but be aware if it gets in the way of your core message and your client’s goals.

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  42. yannaloren89

    I think it’s always best to be accurate in any situation but it’s also important to be careful. I understand why euphemisms are used, to make difficult or emotional situations more tolerable. Everyone is not like George Carlin. I think it’s okay to be sensitive to the person or client at hand, just be sure to be clear and stay away from jargon.

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  43. Alexandra Cohen

    In the field of Public Relations, you need to tell the truth and never lie. There is no need to sugar coat any situation because you’re client or organization that you’re representing needs to hear the news straight up, whether it’s good or bad. Euphemisms and jargons are not always needed, but when they are needed evidence is also needed.

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  44. Katherine Hammer

    It was a surprise to me how much we actually use euphemisms in society without realizing it. I don’t think people know that we use euphemisms and jargon to cover up the truth in writing. In public relations, there has to be facts and support for the client so that no one “beats around the bush”. The public would not believe information from a company if the PR firm did not give straight forward facts, or else it would seem like they were trying to bend the truth.

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  45. afitting

    Undoubtedly, effective PR writing is a key communications technique vital in the success of an organization. To create copy that persuades, but remains objective and believable, a writer needs to have a particular skill set for PR writing, and understand the difference from advertising copy.

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  46. Laura Schioppi

    I thought this article was interesting. The amount of euphemisms and jargon we use to promote the client. Even though our job as PR practitioners is to heighten one’s appearance or duty to the public, we should be careful on how we use specific words. It is important to advance our client, but we should be honest in doing it. We need to be aware of the crazy words we use and try to be truthful while supporting our client.

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  47. Zachary Kizer

    I’ve never really thought about the use of euphemisms and jargon in society in this context. It is interesting to see that as a people we are numbing ourselves to the truth by avoiding using certain terms. When it comes to public relations it is critical that the PR firm or department tells the truth, and doesn’t make false claims. The use of jargon and euphemisms just cloud the public’s perception of what a company actually is.

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  48. tatayanayomary

    I think that this article is completely accurate. In the field of public relations you need to have worthwhile relationships between the company and target publics, so it would be highly ineffective to broadcast lies in various media methods. That is a case of terrible PR. In order for the public to believe in the company there has to be an honest flow of information.

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  49. Kayla Marzo

    I agree with this article. Public Relations is about telling the truth and not sugarcoating it because initially; that’s a lie. Being straight forward with the public is a key characteristic in public relations. Jargon terms are effective for case sensitive situations, but when it comes to Public relations the people need to hear every bit.

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    1. Shayla Ridore

      I believe the worst thing a PR professional can do is try to confuse the public with slick words and jargon that may mis-represent the truth. While it is true that as a society we have become much more sensitive to straight- forward words that convey the truth without sugar-coating, I truly believe that the public can handle, and probably even appreciate writing that conveys the meaning plainly and simply. As PR professionals we should aim to tell the public exactly what we mean, plain and simple, without confusing jargon and euphemisms.

      Reply

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