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One thing copywriting is NOT about is perfect English. The goal is to write as we speak… conversationally. We all read sentences OUT LOUD in our minds. So when the words are in an eloquently flowing sentence, it brings readers out of their mental trance. Short, concise sentences capture people’s attention.
However, my journalistic background is of great importance here. I attended one of the most prestigious J schools in the country in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So sometimes the inner “Strunk and White” comes out. (“Strunk and White” wrote a classic slim book on correct language and style. If you haven’t already, it should be in your marketing library.)
I still have a bit of a rant about the language and spelling. I doubt my one woman crusade will have any effect… but I can try.
FIRST PET PEEVE – “less” versus “fewer”
Both words mean the opposite of “more,” but they are used for two different things.
The word “less” is used when we are talking about something that can be counted.
Example: There are fewer flowers in my vase than in yours.
You see? I can count flowers. 1…2…3…and so on.
“Less” refers to things that can be compared as lump sums or bulk amounts.
Example: If I spent less time ranting and more time writing, I would get more done.
In this example, I’m referring to “outage” in general, and it can’t be calculated. Another clue as to when to use “less” is that the word it refers to cannot be plural. In other words, I would never write “shouts” because it’s stupid.
As with all English rules, there are exceptions. Some countable things just don’t follow the rules of “fewer” and “fewer”. You wouldn’t say “less furniture”, even though they are countable. But you could say “fewer chairs”.
It’s sad to me, I doubt society will accept the true meaning of “fewer and less” as Miller Beer has been ingrained in our brains with the description that it has “fewer calories”. Sigh. I hate you, Miller Beer.
SECOND PET PEEVE – “ie” vs. “eg”
It’s really less of an irritation than an opportunity to show off my imaginative skills.
People often misuse the Latin abbreviations “ie” and “eg” simply because they don’t know the difference. (But there is one!)
Written all the way, “ie” means “id est”, which means “that is”. Anywhere you can replace ‘in other words’, you can use ‘ie’
Example: You can find me where everyone knows my name, i.e. Cheers.
On the other hand, “eg” means “for example” and comes from the Latin term exempli gratia. Used when adding a list afterwards.
Example: I can get most work done by following my own routine, such as lighting a candle, turning on music, and turning off distractions.
THIRD PET PEEVE – “Who” versus “Who”
I just wrote a copy for a client. Typical customer behavior…this person then had my marketing copy reviewed by a committee of non-writers and non-marketers. One repeat offense was using the word “who” when it should grammatically be “whom.”
Ouch! It’s a clear case of me saying, “I know the rules. I’m breaking them now.”
Here is the difference between the two words.
“Who” and “of” are both pronouns, but they are used slightly differently. “Who” refers to the person doing something, such as the subject of your sentence. (See what I did there with “eg. Clever, right?”)
Example: We know who is responsible for these scams.
“Who” is the subject of your sentence, i.e. you are acting towards that person. (Oh, aren’t you enjoying this new Latin knowledge?!)
Meanwhile, “who” is about doing something to someone (or something). This is the SUBJECT of your sentence.
Example: We want to know who these tricks are intended for. (“Who” means “which” and is the SUBJECT of the sentence…usually singular.)
Still confused? I don’t blame you. My advice is to not care which one you use in most cases when it comes to copywriting. Why?
Because what is grammatically correct and how we speak are two different things. I mean, if the Rolling Stones sang “Who Do You Love”, do you think it would have the same tempo? Of course not! You have to make sacrifices for art.
(Alas, I think I forgave Miller Beer.)
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