Vowel Movement: Sometimes the diamond in your mind is a floater in your toilet.

This tirade is brought to you by the fine people at Blue Nile, purveyors of exquisite jewelry and incomprehensible syntax.


The diamond in my mind? Oh my god, is it malignant?

It Starts With The Diamond In Your Mind.

You were chosen to perform an inimitable role… to be The Best Man. An immensely considered decision. There are no do-overs here. Do this well and everyone is lifted. How will you rise to the call, how will you surpass expectations? Summon your character, speak from your heart… and trust the diamond in your mind.

Can anyone — literally anyone tell me what in Christ’s cinnamon grundle this means?

A friend and former coworker shared this with me a week or so ago on the grounds that it is among the weirdest, most impenetrable writing ever and thus deserved systematic dismemberment. The problem was that I didn’t have the first clue where to start. The bizarre vocabulary? The inappropriate overuse of initial caps? The fact that there is no link to any page that may clarify even a smidgeon more context? What does being the best man have to do with diamonds? Why? WHY?

It’s like someone gave a thesaurus ipecac. And it is the surest sign that this was written by either a) someone with a marketing degree and a self-published book of poems no one will buy, or b) a freelance writer who wrote this under duress because the 15th of the month was coming and no, no, NO, they CAN’T make me write it, I WON’T write it, but damn it, damn it, damnitall that scotch won’t buy itself, FINE I’LL WRITE IT but I will NEVER put my name on it oh god how did it come to this.

Or maybe it was one of those guys who’s been in the country almost long enough to sound American.


(I know. Two Family Guy references in two blog posts. I don’t care for your judging eyes.)

Let’s start with the vocabulary. Apparently being The Best Man is an “inimitable role.” I don’t know what the shit this is meant to mean. “Inimitable” means “not capable of being imitated.” This is stupid. The only criteria for being a best man are a Y-chromosome and a pulse. You’re basically the guy the groom calls “bro” more than all the other guys.

Yes, “inimitable” is a very pretty word. And I get (I think) what BN was going for here: “You, sir, are one of a kind.” Fine. So then just say “You are one of a kind.” It’s concise. It’s self-evident. It appeals directly to the reader’s ego.

Here’s a litmus test for Big Fancy Words: replace the word with a less-fancy synonym and see if it still holds up. “Inimitable” means “matchless.” So what the hell is a “matchless role”? What about being the best man is matchless? The guy’s personality? The job itself? What does this have to do with diamonds? It sounds very pretty and it is completely meaningless.

And then there’s “An immensely considered decision.” This is the best-worst line in all of the catastrofuckery that is this piece of copy. “Immense” means huge, significant, vast. What does it mean to “immensely consider” something? Is it a thought process with the mass of a neutron star?

I think the word they were looking for here was “meticulous.” Or “careful.” Or “deliberate.” Let’s envision some scenarios in which any of these words are synonymous with “really really big.”

  • I love my interior decorator. He’s enormous.
  • We earned a Michelin star by selecting only the most humongous chefs.
  • My girlfriend is so ample, she’s impossible to please.
  • I have an incredibly selective penis.

…that last one actually kind of works. But you get the idea.

You can’t make words mean whatever the fuck you want them to mean. That’s why we have different words to encapsulate different ideas — and even synonyms aren’t perfectly interchangeable most of the time.

The payoff — “It starts with the diamond in your mind” — is its own special kind of bizarre. I get it, it’s a metaphor. Except metaphors only work when they’re actually analogous to something.

In his essay “Nature,” American writer and founding Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”


Of course. It’s all so clear now.

Nearly two centuries of elbow-padded, smoke-wreathed scholars have not yet been able to puzzle out exactly what it means to “become a transparent eyeball.” Does it mean the internalization of the external? Some form of proprioceptive awareness relative to nature? The natural and divine working in concert to act upon the self?

I think it means Emerson was tripping on more than transparent eyeballs. And Blue Nile, while you make real shiny carbon, you are no Ralph Waldo Emerson. Non sequiturs are terrific in poetry, but they make for really crappy marketing. Your call to action should probably actually include a call to action; save the New Agey jargon for all the horoscopes I won’t be reading.

The worst part is that Blue Nile is a perfectly respectable brand with a product whose quality speaks for itself. They don’t need gimmicky shit like this, especially when the gimmick doesn’t even make sense. Don’t settle for douchey writing just because you think you can. You can’t. And you shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, ad copywriting does not always facilitate the pursuit of High Art. In fact, at its most clever and elegant, advertising is deceptively simple and broadly accessible — which is a far more stimulating and challenging exercise. Just ask the Old Spice Guy. Now there’s a man who knows a thing or two about diamonds.

Vowel Movement: It’s your fault I suck

I know. It’s been a while. It’s not my fault – I got a job. Kind of. And then I got sick. But I’m better now. Kind of. Better AND I have money. Kind of.

I’ve also been procrastinating because I used up all of my writerly rage on those last couple of blog entries. I began to fear that I no longer had things to get pissed off about (or things about which I could get pissed off).

Then the internet sent me Amanda Chatel. Flying Spaghetti Monster be praised!

If you haven’t heard of Amanda Chatel, it’s because she thinks you’re a huge idiot and doesn’t want you to know her, plebeian. Yet, in defiance of all logic – not one of Amanda’s strong suits, admittedly – she would still really like you to read her SUPER HILARIOUS SATIRE, “What does a man’s pet say about his romantic potential?”

For tl;dr crowd: the usefulness and availability of a man’s dick is directly tied to his pet proclivities, which makes perfect sense if he’s regularly giving his dog the business, but not if you live in a world that wasn’t conceived for a rejected draft of Sex and the City.


Dear diary: today I felt a glimmer of remorse for my years of materialism and oppressive, unforgivable self-absorption, so I ate a man's face. All better! <3

So read it and bask, BASK in Amanda’s nuanced humor, which does not read AT ALL like the passive-aggressive diary of a bitchy, codependent megalomaniac from whose grasping, desperate vagina men’s genitals wither in self-defense. Her punchline is subtle – so subtle, you practically don’t even notice it. OKAY? Because she’s FUCKING SUBTLE.

Right.

So after this poorly researched (since when the fuck are ferrets rodents?) little slice of cliché did the rounds on Yahoo! and Fark, Amanda started getting some feedback from pet owners of both sexes, all of whom independently arrived at the conclusion that Amanda “Provocateur” Chatel is bursting at the ear holes with shit. They were surprisingly accurate for a bunch of humorless troglodytes who don’t know true genius when they see it.


WHY HAVE YOU FAILED AMANDA. WHY.

See? This is YOUR FAULT, you fucking retards.

So naturally, not seeing ANY evidence that this was not, in fact, the brainchild of yet another two-dimensional, unoriginal caricature of a woman whose every mannerism was painstakingly cultivated between the pages of Us Weekly, I assumed Amanda Chatel really believes that any man who owns a pet snake “drives a Camaro and rock a Metallica shirt circa 1986,” and that if he wants me to, god forbid, watch him FEED the icky, scaly monster, I should “Run. Run. Run.”

AMANDA HAS SPOKEN.

And then she blocked me. It made exactly the same sound as a teenager screaming, “YOU DON’T FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME AND I HATE YOU” seconds before slamming her bedroom door and bursting into tears. I laughed. So much. So, so much.

Remember when I said, “You can’t make your audience do 100% of the work and still call yourself a communicator”? That wasn’t something I made up for funsies. I said it because there are people in the world who do this all the time. Glenn Beck. Ann Coulter. Every modernist poet ever (I’m looking at you, Wallace Stevens). It happens every time someone writes like shit and then gets their hackles up because we don’t understand them.

It’s natural to fear rejection, especially where creative work is concerned. Creating anything for an audience involves a lot of emotional risk. We come pre-programmed with defenses, justifications, and excuses to help mitigate an onslaught of criticism – because we don’t want to think that it is we, the creators, who are flawed. I have done this. Everyone has done this.

It’s not that being wrong itself is particularly scary. It’s that being wrong forces you to self-examine. AND THAT IS FUCKING HARD.

A few weeks ago, I posted an anti-homophobia video that was intentionally controversial – and though I felt very passionate about it, and prepared to stand by it no matter what, I braced myself for a wave of negative opinion. In fact, there was a moment where I strongly considered not posting it at all. What if this was a mistake? What if it was badly written or badly filmed? What if people hated it? Worse, what if people just didn’t get it? My own actors (and of course my mother) had reservations about whether people would understand that the piece is meant to mock abusive behavior. And when the consequences of failure could mean getting pelted by old fruit, soda cans, or Molotov cocktails, one feels, you know. A skosh concerned.

Luckily, 90,000+ views, a Huffington Post reblog, a Dan Savage retweet, and a few thousand Tumblr posts later, the only backlash has come from a smattering of trolls (I think I’ve rejected maybe five comments out of nearly 200) and the semi-literate bigoted douchenozzles themselves. I know that I have a legit success on my hands, of which I should (and do) feel rightly proud.

So on the one hand, it’s not a bad idea not to give too much of a fuck what people think, or else you’ll never make anything at all. Making that video scared me. Applying for jobs scared me. Writing this blog scares me. Asking for help or approval is no different than getting naked in front of someone for the first time. If you’re wrong, the damage could be irreversible. But if you’re right, the payoff could be huge. (And sexy.)

But if you DO fail – if your message falls flat, or if you’re in over your head, or, fuck, if you just not as talented as you thought you were – the only correct response is to ask yourself where YOU went wrong. You cannot delude yourself that you are a victim of some mass conspiracy to misunderstand you. The numbers are not in your favor. If you have to tell us what you meant, you didn’t say it well the first time. Get over it and just do better next time. Unless you decide to alienate your readership. Then there won’t freaking BE a next time.

The great thing about the Amanda Chatels of the world is that their attitudes are inherently self-limiting. They won’t get very far because they are neither adaptable nor introspective; they will inevitably be surpassed by writers who may fail, but who will see those failures for what they are: opportunities to learn and evolve.

All that said, I now present to you my take on Amanda Chatel’s article. I’m calling it, “What a man’s pet says about his romantic potential: Uppity Bitch Edition.”

In romance, first impressions are everything. Sure, you could always take a chance on someone and see where things go, but communicating is hard and anyway, your ovaries aren’t getting any younger. Why invest in a relationship when you could just make snap judgments based on completely arbitrary bullshit your embittered mother spilled out in one of her few semi-lucid moments between bouts of compulsive drinking?

That’s the great thing about pets. Because there are only, like, five kinds of men, you can learn a lot about a guy based on his choice of pet, especially since animals and people are pretty much identical. Next time you’re seeking a suitable means to satisfy your unquenchable vagina’s blackest cravings, suss out the mark’s pet and hope he doesn’t love it more than he loves buying enough shit to keep you quiet.

Dog
Dogs are big stupid slobbering shit machines, just like your boyfriend. They belong together. In fact, you’re probably better off having sex with the dog. At least HE’LL cuddle after, AMIRITE LADIES?

Cat
Cats are beautiful, sleek, and mysterious — in other words, competition. Kind of like your guy’s ex-girlfriend. And, like your guy’s ex, cats are also needy, standoffish, and best neutralized inside a flaming sack left on your heartthrob’s doorstep.


But not this guy. For God's sake, do not come between this man and his pussy.

Fish
The only time men and fish should be in the same room is if the man is a dentist. Check: is the man a dentist? If yes, have sex with him IMMEDIATELY. Take his wallet while he’s sleeping.

Parrot
The great thing about parrots is they live a really, really long time, so that will be something you can take when you outlive your guy because he died of a heart attack or old age or the arsenic you put in his wine or whatever.

Rabbit
If your guy owns a rabbit, it’s ‘cause he’s cute and snuggly and can have a ton of sex and will make you so many babies you won’t even have to pretend you took your birth control when you really didn’t because you love him so much you just don’t want to lose him, why can’t he just understand that?

Rodent
FACT: No one loved rodents more than Hitler.

Ferret
This doesn’t really need its own category; unlike rabbits and rodents, ferrets and rodents are pretty much exactly the same thing, like sharks and dolphins. But it’s worth pointing out that the only men who own ferrets probably also do really weird things like play Dungeonmasters & Dragons and dress up like Star Trek.

Iguana
It is fine if a man owns an iguana. It is NOT FINE if that’s what he’s named his penis. Unless it falls off as a defense mechanism. If that happens, you should breathe a sigh of relief because then you won’t have to pretend to enjoy sex or experience emotions!

Snake
Everyone knows that only one type of person likes snakes, and that person is the PERFECT MAN because he is probably a badass who drives a Harley and has tattoos and loves to watch The Big Game, which means he is made of testosterone. Remember, ladies: at least if he’s hitting you, he isn’t ignoring you.

Vowel Movement: 5 bullshit words that make me want to hurt you

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

–Mark Twain

I have often been accused of vulgarity for its own sake. I’ve heard, many times, from many people, that “Real writers don’t need to resort to obscenity.”

Bullshit.

A real writer appreciates the texture, flavor, and propriety of each word at his or her disposal. The same way there is a difference between “there,” “they’re,” and “their,” between “simple” and “simplistic” or “sense” and “sensibility,” there is a difference between “making love” and “fucking.”

Write business-related copy long enough and one can very easily find oneself falling into the same linguistic patterns. Marketing jargon, like a virus, is insidious: even very intelligent people are susceptible. Why use a small word when you can use a big one? Why bother deviating from established language we all understand? So what if I should have used “thought” instead of “insight”? People know what I meant.

Except this:

You can’t make your audience do 100% of the work and still call yourself a communicator.

Words matter. If you’re going to write copy — for anyone, for any reason — and be taken seriously, you are going to have to do better than regurgitate from Seth Godin’s Guide to Enthusiastic Malapropisms (“Architecture in the acquisition of infrastructure and tools is one of the highest leverage pieces of work a tech company can do”? Is that ENGLISH, Seth? Does your mother keep your best sellers with your Kindergarten macaroni art?).

So let’s start with five common marketing words that make my eyes bleed. Use them if you must — but for god’s sake, don’t use them at all if you can help it.

1. Leverage

My disdain for this word is well-known among my colleagues, friends, and fellow misanthropes. That’s because it represents the worst, most frequent form of abuse in marketing/sales writing: swapping an existing word that works just fine for a bigger, more “professional-sounding” word that is hardly ever apt.

Let’s look at some definitions of this word, courtesy of the fine folks at Merriam-Webster.

leverage. noun. 
1: the action of a lever or the mechanical advantage gained by it
2: power, effectiveness <trying to gain more political leverage>
3: the use of credit to enhance one’s speculative capacity

leverage. verb.
1: to provide (as a corporation) or supplement (as money) with leverage; also: to enhance as if by supplying with financial leverage
2: to use for gain: exploit <shamelessly leverage the system to their advantage>

I am including the verb form only grudgingly. It kind of makes me want to stab my own face.

So. Acceptable synonyms for “leverage”: exploit; parlay; capitalize on; take advantage of. It does NOT simply mean “to use.” I don’t leverage a hairbrush to remove tangles. I don’t leverage a television to watch movies. And no matter how much I want to, I don’t leverage my fist to punish sloppy copywriters.

I am not alone here, by the way. Top Google search results for this subject: “Leverage is NOT a verb!“; “5 Words You Probably Misuse in Business Writing“; and my personal favorite, “Are you stupid enough to use leverage as a verb?” Even Forbes put it to a vote, and “leverage” is a finalist in their Jargon Madness matchup.

Unless you are specifically talking about inertia, stay the fuck away from the word “leverage.” I will find you.

Try these words instead: Use, employ, harness, utilize, apply

2. Architect

Okay, can I just say something here? Marketers? YOU CAN’T JUST TURN NOUNS INTO VERBS BECAUSE YOU WANT TO. I don’t food my lunch. I don’t car to the office.

There are 250,000 words in the English language. 250,000. Depending who you ask, that makes it one of the most diverse languages on Earth. The word you want exists. You don’t have to start mutating perfectly good nouns into diluted, half-assed verbs.

So. Let’s all agree that “architect,” like “leverage,” is a NOUN, and that using it as a verb makes you sound like a pretentious twat.

Try these words instead: Build, make, create, construct, form, manufacture, produce, fabricate, fashion, invent, establish

3. Ideate

My motion graphics editor boyfriend insists this is a perfectly cromulent word used by designers the world over. Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology Dictionary put its first use somewhere between 1600 and 1610. That’s as it may be. But whatever its origins, “ideate” has been hijacked by the marketeratsi (yeah, I can make words up, too) to describe any situation necessitating thought.

I have some pretty specific feelings about this, but I’m gonna go ahead and let Baratunde Thurston express my disdain for me:

Try these words instead: Brainstorm, think up/think of/think about, conceive, plan, envision

4. Actionable

Unless you’re in the CIA and you need legal authority to move on an internationally wanted criminal mastermind, don’t use this word where I can hear you. I don’t have any good reasons. I just goddamn hate it. It’s a stupid word.

Try these words instead: Useful, practical, usable, meaningful, workable

5. Content

This word has come to describe something so vague, you might as well just go ahead and use “stuff” or “things” or “crap.”

Usually when we see this word, it’s in a sentence like, “Are you making the most of your business content?” or “Compelling content will improve your users’ experience,” or “Architect actionable content to leverage your best ideations.” I just saw a tweet that went, “The best content isn’t contingent on time & place. Shelf life matters.”

I have no idea what any of this means.

“Content” can be damn near anything; there is no way to know what it describes without some kind of context. Is it writing? Design? Both? Is it a takeaway, a call to action? Is it an experience? I can refer to the content of a website as easily as I can the content of one’s character. “Content” just means “that which fills a vacuum.” This can be literal or figurative. Whatever it is, it HAS to have some kind of qualifier.

Otherwise, it comes off sounding like a 7th grade book report on a book you didn’t actually read. “I enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time. Its content was very impactful. Especially the part where time wrinkled. I gave this book a B+ because it was very good but some of the content was not as good as the other content.” You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, you little twerp. Saturday detention.

Try these words instead: Theme, message, subject matter, essence, significance, text, meaning, purpose, intention

Vowel Movement: Craigslist is making me murder squirrels

This is a screencap of a real Craigslist post entitled “OMG – Your Senior Strategic Direction saved my life.” Read it. Go on, I’ll wait.

You all done? Still alive? Not out setting small forest creatures alight in a vengeful, incendiary rage?

Then please come clean my yard. It’s full of charred squirrels and I am very busy.

Can I explain something? Come here. Closer. No, closer. Have a seat. Right there, little missy. Right where I can see you.

This post doesn’t even tell us what the fuck the fucking fuck job is fuck fuckity fuck goddamn you all to hell.

Okay? Do we all see that? Do we see that the job post is LITERALLY NOTHING?

Here’s some of what it is, because I know you didn’t read it, you liars:

Taking a quick step forward, she jammed both barrels into the Creative Director’s forehead (moi’s), but not before pump-loading it with one arm, like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, causing the Creative Director to wish he’s stayed in Elevator Repairman school. [And while I’m getting a gun pointed at my head, why do I have to write all these stupid recruitment ads? Geez. . .. I have better things to do. Anyway, back to the story. . .]

What is this? Is this a thing now? Are the job recruiters now PUBLICLY asking us why it’s their lot in life to go out and, you know, recruit for jobs? Which they don’t even DO because they’re splooging nonsensical fuckery all over poor Craig Newmark?

No list of job duties, no desired qualifications, no company mission statement, zip, zilch, nada, BUPKIS, nothing except for some clumsily executed, poorly punctuated scenario wherein a long-suffering creative director fantasizes about a client exploding his brains all over his Dockers. In other words, a regular freaking Tuesday.

Who proofread this? Who let “Your Senior Strategic Direction” go out as a headline in place of “Your Senior Strategic Director“? No. No, here’s a better question. Who let the letters O-M-G stray into this godforsaken piece of useless self-indulgence? Who?

NO ONE. Because even more than a new strategic director, these people need a freaking writer to tell them all the 258,125 reasons why this is NOT cute, it is NOT effective, and it should not be allowed to live because it is an abomination in the sight of God and nature.


YOU CAUSED THIS, LINDA HAMILTON.

But will they HIRE a writer? No. They will not. Because these silly billy giggleheads think they are just the cleverest copywriters ever to shit an interrobang. And they are out there, ladies and gentlemen. They are out there right now, just– just in the world, you know, running around high-fiving each other about their cleverness, and all the neato fun job candidates their super-great ad will bag them. You knew Durham was a sketchy place to live, but you didn’t know just how sketchy until now, did you? DID YOU?

If you know these people, if you SEE these people, shun them for me. You do it. You shun them, god damn it, with as much shunnery as you have shunned anything in your life.

This isn’t strategy. This is a tragedy. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is a bona fide stragedy. Will the madness ever end? WILL IT? THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

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