An article contributed by Debora, Paris-based audiovisual content specialist, filmmaker, language teacher and Argentine Tango dancer.
As a copywriter, I love words. Words have personalities. Almost like people. Some words are lighthearted and fun. Some words look daunting while others make you feel comfortable instantly. Like some people. Words have a voice, too. When you read a word with your eyes, your brain also hears it. So quality content sounds good, too. The ability to write great content starts with knowing how to use this information to your client’s advantage. A great copywriter knows how to match tone, style and register to the target audience and to the target media.
To whom, may I ask, am I speaking?
When I’m writing copy, I consider several factors. Who is going to read this? What reaction do I want? However, when I’m creating content, I’m also thinking about where my text will appear. Will it be coming out of a car radio during rush hour? Will it be in a web page, on a phone, tablet or TV, a paper magazine page or on a big billboard by a bus stop? Or will it be on a sign above a storefront window?
Ouch! Sounds painful, doesn’t it? Better stay away from that place, right? Believe it or not, that’s the name of a beautician’s here in Paris, a city with more than few native English-speaking expats. Someone surely thought they were being clever when they chose to use English words. But clearly, the genius behind that name wasn’t the brightest bulb in English class. I also heard the words with my French ears. It sounded like “buddie nigh”. Or maybe “boadie nells”, depending on how well the French person would parlay anglay [sic]. Not particularly beautiful.
This brings me to the importance of having cultural competence not only when writing but when proofing content. Usually, proofreading is done by someone who didn’t write the content. It’s a delicate task for me, especially if I happen to be wearing my copywriter’s hat when I open the document. What happens when you read a sentence that is grammatically correct but lacks enthusiasm? There are no mistakes but it’s missing its mark. Do I change it or not? The name of that shop is not technically a mistake, but it’s just a horrible choice of words, nonetheless.
“Believed Fish” was on a menu in a Japanese restaurant. I surprised my friends when I burst out laughing. What was so funny? The hysterically bad translation, that’s what. To make sushi, you need “poisson” that is “cru”. Trouble is, “cru”, in addition to meaning “raw”, is the past participle of the verb “croire”, “to believe”. And that’s how “Believed Fish” ended up on the menu. Which brings me to the title of this article.
Away With Words
Did you notice the play on words? Someone who is good at making jokes, or speeches, has “a way with words”. Although it sounds exactly the same, “away with words” means something very different. Something even a bit scary given the world we now live in where machines are everywhere. Machines that, we’re told, can now do the work of humans. Even humans like us, the content specialists. I strongly disagree.
Writing quality content cannot be entrusted to machines, regardless of how much “artificial intelligence” they have “learned”. “Artificial” means not natural. Great content must sound natural. Writing great content, be it editorial or marketing, needs a human touch. Only humans can master all the nuances and subtleties that words possess and successfully harness their power. Getting your message across in today’s world is not easy. There’s too much at stake to entrust such an important task to a machine. Maybe a machine produced the “believed fish”. If it did, we know that a gullible human believed the machine and put its fishy, artificial intelligence on their menu.
As my Italian grandmother used to say when my brothers and I would be fighting, we need to “talk sweetly to one another”. Which meant being respectful of each other. When we’re editing, proofing or writing copy, we need to remember we’re talking to other people with our words. Words are everywhere, too. We need to respect them. Like people.