In which we blog about the marvellous intricacies of writing and editing.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

'Can love be transferred? YES' How to avoid sounding like an evil corporation from a sci-fi dystopia

For a short time, some friends and I bounced around the Twitter hashtag #endofcivilisation. The game was to find subtle indicators of mankind's imminent doom, the most visible of which was marketing copy hinting at the commodification of every facet of lived experience. 'Time Together' being sold in Boots for £99, National Rail offering '1/3 off hugs with Auntie', the title of this piece, discovered on a Western Union billboard, or this text message I received:

“Hi from Orange. We've updated our terms to reflect we're now part of Everything Everywhere.”

It's understandable that brands want to lay claim to invoking or enabling positive experiences, or to being an essential feature of daily life. Without such claims, they're just noise – or worse, annoyances. But Western civilisation has a long and healthy tradition of skepticism toward the corporate pipedream of selling happiness. This is manifested most clearly in the sci-fi dystopia genre, where greasy executives frequently preside over the enslavement of the populace through mass hallucination. Echoes of this genre chime whenever a slogan loudly announces its ownership of some intangible quality of life, and there's an art to avoiding such association.

Consider McDonald's decade-old slogan I'm lovin' it. It unambiguously evokes the idea of customers falling head over heels for the product, but does so without saying anything overt about the nature of that affection, who controls or dispenses it, and falls short of absolute conviction. Suppose that instead Heye & Partner, the agency in question, had opted for You will love it! or We all love McDonald's. Immediately, premonitions of men in logo-encrusted uniforms operating elaborate mind control devices suggest themselves.

Or take EA Sports' motto It's in the game. This alludes to both a mysterious essence and a secret ingredient. It's also understood to mean that each material element of the real life sport is replicated in the video game version. Suppose that the motto were instead We put everything in our games. Not only do the pleasing allusions disappear; it begins to conjure some Tron-like nightmare of insatiable digitisation.

The lesson is simple: confidence works best through evocation, with a measure of allusive subtlety. Blunt and straightforward assertions, mixed with an eagerness to impress, makes us think of Weyland-Yutani.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Man Words: Round 1

Editors and writers who have to make choices about the use of sexist or gender-biased language (and I'd guess that's pretty much all of us) might be interested to read the Twitter replies I got to a question about the acceptability of 'mankind' and 'man hours', collected below (via Storify). I predicted a landslide win for the 'Change both' contingent, and I was broadly right, although one editor did vote for leaving both in most cases, and another said she'd be happy to leave 'mankind'. 'Mankind', of course, can be replaced by 'humankind' and 'man hours' can become 'person hours'; both are straightforward changes, if you choose to make them. But not all 'man' words are so easily transformed, and I would expect more support for keeping terms such as 'craftsmanship' and 'workmanship' – the two words that I'll be looking at in my next post. Tune in to see what Twitter thinks, or, better yet, join the ranks of those kind enough to answer incredibly specific calls for opinions and tweet your own response.

Interested readers can find out more about 'masculine generics' such as 'mankind', and the main arguments for abolishing them, in an excellent paper by the psychology and philosophy researcher Brian D. Earp called "The Extinction of Masculine Generics", available here.

(If you can't see anything below, you can also find the Storify here.)