Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

“Subtle yet devastating” – “Overshare” is the Word of the Year

Life is imitating Facebook. The shortlist for the gorgeously geeky Chambers Dictionary Word of the Year comes from the lexicon of social media. The winning word “oversharing” (un)covers everything from naked selfies to newborn nappy-related updates from proudly blinkered parents.

“Oversharing” is defined by Chambers as “unacceptably forthcoming…about one’s personal life”. Chambers’ editorial director David Swarbrick described the word as “subtle yet devastating; a put-down few would want laid at their door”, and that these qualities make it “beautifully British”. American dictionary Webster’s had it as their top word back in 2008; however I agree with David Swarbrick that it has a restrained Britishness about it. It’s how a population with a tradition of understated language going back to the Anglo Saxons* deals with the explosion of self-revelation that social media has caused – we use a gently insinuating word that carries a huge weight of implied criticism.

Collins Dictionary preferred “photobomb”, which was also a close runner-up for Chambers. Since I misguidedly taught my six-year-old this word, no photo is unscathed. Six-year-old boys don’t just learn new words – they have to live them. (Is the same true of eighty-something monarchs?) Thanks to our handy little smartphones, Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 winner “selfie” also did well.

Also in the running were “bashtag” (a lovely portmanteau word for a horrible trait) and “hipster”, redefined from its 1950s jazzy meaning  to “a member of the generation born in the 1980-90s who look down on their native middle-class culture, and self-consciously adopt a bohemian lifestyle “. That’s overdefining it – I’d go for “young bloke with big beard.”

The fact that many of the shortlisted words are interrelated in some way shows how a wide network has narrowed our focus. Compose a sentence from the following: overshare; selfie; photobomb; bashtag. Not difficult.

But hey, maybe I’m just “overthinking” – something done only by introspective types who would never, ever overshare.

 

To find out more, and for David Swarbrick’s quotation, see The Guardian’s article.

*”Litotes” in Anglo Saxon poetry – deliberate understatement. See, Professor Bradley, I did listen…

Why the listicle has a place in copywriting (five reasons)

In all my recent portmanteau and pun-based ramblings, I can’t believe I left out one of the writing words-of-the-moment, “listicle”. As portmanteau words go, it’s a pretty rubbish one (come on, combining just one letter is a bit unchallenging) but it’s certainly popular.

The best way to define a listicle is “what Buzzfeed does”. List-based articles with titles such as “The 22 strangest things that have been banned around the world” and “17 perfectly passive-aggressive cakes” (two of today’s offerings on Buzzfeed) are pinging onto our Facebook pages faster than the 14 fastest rollerblading ducks (not yet on Buzzfeed).

Easy to read, and to be honest, pretty damn easy to write, the listicle is a mainstay of blogging and other internet-based writing. It’s been around a lot longer than that – women’s magazines for example have been offering us “Six ways to be a stereotypical-caricature-in-great-shoes” certainly since I was old enough to sneak a look at my mum’s Cosmo.

It was inevitable. Here’s my listicle about the benefits of writing a listicle.

  1. It’s a great way to communicate. It’s not lazy journalism: serving up information in easy-to-digest chunks is a time-honoured method of capturing and keeping your reader. Short, often pithy one-liners are of-the-moment, integrate very well with social media, and work well with our busy/shallow/overloaded/thinking-in-tweets twenty-first century brains.
  1. There is something for everyone. In a list, say, “10 things everybody hates about Christmas”, there will be at least one comment, one little truism, that everybody thinks “Ooh, that’s just how I feel!” Reader engaged.
  1. Don’t tie yourself in knots putting your points in order. The listicle also differs from the old “Top Ten” approach by being non-hierarchical. Yes, have a killer opening item if you want people to read on, but you don’t have to worry about ranking things. It’s pleasingly democratic.
  1. You don’t have to think of a title. For writers like me, who are pretty fast on the whole but can spend the rest of their natural lives trying to come up with a title, the listicle can be a godsend. The titles are eye-catching enough (I mean, 15 facts, about celebrity donkeys, all in one place? I’m in…) We all love a cop-out when it can be dressed up as a convention.
  1. Who’s counting? A listicle stops when you run out of things to say, which is another difference to the countdown approach. For example Buzzfeed’s homepage today includes lists of 12, 15, 24, 43 and 19. Beautifully random, and not subject to the tyranny of editing your article by rounding up or down, just because 20 looks “more finished” than 19. Say what you need to say then stop.

Even if you don’t want to sit at your desk and compose “5 witty facts about my cat” this morning, the listicle produces a way of thinking that can be very useful. A list organises your thoughts and helps you focus on the key issues. Imagine you are compiling a listicle called “The five most amazingly fantastic gorgeous things about my business/product/services”. Write a bullet-pointed list with a sentence covering each of those five facts. There’s your basic starting point for marketing copy.

Embrace the listicle, despite its clunky name. It’s too fashionable to be around forever, then we’ll probably have to start reading in proper paragraphs again. And I can give you several reasons why that would be a pity.

Proper entrepreneurs – copywriting for Cornish businesses

Tonight I shall be sitting on my sofa ready for a good old rant at the screen. Yes, The Apprentice is back. As a copywriter in Cornwall I get to work with lots of fantastic start-up and established businesses, and know that being an entrepreneur does not have to be about black suits and backstabbing.

When I first set up as a copywriter in Cornwall, I was surprised and pleased by the entrepreneurial attitude. Self-employment was a cultural norm here (see my earlier post, Controlling Remote).  Cornwall’s largest industry these days is tourism; and hospitality and tourism businesses by their very nature tend to be run as small, independent concerns.  I’ve written copy for Cornish guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and holiday lets.

But we’re doing more down here than feeding, watering and making beds for our visitors. At the school gates, I get a daily snapshot of this. Most of the parents seem to be self-employed or freelance. Artists, farmers, graphic designers, retailers, beauticians, musicians… (Some people must have “normal” jobs, surely?) I’m copywriting for two young Cornish companies at the moment (more about them in a later blog) who make me feel humble with their talents, business brains and their sheer bonkers amount of energy.

A while ago, I was lucky to have a project on Scilly (as I quickly learned to call those beautiful isles), and met some incredibly motivated and switched-on entrepreneurs. Everybody I met seemed to run their own businesses, some in their early twenties, others managing small companies while juggling multiple kids and school runs involving boats. When I expressed my delight in this buoyant business community, everyone shrugged. “It’s what you have to do here. It’s not as if there’s lots of big employers.”  Necessity meets creativity, and that’s a factor across Cornwall, not just on Scilly.

Being an entrepreneur does not mean you have to carry a briefcase and stalk around London overusing “going forward”.  Remote locations breed their own brand of business folk. In flip-flops.

 

*In Cornwall in 2011, 25% of workers were employed in tourism and tourism-related businesses. In far west Cornwall where I live and write, it’s 31%. For those of you who like stats, have a look at Visit Cornwall’s report on the value of tourism to the Duchy.

The crime of puns: a copywriter’s quick guide to using wordplay

Following on from my last copywriting blog post about portmanteau puns, here are some thoughts on puns in general. Why are some clever and some just cringey? Which ones fall into the so-bad-they’re-good category? Should we even go there? Here are my tips for successful punning.

 

Know your pun-ters

Punning is like making a joke at a wake – you really, really have to know how your audience will take it. A pun can be hideously inappropriate and change the tone of your writing completely.

I’m currently writing copy that will be translated into four languages – puns don’t translate. Plus, when a lot of your clients don’t necessarily read UK English, any UK-specific idiom is best avoided, including wordplay.

I permit myself some gentle punning for catalogue copy. After all, the client and I would look pretty po-faced if we had absolutely straight copy for novelty socks (the quaver ones “strike the right note” for musicians, by the way).

 

Don’t feel that you have to pun. Hair salons – please take note.

Hairdressing puns are never good. Cutting Room, Cutting Edge, Cutting Crew, Get Ahead, Just a Snip, and my favourite, eighties’ sitcom-inspired Hair Flicks are all well, hair-raisingly bad. Sweep them up, and bin them. It is not compulsory.

If you’re working on a strapline or headline, it doesn’t have to have clever wordplay to be eye-catching. Maybe try a bit of alliteration (but again, don’t overuse it), or perhaps just have confidence that your words and message are so good that they don’t need any gimmicks.

So, don’t be a hair salon. Don’t feel that you have to use a pun. Don’t pun-ish yourself (ho ho ho).

 

Read The Sun

Or maybe just take a quick glance at its headline. Whatever you feel about their editorial, politics or the fact they think that breasts are news, the good old Pun has the clever wordplay headline nailed. Sometimes, if I hear of a news event (the shallow-end of news, obviously. Royal pregnancies or politicians falling over) I search out The Sun’s take on it just for the joy of the groany-yet-genius headline.  Read and learn.

 

What are pun seekers looking for these days?

What’s the pun zeitgeist (I can’t even begin to think of a pun for that word…)? While writing my previous post on portmanteau puns, it seems that these frankenwords are the way forward at the moment, possibly because they suit the brevity of the pithy tweet. Recent examples include affluenza, netiquette and bromance.

Despite The Sun’s efforts, some puns just feel a bit dated. We Brits love a double entrendre – but watch out for those innuendoes. Times have changed since the Carry On days; and the contemporary naughty pun either has to be laden with irony or stunningly clever.

And if punning online, the usual internet rule applies: if your wordplay can be illustrated by a picture of a kitten, it’s purrfect (sorry).

 

Enough already…

Just know when to stop.I love an extended metaphor as much as the next person, but easy now – a whole web page or newsletter that has you creasing up over the sheer amount of clever puns you can fit in may just be plain irritating to most of your readers. For a blog post about punning, aside from the appalling title, I have used remarkably few (which has taken super-human effort).

 

Take a pun(t) and just go for it

If you feel that a pun would be appropriate, don’t be shy. Have fun playing with language, stay on the right side of flippant, and just enjoy imagining all those groans your finely-crafted wisecrack will set off.

As nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb wrote in “The Worst Puns are the Best”:

“A pun is not bound by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.”

Bang.

 

This blog post is dedicated to my friend and fellow paronomasiac, writer and pun-mistress Vashti Zarach, originator of Punday back in our schooldays.

 

 

Joined-up thinking – the punny world of portmanteau words

‘Tis the season of portmanteau puns. As we embrace Stoptober and prepare for Movember, I’ve been reflecting upon the current popularity of this quaintly-named construction.

A portmanteau word is simply a word made from two existing words coupled together. Also called “blend words” in linguistics, the term “portmanteau” was coined by Lewis Carroll from the two-compartmented suitcase of that name (he also created some splendid portmanteau words, including the lovely “galumph”, a triumphant gallop). Handily, portmanteau itself is a French blended word, from “carry” and “coat”.

The English language has a ginormous (see?) range of these words. There are plenty of old favourites about – motel, smog, brunch, biopic, moped. Here in Cornwall, we see a lot of mizzle. Animal crossbreeds provide an obvious source: the queen keeps dorgis; my cousin has a labradoodle. My own favourite portmanteau word is spork. I liked the word so much, I even bought one. You are currently (I hope) reading a blog (web plus log minus we).

Recently, celebrity “supercouples” have created a whole new lexicon of mash-ups. In the beginning there was Bennifer, and since then Brangelina and Kimye – and, gulp, Jedward.  Naturally, there are fashions. “Bro” is a current favourite in the world of portmanteau puns (“My Little Bronies” is a stand-out one…). I was pleased to see a Facebook page dedicated to “Making Bro Puns” – the brofficial page.

Like the bronies, if a portmanteau involves a bit of clever wordplay as well as a simple squishing together, it packs a greater pun(ch). Unsurprisingly, this is Good Stuff for slogans, and is currently being used to great effect by awareness-raising campaigns. We are currently in Stoptober, the NHS campaign to get smokers to quit for 28 days (erm, hello NHS? “Thirty days hath September” etc etc?).  As I don’t smoke, I am currently “Going Sober for October” (Macmillan) – a clever little rhyme, but I’d much rather have a portmanteau pun to live by for a month. I like the idea of “Choctober”, giving up all things biscuity (copyright S Brown, Penzance).

Likewise, I can’t take part in November’s biggest awareness-raiser. The global Movember campaign has been extremely successful, with 4 million moustaches grown since 2003 and £346m dollars raised, together with getting people talking about men’s health issues. I am not sure how Fanuary went, mainly because I’m too scared to Google it.

The above campaigns have chosen their words wisely. We like portmanteau words because they are funny, memorable, and seem to be that bit more sophisticated than your average bit of wordplay. For more lovely portmanteau words, have a look through the list from the Wiki-elves, and embrace this most pleasing of puns.