Dedicated logophiles like me fawn over words in the same way classic-car connoisseurs go gaga over a ’67 Shelby Mustang.
In the age of social media, words are an invaluable commodity to all professional communicators. After all, revolutionary ideas can be conveyed in 140 characters or less. What if America’s founding fathers had uncorked on Twitter, “We hold these truths to be self-evident – all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”? Now, that’s potent stuff.
When posting, be vigilant. Words are an asset, but they can be a liability. Mark Twain once penned, “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
In a tight economy, the disparity between the right word and the almost-right word on Twitter, Facebook, or WordPress can be the difference between a paycheck and the unemployment line.
Here are six key points to remember when committing words to the web:
1. Spelling – Thanks to spell check, proofreading is rapidly regressing into a lost art. Case in point: desert and dessert are commonly confused. (I keep them straight by recalling dessert contains ss and is sweet sweet.) More importantly, spell check won’t catch the desert/dessert switch, so you must.
When I was a copywriter in an agency, we sent to print text about a zoo with ferocious breasts. And that’s after five sets of eyes, including the client’s, proofed it. Luckily, the printer caught the error just prior to press time. Crisis was averted. In a related point, watch for errors in public/pubic. One l separates you and your firm from success or embarrassment.
2. Idioms – I harness idioms uncut or ensconced in puns all the time. However, I advise care when handling idioms. An audience’s knowledge about a topic and a phrase’s connotation are imperative. A politician seeking campaign contributions can grease the skids with local business leaders. According to the idiomatic reference UsingEnglish.com, greasing the skids simply means “to facilitate something”, but your audience may surmise illegal activity, so watch it.
3. Word Meaning – Even if a deadline is looming, play it safe and consult a dictionary. According to Dictionary.com, melee is “a confused hand-to-hand fight or struggle among several people.” Therefore, two brutes slugging it out in a corner pub cannot by themselves participate in a melee. Two is not several. However, Dictionary.com stipulates consumers can be swept up in the melee of holiday shopping. Reference sources are created for a reason, so use them.
4. Adjectives and Adverbs – To be effective, adjectives and adverbs must shine – like diamonds. Therefore, over use diminishes the impact of these gems. With just 140 total characters in a tweet, open real estate in a post is at a premium. Surplus adjectives and adverbs consume valuable white space best occupied by powerful verbs. Be selective. Be patient. Release modifiers at just the right moment for copy that zings.
5. Dangling Modifiers – My wife marvels at my ability to detect these despicable errors on paper and in spoken word. Steer your cursor here for an extensive explanation. Otherwise, see below:
Incorrect: While swimming in strong surf, his wedding ring fell off. Really? His wedding ring was swimming in strong surf?
Correct: While Jake was swimming in strong surf, his wedding ring fell off. Jake is now the doer of the action (swimming in strong surf). That makes more sense.
6. KISS – Finally, remember KISS – Keep It Simple Silly. Over embellishment and complicated explanations often confuse readers. Your goal is to enlighten and to incite curiosity about you, your product, and your services, so keep your messages to the point.