Posts Tagged 'Talknormalism'

I’m back and still irritated

Eco car. I found this picture on a site titled “World of Female”. It’s like Germaine Greer never happened.

As someone who would favour a republic in the UK, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was never going to be a completely happy weekend – but it gave me the kick I needed to post again. So a bit of general business:

  1. Sorry I’ve not been here for you. I’ve been at university learning how to compile better graphs (among other things). It has been really difficult, thanks for asking, and a bit mystifying for the other students. For the last nine months they have been wondering why someone brought his/her dad to lectures.
  2. But I’m back now. Anything that’s bothering you Talknormalwise, let me know. With the pervasive doublespeak about negative growth, expansionary contractions and now the coyly-titled London Bridge Incident, the cause of Talknormalism needs us more than ever.
  3. Today I’m mostly annoyed by the phrase Eco cars. Delighted as I am to read about cars that run on stale bread or something (I haven’t looked into the mechanics in detail, as you have probably guessed), the phrase is like “Life guns” or “Health cancer”. It’s designed to make gullible people super happy, by convincing them that cars reduce pollution. To be clear, in case you were super happy until just now: cars never do this, even cute ones with mice in them (see above).
  4. THE NEXT BIT IS VERY IMPORTANT. You can tell I’ve been in academia: I bury the vital information in item five.
  5. If you like Talk Normal (“delightfully amusing”, Fortune Magazine), I’d appreciate if one or two of you can pop over to my book page on Amazon and review my book. At the moment I’m lacking those “I laughed until my head exploded” or “The most important book of the decade” five-star zingers, and so I will remain poor for ever. If you could write a review I won’t have to hire a word of mouth agency to write hundreds of fake reviews like all those companies with successful social networking strategies.
  6. In conclusion (academic writing style again, sorry) please write a review for me.

If you do that, I’ll be back shortly with a larger post featuring better jokes. Maybe a graph: let’s see what the reviews say.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 3)

In the final part of our guide to Talk Normal and Talknormalisation, how jargon has infected the media, why social media isn’t always a good thing, and tips for better writing. Ease yourself into the weekend, as local radio DJs say, by listening to it:

Again, if you’re a subscriber, you will need to visit the site. Hope you’ve enjoyed the podcasts. I’ve got another recorded interview for you next week, but someone else will be answering the questions. That, for some of you, might be a relief.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 2)

More from Talk Normal’s chief solutions advocate (that’s me): in this podcast we talk about HR jargon, CSR, thought leadership and other rubbish you hear at work. Stick in the headphones during your lunch hour and let us take you to a better place.

Eighteen minutes of joy. Note: subscribers – you’ll have to visit the site to listen, but it’s worth it.

The thoughts of chairman Tim (part 1)

All go at Talk Normal headquarters. My publisher has created three podcasts about Talknormalism, the problems that jargon causes, and what we can do to solve them. I’ll add the other two parts in the next few days. Here’s part one:

Maybe you can listen to it while you’re on mute in a conference call.

Three principles of Talknormalism

Evidently I am still getting the hang of the whole motivation thing

Delighted as I am to be mentioned in the Observer yesterday, I worry that some readers might get the idea that I am a grumpy negative old man who thinks everything was better before the internet was invented.

This is incorrect in more than three ways. I’m actually middle-aged and remarkably cheerful, all things considered. Taking into account the decline in the TN Joy Index, I’m looking comparatively more chipper by the hour. I’m such a positive person that I spent 5 minutes inspiring others by creating my own motivational poster (top) using the free app at Big Huge Labs. I encourage you to go there and make your own version to share with us. If I get a few in I’ll put them in a post and I’ll send the best submission a Talk Normal mug and a signed book (or unsigned, if you’d prefer). What an incentive.

I also don’t think we should be stuck in the past. “But what does he think?”, you ask. At risk of telling you all the good bits about the book for free, I’d like to point out the three principles of Talknormalism:

1. Try to be understood by everyone who’s listening. This takes imagination. For example: Professor David Crystal, who is a wonderful writer about the history of the language, points out that there are 400 million native speakers of English – and 1.4 billion more who speak it as a second language.

It makes sense to consider people who don’t speak English first, especially if you’re in business: their domestic economies are usually more successful than ours.

2. Stop trying to sound clever for no reason. Anyone can make complicated things complicated. It takes thought to make those things easier to understand.

3. It’s about attitude, not rules. I would guess that there’s a lot of bad punctuation, in Talk Normal. Were I to be put to the test, I would not be able to remember grammar rules with which to make your writing more elegant, um, with. Therefore, if you want a set of rules to follow, try this book instead. I’m also not against new words and phrases; I make some up on this blog.

Talknormalism doesn’t look back to a fictitious golden age and ask that we preserve it; but we can do a better job with the language we have today. That’s why we need to see your motivational posters, fellow Talknormalists.

Redefining the envelope

A couple of weeks ago, in the comments to a previous post, Helen asked me to investigate the alarming growth in the number of press releases that claim to redefine something. As we enter Lent, when the chief operating officer of Christianity redefined resistance to temptation, it’s a good time to compile the stats on this one:

As you can see, Helen’s correct. Last year there were about two and a quarter times as many redefinitions in the PR Newswire press release database, which is the base for this graph, as there were in 2002. It’s no longer enough just to be something: you also have to pretend that you’ve also made it impossible for anything else to be it either.

And you can also add in extra words that fulfill no purpose whatsoever. This, I believe, is what people call adding value. If you’re going to go to the trouble of redefining a category, why not radically or fundamentally redefine it? I’m assuming that whoever writes the release charges extra for this.

From the press releases in the sample that I read before I got a headache and had to stop, marketing-led redefinitions break down into several types. For most of them the redefinition seems suspiciously like the old definition, with the sole difference being that there’s something else for us to buy.

(It’s an obscure point of logic, but if we allow the definition of a category to change each time that a new example of something that fits into that category comes along, then we also redefine the concept of “definition”. What seems like nothing more than a bad press release may also be undermining analytic philosophy, product by tedious product. At least that’s what I understand from reading this excellent comic book about Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Now back to the silly jokes.)

Other copywriters try harder and are pushing, or perhaps redefining, the envelope. Sometimes there isn’t even time to define the thing before it is redefined. Innovation moves so fast these days. For example, Sikorsky is currently claiming to Redefine the Future of Vertical Flight.

Meanwhile at The North Face, Chris Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation, is claiming that its online resource (a web site), means that “young leaders from across the country will be empowered to reclaim, redefine and rediscover the outdoors”. I quite like the outdoors and the online resource is admirable, but I’d have to quibble with the extent of the redefinition. Tell me if I’m wrong, but surely the only way for me to “redefine” the outdoors is to move my door? Even that seems like pretty small beer.

I’m sure this online resource will empower young leaders to learn a lot about the outdoors – with the limitation that they’ll unfortunately be indoors while they’re doing it – but many will be disappointed when they realise they can’t actually redefine it yet. The rest of us can take comfort from the fact that the outdoors will still be out there, as unredefined as it was before overwrought copywriting was invented.

The Plattie 2009: and the winner is..


It’s awards season, and you don’t need one of my fancy graphs to know that more bullshit has been published in the last 10 years than in any decade in history. I wanted to recognise this by giving Talk Normal’s first Platinum Bullshit Award (“Plattie”). What better way to celebrate than giving the award this year to the Gobbledygookiest Press Release of the Decade?

How to measure this? Luckily, I’m not the only person who snoops around in Factiva looking for bad communication to make fun of. David Meerman Scott, who has many more Twitter followers than me (I started late but I’m catching up – and at the time of writing, with almost 100, have only 31,416 more to attract), wrote one of the best anti-gobbledygook manifestos in 2006 with the help of the Factiva Reputation Lab’s text mining tools. He established a list of the most over-used rubbish gobbledygook phrases in the language, and did some entertaining analysis on them. Download it here.

In order, Meerman Scott’s top 10 worst offenders were: next generation, flexible, robust, world class, scalable, easy to use, cutting edge, well positioned and mission critical. I’m sure I’ve listened to keynotes where all of them came in a single sentence, but it takes some nerve to commit more than two or three of them to a single press release and then let other people see it.

different plattie

I wanted to give my first Plattie Award to the press release that had used the most words from his list. When I searched PR Newswire on Factiva I imposed one rule: I looked for single releases that were 2000 words or less to exclude the “mega press pack” effect – because, like with an infinite number of monkeys, if you leave enough press release writers in front of a computer for long enough, then combine their output together in a single giant release that describes a really rubbish trade show (for example), it might have every piece of drivel ever conceived in it. Imagine a release like that! Well, I’ve witnessed one, and let me tell you: it’s like staring at the sun – but not in a good way.

First of all I searched Factiva for releases using the worst phrase (next generation), then the worst two used together, and so on. There have been more than 77,000 releases which talk about next generation something-or-other, with Factiva reporting that the top five offenders are Microsoft, Motorola, Lucent, Sun and Texas Instruments. Add flexibility, and the number drops to less than 9,000, but – get this – the same five companies are the five most frequent transgressors.

At this point we note that, from now on, no one outside of the technology business even gets into the top ten.

Add another term (robust), and we’re down to around 150 releases per year. Lucent temporarily drops out of the power five, and in comes Intel. Only one in 10 of these releases – barely more than one per month at this stage – adds the claim of world classness to this potent mix. Intel’s gone, Lucent is back, and in a move that will be satisfying to many in Scott McNealy’s inner circle, Sun is suddenly gobbledygook provider number one, ahead of Microsoft! It couldn’t win the technology war, but when it comes to the battle to put the four most overused crap phrases into a press release most often, Sun finally bests its bitter rival. Factiva tells me Sun also had the largest share of the 60-odd releases that include scalability with the other four.

Eliminate every press release that carelessly fails to mention easy to use, and we’re down to six releases in 10 years. Could anyone use every one of the top seven gobbledygook terms in one press release? Sun falls at the final hurdle and is beaten by…

Lucent, the only company in history that dared to add cutting edge to the other six phrases and still send the release out.

When, in 2006, Lucent announced that Six New European Value Added Distributors Contract to Resell Lucent’s Security Portfolio, the press office probably had no idea that it was epitomising what historians will come to regard as the Decade of Twaddle. Ms Martina Gruger-Buhs and Mr Peter Benedict, your names were on the document; but something tells me this was a collaborative effort. Commiserations to Sun Microsystems too: no one could have tried harder.

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