Seven little words to remove from catalog copy

One of the most desirable disciplines any copywriter can employ is avoiding the automatic use of words that have less impact than a “parallel” word might have.

Why not swap some words we use without analyzing their implicit weakness for other words that have more a) salesmanship, b) color, and c) positive impact.

We probably won’t agree on all these proposed exclusions; we may not agree on any. So I’ll settle for agreeing that before we turn any wordage loose, we inspect at least one sentence in each paragraph with the heartless intention of improving one word.

Let’s start with an obvious candidate: Available

What’s wrong with “available”? It suggests, openly or subliminally, that something else exists, but we don’t have it.

The use of “available” also implies incompleteness on our part as vendors of products, services or concepts. Write around it in any intelligent way and you’ll increase acceptance of your position as a prime source of whatever.

Close on the heels of “available” is another contender: Among

Replacing “among” is as easy and basic as substituting “one of.” What positive factor does “one of” have that “among” doesn’t? Even a cursory analysis exposes “among” as telling the reader, viewer or listener that what we’re selling — or, worse, that the reader, viewer or listener himself/herself — is a pale and neutral component in a mob or mass.

Let’s add a symbol that spontaneously damages rapport: &

The ampersand, official name of “&,” is necessary when we’re directly quoting a product or company name. It destroys personalization.

Visualize Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” reduced to “Pomp & Circumstance.” Cringe when you see Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” tossed into a mediocre, rhetorical dungeon as “Romeo & Juliet,” which might be a fast food joint.

Want ultimate ampersand-damnation? Invariably, it’s part of the name of a law firm.

The web has diminished the cachet of a once-valid but never inspiring word: Participation

Invariably, web references are turnoffs: “Participation required.” What a deadly combination! “Participation” implies work without reward. And we don’t need an external goad to remind us that the word “required” has all the positive impact of a boil on the neck.

Are you pitching exclusivity? Then you’d better erase this word, temporarily at least, from your creative dictionary: Quantities

You’re suggesting this is rare, uncommon, hard to get, exclusive — and you say, “Quantities are limited”? The very existence of “quantities” belies your claim.

Even a simple patch such as “our allotment” avoids the quantity-mismatch. And that realization tells you when “quantity” has a place in selling copy — when you want to imply bulk or plenty.

Now, a word the Internet has thrust into prominence. It’s one that generates subliminal rejection, even as we use it: Submit

Ever look up “submit?” Along with “refer for judgment or consideration,” you’ll see “put before,” “yield to the control of another,” “hand over formally,” “refer to another person for decision or judgment,” and “accept or undergo, often unwillingly.”

Every one of those puts the buyer in an underling position. Why do that? Our job as salespeople is to make the recipient think we’re placing him or her in a superior position.

One more. It’s a personal prejudice, and I admit cheerfully I’m foisting it on you: However

That word may have had some position in the 19th century. But we’re in a more universally proletarian society, and words such as “however” and “indeed” tell the people we’re trying to influence — even the hypersophisticates — that we’re pompous pseudo-intellectuals. Do we want to transmit that image?

Well, okay. The purpose of this rant is to recruit more creatives who will care more about the possibility of adding octane to the psychological power of their prose.

Are you in that elite group? After all, quantities are limited.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises (www.herschellgordonlewis.com) in Pompano Beach, FL.

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