The Words We Weave

I stream the previous night’s national news in the morning. It’s odd, but hey, I work weird hours. I watch multiple evening new shows and I’m always thinking about how the networks choose their content – what to lead with, the best order for the audience, and so many other questions.

Mostly I try to understand how networks choose different phrases to describe the exact same story. A journalism class I took in college opened my eyes to the ways the same story can be told and how readers and viewers feel as a result.

This morning blessed me with a great example and I’d like to know what you think. I watched the evening news of 3 different networks who had a short spot about the raid on a mayor in Oakland. While the topic was the same, how they reported was ever so slightly different, evoking a different feeling, and ultimately, I think, biasing the reporting. How do these phrases make you feel?

“Did not respond to comment”

The implied activity is that the reporter tried and the person in the story did not respond. But wait, why is the person not responding? There’s a load of assumption on this one. I’m thinking that we have good reporters doing their job, and the bad person is not talking to them. But wait – did the reporter have the right contact info? Maybe the person in the story was at the gym. Maybe he was working. Maybe he was on the can. All we really know is the reporter did not get a response. So why do I feel negative about the person who did not respond?

“Was not available for comment”

This one clearly states that the person in the story was unavailable, but it tells me nothing about any effort on the reporter’s part. There’s a tacit feeling that the person in the news story is being evasive, but maybe this person was on vacation? At a funeral, whatever. Sadly, this one says nothing about any efforts to contact the person, simply that they were not around. Why do I suddenly assume they should have been around? How rude, right?

“Could not be reached for comment”

Ahh, love this one. Tells me the news organization worked to get it and the poor soul could have been anywhere. Why do I think this guy must be avoiding the reporter? This one definitely implies the news organization tried, right? But did they? Maybe the reporter’s phone died and she simply couldn’t call the guy to get a comment. If the reporter did nothing, then the person really couldn’t be reached. Vague and safe, but kind of leaves me confused. Ms. Reporter, a little more detail, please.

So What?

Certainly reporters and news organizations are going to do what they do. Unfortunately, I think it’s up to us to listen carefully and truly hear what is being reported in the news.

When it comes to marketing research, it’s up to the researcher to listen carefully and understand what interviewees are saying. The same idiosyncrasies in the news exist in our discussions with each other. If only I could probe the reporter! Thankfully, I get to ask people a lot of follow-up questions in my job.

How do you experience the news?

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Battle of Word Pronunciations

Do you ever hear a word that you pronounce differently than others? Do you make note? Ask? Give a rat’s patooty? Another hobby of mine is to bring the offensive pronunciation into the ring. I love this kind of battle, where common word pronunciations are positioned against each other.

The following stories are all true. The names and places have not been changed to protect the truth.

Eat Your Fruits + Vegetables

A good friend of mine likes to say tow-MAH-toes, poh-TAH-toes, and even BAH-zil. Since this word debate actually has a battle song, they seem to be the most socially acceptable pronunciation discrepancies in American English. Despite the way we say it, we both agree, surprisingly, that tomatoes are fruits and potatoes are vegetables. <Ding> Round Two…

You Mean, Annoy

I was in my late twenties and vacationing in the oh-so-creative Cancun. Hey, it was the 90’s. I never could have guessed that this trip would haunt me for life. For Life.

Put yourself in a fine hotel retail store, the one that sells 2-3 overpriced yacht outfits , suitcases for some reason, and other bawdy accessories we know today that we never really needed. So, it’s the mid 90’s and I’m in the store because I unfortunately also had the decade’s mentality of more sun means beautiful tan. I burned like butter in pan. I knew I needed relief and I knew what I needed to do to get it. I asked the now-I-can-say snotty woman behind the counter, “Do you have any aloe?” I pronounced it correctly. Let the court make note of that solid memory backed up by diary entries, Exhibit D.

The saleswoman replied, “You mean, “ah-LOY”? It was fate that my travel buddies entered the store at this exact moment heard the woman’s response. Knowing me well, they removed me from the potential verbal crime scene quickly. I never did get that ah-LOH lotion. The “Ah-LOY” experience never leaves me. I mean, come ON. Look at that sha-LOY stream? What’s in the ha-LOY log? Did you have any mah-LOY-mars? I need to find that woman.

Howda Hell

My BAH-zil friend was over and she had brought gouda cheese, a favorite of both of ours. As she pulled it out, she called it “GOW-da”. Now… I can be overly confident and wrong, but c’mon, gouda? It’s GOO-da and everyone knows it, so I felt good about challenging her to the dictionary pronunciation and smiled as I typed in gouda (not just a cheese, also a town).

On the gouda reference page there is one little speaker icon, revealing the proper way to say what I knew was goo-da. I tap the little icon and we both lean in, and the damn voice comes back, “GOO-da…. or sometimes HOW-da”. I think I heard the man’s recorded voice even spit a little when he said it. WTH? While my word war is still 0:0, as my friend was close-but-no-cigar with GOW-da I have to admit my friend not only was closer, she knew it wasn’t just GOO-da. Pass the poh-TAH-toes, BAH-zil.

Not Pot

Ahh, another joyous workplace experience with words.

[Scene] The company meeting and the issue had been that storm waters had made the city provided water unpotable. I said “un-POH-ta-bul” and an elderly woman in the meeting corrected me and declared it was “un-POT-uh-bul”. Get those Oxford folks on the horn.

And the answer for how to pronounce unpotable <insert winning drum roll> is “un-POH-ta-bul”. Score! Let the games continue.

With what words have you disagreed on pronunciation?

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Holy Crap, a Clean Joke

A 7-year old told me this joke many years ago and I packed it away for my personal use every now and again. It has never failed to get a sincere chuckle.

Q. What did the left eye say to the right eye?

A. <cross your eyes and say suspiciously> Something smells between us

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The Marketing of Omission

Some people like golf, I like finding marketing mistakes. I read cereal boxes, Ikea instructions, the fine print on the 12-pack of Bounty paper towels. If I see words, I’m moving in.

Like the committed and determined members of medical detector clubs, I enjoy finding spelling errors & other mistakes in massive print runs. It’s a sick hobby, I know, but the pure joy of “it wasn’t me” is a high like no other.

What keeps this odd obsession going? Because Big Foot exists. Mistakes are made. My favorite category are the marketing errors of omission.

Here are some truly odd advertising from popular brands. I’m not sure which of these two brings me more joy. Have you seen others?

Bag Lifting That’s 50% Easier

This beauty came from a Rubbermade trashcan purchased from Ace Hardware in Bonita Springs, FL in 2017. The cardboard wrap over the lid very clearly wanted to explain that lifting out bags from their newly vented version was “50% Easier”. I read the small print only to find what I assume is the same message in other languages.

At first glance, “50% Easier” sounds impressive, but how is the new & improved version 50% easier? And 50% easier than what? They mention the reason is the venting channels. I had no idea such statistical problems were being managed and measured at Rubbermaid, which IMHO is the real story, but I digress. I can’t shake the thought that someone approved this. Once adorned on the trash cans in retail establishments across the country, few customers will question the claim. I shall continue my quest like Marketing Robin Hood, merrily revealing the confusing to the masses.

A Jar of Sweet + Small

One of my all time favorites is this jar of Peter Piper’s Sweet Midgets. These were purchased in 2015 at a local grocery store in the US Virgin Islands, where neither the FDA nor the FTC must not have any offices. This jar does not have the word pickle or cucumber anywhere. No ingredients list. Kudos for including nutritional information, weight & size, and a star-worthy “new sweeter taste”, but yet the buyer still can not be confident what the food actually is in the container except that the label says “Sweet Midgets”.

A quick search on Google reveals only one place (Harter House) sold a jar that looked similar, but today the “page is not found”. Is it possible a pickle producer was dumping their remaining supply of poorly marked Peter Piper’s pickles in paradise?

Wouldn’t be the first time. Year’s ago, bottles of Joy dish detergent for sale in Coral Bay read “Not Your First Choice” proudly on the front. Disgruntled employee? Office dare? Dang, I love this stuff. Years early I witnessed an entire end cap at Walgreens displaying large boxes clearly named “Potable Speakers.” I had to ask another customer to confirm I was reading it correctly, in other words, wrongly. Another notch! “Is there a job for people to do this full time,” I dream.

So back to the sweet midgets. I did finally get up the nerve to fish one of the tiny green turds out of the mystery container. I took a brave bite and I’m pretty sure it was a pickle. Pretty sure.

Does anyone else out there look for marketing mistakes?

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Marketing on the Move

“Target market”, “SWOT”, “Unique Selling Proposition”, “Influencer” and whatever comes next – if you’re in the field of advertising, marketing, or market research, you best hop on the bandwagon and learn your client’s love language.

While promotional fields of study have been around longer than you probably realized, the popular words used to describe the practice change over time. Time moves forward. Culture changes. People age out of the business as new ideas from younger professionals enter into the ring. Whatever you want to point to as the reason, the fact is: change happens.

Over time, we have learned to use the terms our clients are using. We also are quick to ask them to describe and define what their words mean to them. The latter is the key. The different perspectives are vast.

Brand positioning? Brand identity? Graphic identity? Brand image? Brand Building? Brand repositioning? So many variations of intent. As a result, we move forward with what the client needs to move forward, all the while using their marketing love language. When in Rome.

“Full service or DIY”, “user experience or usability”, “iterative learning or agile research”, “unmet needs or voice of the customer” – the terms are definitive to those using them, and it’s up to us to be curious, fluid, and purposeful.

What marketing terms have populated your world and why?

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Take Note

Do you have notes everywhere? Sticky notes? Napkin scribbles? Thoughts to remember? It’s OK. Really.

If you’re one of those people who writes notes by hand, technology is here to help. You can continue to jot down ideas that are then digitized into typed, searchable form.

Moleskin & Neo Smartpen use their own special pen and paper to digitize your handwritten notes.

Wacom Smartpad and Bamboo Slate digitize your writing and doodles using a highly sensitive tablet on which any kind of paper or pen can be used.

Livescribe uses a special pen to digitize both your vocalized and handwritten notes.

Evernote and One Note are platforms that can convert written words inside to text, which covers everything from written notes to typed documents to wine labels – whatever printed items you want to easily recall at a future time.

How do you decide which tools, if any, to buy?

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Getting a Grip on Grammar

My love of words is beyond explanation. Well, actually, the love is explanation. Grammar is my jam, and my jam may be different than yours. But words… words we can nail down. Even for the things we didn’t even know had names.

That thing that mechanics lie on and use to roll under a car when doing repairs? It’s called a creeper. Makes sense, still sounds weird. And probably going out of style, as almost every repair shop these days seems to have a lift, negating the need for said creeper. Words all come from somewhere, and this one came from a patent submitted in 1916 by a man named Axel, Axel Peterson. Can’t make this up.

That paragraph mark that shows when you reveal the formatting in your Word document? OK, maybe only I do that, but I think you’ve seen it. Did you know it has a name other than paragraph mark? And that name is rather cute: pilcrow.

While words may always be swimming around my world, I began to wonder who makes the grammar rules we were taught and accept? For example, did you know two spaces between sentences is no longer considered acceptable? And that “the” has disappeared from words like hospital and university? I hear newscasters doing it. I read respected news outlets doing it. Did someone one day just start doing it differently and everyone followed? Not possible, says my mind, so I dove in.

Space Space

Apparently the two spaces between sentences makes me an old fart, says The Wall Street Journal, said the practice “made sense in the mechanical age.” Mechanical age? And Google returned “common questions” to my search like “Why do boomers put two spaces after a period?” Now I’m a boomer from the mechanical age? What is going on??

Apparently this one wasn’t a committee, but rather the gradual transition to word processing from typewriters to computers, as computers “automatically format spacing”. Well computer, you’re just a really really smart typewriter and those of us from the mechanical age are hitting space-space whether Word notes it in error or not. I want to revolt and rally around the space-space, but I admit, I just don’t have the stamina. No fighting The Man on this one.


However… let’s talk about the loss of “the” in “American” English to certain longtime, comfortable terms.

Did you know there is no global oversight body that dictates English grammar? It’s some weird cultural collective change. I know the total number of words expand and contract over time, as different ones come into popularity or devolve into archival status, but grammar, the structure of our words, changes?

I’ve heard the Brits speak this way my whole life, but I had no idea they were fighting a tacit grammar battle, and won! Have you noticed? Apparently Google hasn’t, as I couldn’t find any article about how Americans are now using the British rules, but if you listen carefully, US media has accepted the grammar change without a fight or even an argument. Just the pink slip. Or pink slip.

How do you say it?

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Today’s Word: Allograft

Words from InsideHeads

Did you know, humans can donate organs, tissues, cells, etc. from their body when they are alive (yes, there are limitations), and also after death. Most deceased organ donations in America come from a generously checked “organ donor” box on the back of drivers licenses. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but God love the DMV.

Helping others by physically donating parts of yourself while alive is not for everyone. More people feel comfortable checking a remote box on a form that only applies if you’re dead. Others would give you an arm if they could. The beauty lies in in the diversity of thought and the undeniable equalizer of us all: humanoid.

For those who love words the way others love comfortable shoes, continue on. “Allo” means “other” in Greek, so making an allotransplant or allograft means the doctor is transferring human material between humans. While we may all be uniquely different, the vast majority of us are walking around with the same organ sandwich ingredients. If the liver in your body isn’t operating well enough, your life can be saved by either a living or a deceased donor. Yes, a living donor can donate a portion of their liver and the new liver grows like a flower from seed inside the recipient. And… the donor’s liver repairs itself. Crazy, right?

Donate Life America estimates that a single deceased donor can save the lives of up to 75 people. And then consider the friends and family who all love those 75 people. The exponential pain spare is off the charts.

Interested in learning a little or a lot? I’d start here to get the government’s assessment of the ordeal, then here, to see what’s happening to solve the problem. Here’s some more about what’s coming from InsideHeads.

Some surprising facts –

Bone Marrow Transplant Recipients and Donors have a national database and distribution procedure, while other organs (e.g., kidney, liver) do not.

Finding donors is managed locally and/or through the state, and operations for transplant are controlled by hospitals who promote their transplant services. Imagine if only certain hospitals could give you blood… it wouldn’t happen. So how are organs somehow able to operate as a form of currency between hospitals and insurance companies?

Rules of donor and recipient management vary by state and also obviously across the world. It is illegal in the United States to purchase an organ. We know that doesn’t stop it. We also know that hospitals do it, but they call it a service and the buyer is the insurance company. It’s all a little sticky.

Bottom line, regardless how you look at it, the problem is actually not supply. There are enough viable donors who die each year to provide those left on earth with needed life saving options. So it’s a sign-up problem? It’s a little more than that… but that sure sounds like a good place to start. Consider checking that “organ donor” box next time, and feel good about your life knowing you will be leaving the world a better place.

No pressure, but if you’re curious, here’s what’s needed in your neck of the woods.

Our questions breed more questions. What do you think?

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