Archives for category: Language

I was watching a marketing training video the other day, produced by an American company highly respected in the area of what’s called ‘inbound marketing’ and the speaker used the word ‘ongoingly’.

Ongoingly, meaning – one would assume – in an ongoing fashion – is another great example of human languages adapting and changing all the time.

I was talking to my good lady about this recently, and about how language change spreads, and she wasn’t convinced.

‘So,’ she said, as we were walking through an agricultural show to buy an ice cream, ‘I’m going to call that bunch of stones on the path down here a ‘bubblybeg’. You can’t tell me I’ve created a new word..’ Of course it is, I replied, you just coined a new word. Now I’m going to use it, and we’ll both know what it signifies when we use it again. If we don’t use it anymore, it dies with us.

But, I continued, if you continue using it, and others adopt it, your new word is taking hold one person at a time. Throw in a couple of influencers or broadcasters with access to many more people, and then thousands of people are making that individual decision whether or not to adopt and use it too. All of a sudden the word gains critical mass and eventually becomes accepted. It starts as a verbal thing, then over time becomes enshrined in the written word, and away you go.

The same thing will have happened with ongoingly, like it did with three-peat. Language change is a constant, living thing, and that for me is the constant fascination.

One of the most vivid phrases you hear’ll – mostly in business – is to ‘crash and burn’. An example: let’s do loads of practice for this presentation to the company; we don’t want to crash and burn up there.’

It’s actually a horrifying phrase, especially if you’ve ever been – or known someone who has been – involved in a bad transportation accident. There must be a better phrase.

I have invented – and prefer, for the reason above – the phrase ‘physics and chemistry.’ It’s not as catchy, but it’s certainly less offensive.

When I was at school, we struggled with definitions of the differences between the two vast disciplines of physics and chemistry. Generalising grossly, physics is about movement, sound, weight, dimensions, and sometimes a little bit of heat. Chemistry, on the other hand, is concerned with much more heat, so that things combine, transfer and change into other things.

So a crash is a physical thing, burning is a chemical thing. When we experience physics and chemistry in business – or indeed in life – there is a sudden, shocking noisy event, followed by a major adverse change in our circumstances.

So there you go. Next time, if you’ve got something important going on, make sure you avoid the one-two punch of physics and chemistry.

Hat-trick is an odd word isn’t it? I often think of it as one word, but in fact it’s two. It sounds odd too, when y0u pronounce it as two separate words.

The word is another of those coinages born out of sport, like three-peat which I’ve enthused about recently. It came about a long time ago when a chap managed to get three people out with 3 consecutive balls at cricket and his colleagues stumped up some cash and bought him a hat. Where the trick part comes from I don’t know, unless you could argue that it’s the three-in-a-row trick that gets you the hat.

Hat-trick doesn’t work as well as three-peat for my money, and it’s also evolved in meaning too, since you can score a hat-trick of goals, tries or wins, but they don’t necessarily have to be in a row. Someone from either team could have the effrontery to score before you can convert your brace to a triple, treble or hat-trick.

I wonder why getting four wickets in a row hasn’t become a coat-trick, or something more valuable than a hat as a reward, since they’re a particularly rare beast. Four goals, five, even the ‘double hat-trick’ of 6 goals – does that warrant getting 2 hats? – are more common in football, but alas there is to my knowledge no corresponding new coinage.

Three-peat is an amazing, radical, glorious word. It is at the same time testimony to the malleability of the English language and to the habit of continuous invention and reinvention by the American people.

For some exhibitors of sporting prowess, it’s not enough to win back-to-back victories, to repeat their success. They go one better, winning three-in-a-row, the three-peat.

For me, the fact that three-peat is the addition of a suffix to a word that immediately conveys the meaning of the word while also conveying the root of the inspiration is almost too perfect.

It feels as natural as the progression of billion to trillion, and bigger to biggest. It also illustrates the inventiveness of US sporting journalism, that it can concoct these words and make new additions – like ‘winningest’ for example – to an already vast lexicon of sporting descriptors.

Long may it continue, or repeat.

Subject line signposting is the most decent thing we can do as communicators. It’s a pull thing. You pull interested parties to you rather than pushing stuff to them – or rather at them.

We should do it with all our emails, tweets and advertising. I hope I do it with my blog posts.

With a good subject line you pique the interest of your audience while still signposting them to either read on or move away. After all, what’s the point of encouraging an audience with a poor fit through intrigue or duplicity?

Subject line signposting saves everyone’s time, yours and theirs. After all, we don’t want to be labelled time-wasters.


Beware the time-waster. The person that wastes your time, not theirs. They are the scourge of modern society.

We all know them. We see them at work or at play, they are everywhere. The most heinous individual – barring the bully or the abuser of any kind – is the time-waster. They suck the life-force out of you. They rob you of the most most precious resource you have. They don’t value your time.

The time-waster is the person who can’t see or or doesn’t care that they’re clearly taking up too much of your time. They love to talk, they love to unload. They can’t make their point quickly, succinctly, pointedly. They hog the oxygen at meetings, holding forth yet coming up with nothing of consequence or action. They are often shirkers, stallers, avoiders, prevaricators.

You see, you do know them.

Don’t suffer fools gladly. Be direct. Cut them off. Move on.

And what if they do that to you? Well, examine thyself. Either you’re a time-waster and you need to improve your interactions, or you’re not, in which case you need to find another way.

Client or customer? Which term do you use? I must confess I’m not keen on the word client, at least in business.

I remember having this conversation about a decade ago with a software VP. ‘Which term do you prefer,’ I asked. ‘Oh, I don’t like the word client. Hookers have clients…’ was her reply.

Well, yes, I suppose they do. Yet, so do social services organisations, charities, artists, business agencies and probably a good few professional services companies too.

In business, everything revolves around the customer. But it’s still a partnership between you and your customers, a fair exchange of outcomes between you and them. Usually, they pay money and you deliver products and / or services, but not always. It’s a business relationship built on a series of mutually beneficial transactions over time.

Calling them clients in business – internally within your business or externally with your various stakeholders – puts them on a pedestal and makes for an uneven relationship that’s open to abuse, or at best unnecessary leverage.

Client equals master-slave, whereas customer equals business relationship.


English is rough. Really rough sometimes, and not just on people who speak it as a second or third language. For us native speakers too.

Take palate, palette and pallet for instances. One is in your mouth, the second is a board for your paints or a family of colours for your product or company identity, and the third is a useful device for stacking, lifting and moving a bunch of items.

All of them sound exactly the same, at least in my accent, to the ear. Yet, they all originate in different root words and consequently are all spelled differently.

I must confess I spelled the second version wrongly the other day. I thought it was double ‘l’ as well as double ‘t’. Thank goodness for autocorrect. And thank goodness too that it wasn’t a fourth spelling variant, at least not to my knowledge.

This kind of thing never fails to remind me of the two different languages we use; the written one and the spoken one.  While you might think that the written one is harder, try explaining to a non-native speaker heteronyms like ‘tear’, words that are spelled the same but mean different things and are pronounced differently. I think I’ll stop there…

There’s nothing like the physical world to give us a powerful corollary of how it works in the cyber world.

I’m always reminded of this in late December when families and friends get together at the end of a few months of solid graft and a winter vomiting bug or two runs riot, moving through areas like wildfire.

That’s really viral, genuinely viral. You can see why the term virus was coined in the cyber world. A physical virus is an amazing thing, replicating itself, producing different strains and moving quickly through people in different cycles and timeframes.

Millions can be affected within the space of a couple of weeks, brought on by the combination of people being at a low ebb and slightly more vulnerable to infection after a sustained period of work, proximity to others, and mobility within family groups and circles of friends.

I’m always fascinated by how terms like desktop, folder, cloud, virus and so on are borrowed from the physical world for their digital equivalent. They always seem so apt.

I often see the words stationery and stationary mixed up. It’s an easy mistake to make, and is only an issue in the written word, since both words are pronounced identically and the context is usually clear.

Stationery is a noun, meaning office and desk-type stuff. Think millinery, machinery, that kind of thing.

Stationary is an adjective, meaning motionless. Think customary, arbitrary, and so on.

And of course, because this is English, you get nouns like anniversary and adjectives like blustery :-).

So, remember to keep your stationery stationary and you’ll be fine. Good luck!