The great children's writer Roald Dahl says this in his book The BFG:  "Don't gobblefunk around with words."

Words are wonderful.  They are much more useful in business than they get credit for.  However, words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in current articles and discussions I see about entrepreneurship.

Sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication--words.  Vocabulary.  It's as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to an au courant, cutting-edge businessman.  Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges.  Words are old-fashioned.  They are for dead white men.  Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, WTF, etc.) and verbal imprecision.

This is utterly wrong.  Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers.  CEOs and strategic executives are especially well-educated, thoughtful people trained in the best schools in the world.  Or, if they don't have that specific educational pedigree, they are fierce autodidacts.  Either way, they are usually people of probing, practical intellect and subtle ability to appreciate and communicate nuance.

(Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers.  They want to deal with thoughtful people of equal business stature.  A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.  So don't avoid using uncommon words that bring greater depth and meaning to conversation--or to writing, for that matter.  We are no longer in high school where you might be laughed at, thought pretentious, or beaten up for using sophisticated language.  Don't underrate or talk down to your fellow business decision-makers.  If a less common word is more specific and descriptive, use it.)

I have written about the annoying use of the ubiquitous and meaningless word awesome--a word often displayed by its users to seemingly show how "with it" and modern they are.  ["Why You Need to Stop Saying Awesome"]  What the users of "awesome" actually show is their verbal limitation, carelessness, and laziness of language.  Awesome is a word that instantly identifies you as a member of the lemming-like herd.  It absolutely damages your credibility.

Here are six words that instantly kill your trope of business gravitas:

  1. Awesome (of course)
  2. Amazing
  3. Fabulous
  4. Totally
  5. Incredible
  6. Unbelievable

I'm sure you can easily add to this list from your own experience.  These words and others like them smack of the jejune.  These are words of regurgitated, hyperventilating cliche that brand their practitioners as lightweight and unserious servants to the tyranny of the given. These words are a medley of breathless hyperbole and empty cacophony, without real import when applied to your or any business.

This does not mean you should pepper your business conversations with obscure parlance, artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy.  Precise business vocabulary can be used simply.  Note that Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address in 1865, one of the most effective speeches in the history of the world, was only 701 words long.  505 of these words were one syllable, and 122 had two syllables.  But words of real meaning bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of business discussions.  They matter.

Louisa May Alcott said simply, "I like good strong words that mean something."  Yeah.  Me too, Louisa May.  Thanks.

Published on: Jul 2, 2018
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