If you’re gonna slam your copywriting chops into high gear, you have to allow yourself to fall in love with the language.
This concept makes many otherwise strong men and women quiver… and it’s because our lame-ass education system does its best to make people hate the language early on. This antagonism toward English — created by boring homework and pointless drills and dull reading — has saddled most rookie copywriters with a truly sad and shallow vocabulary (list of useable words). Not only are they clueless about what constitutes a “power word” (one filled with emotional tension, like “humiliate”), but the way they construct even a simple sentence will put you to sleep.
But that’s why I say “allow” instead of “force” yourself to fall in love. There’s a very easy and enjoyable way to do this that can fix the damage done by brain-dead teachers.
Here are two ways to begin right now:
1. The current edition of the online magazine “Slate” (www.slate.com) has a great story about Dave Barry. He’s just retired his column, after 22 years. If you’ve never read Dave Barry, you’re in for a treat. More important, you need to read him and pay close attention to how he uses simple, common words and phrases to bring his ideas alive.
The guy is a master Word Slut, clearly in love with language and the amazing power language has to rattle our cages. Read the article titled “Dave Barry — elegy for the humorist” by Bryan Curtis.
2. While researching linguistics (I have strange hobbies), I also came across one of the best sites on current slang I’ve ever found. Go to www.doubletongued.org and just start clicking on the words listed there. Warning: You better allow an hour or so per visit, cuz this is good stuff.
My favorite “new terms” the site has defined (and given fascinating histories for) are rat spill, metric butt-load, eye-wreck, ghetto pass, duckshove, road diet, listicle and BlackBerry prayer.
If you can go to this site and NOT find a new word to use in your next ad, then you’re hopeless.
The best copywriters are all dedicated Word Sluts. We delight in finding and using fresh slang and old forgotten cliches — anything that works to increase the readability of our copy. But you must be careful — you cannot use words that aren’t clearly understood by most readers. This forces you to write at around a fifth grade level (which most newspapers aspire to). You start using too many fifty-cent words (big ones that most people aren’t familiar with) and you will lose large percentages of your audience. This, of course, will murder your response.
But that’s why reading guys like Dave Barry is so important. He never uses a word that isn’t instantly understood by anyone able to read a newspaper. And yet, by having a deep “bag” of words to choose from, he is not limited at all. Simple language, lovingly arranged in the right way, can still be amazingly powerful.