A Monthly Meditation on Branding Language From Your Favorite Copy Shop, Editorial Emergency
13 (Feb. 29, 2008): Unleashed
If your month's been anything like ours, you
could use a nice long walk in the fresh air. So take a ramble with us through the terrain of copywriter training, the half-baked habitat of the word literally and the vapid vault of Not Our Clients: Clueless Vampires Edition, among other haunts.
The Copywriter Whisperer
I haven't seen every episode of The Dog Whisperer, but the ones I have seen pretty much boil down
to this: Walk your dog for 45 minutes every day, and make sure he knows you're the boss. Apparently dogs, like children, crave boundaries. So do copywriters.
Which isn't to say we can't produce brilliant, laser-focused work when left to our own devices; we have
been known to heed the voice of our own, interior copy masters. Sometimes this leads to hitherto
unimagined realms of daring; sometimes it results in a chewed-up couch. Once we've established a bond of mutual understanding and trust with you, however, let us off the leash and watch us fly like greyhounds.
A Jewish friend wrote recently to tell me that her son had been invited to join a fraternity. "It's not a Jewish
fraternity," she noted, "although they have a handful, literally, of Jewish members." Now, I've known some tiny
Jews in my day (some of my best friends and family are tiny Jews), but I can't imagine even one fitting in someone's
I think when people say literally, they're just trying to underline their point, amp up the drama or add a
bit of gravitas. Reasonable enough. But when you say literally, you're essentially saying actually.
And when you say actually about some Jews – or people of any faith – fitting into someone's hand,
frankly, you sound like a putz.
We've already praised the writer of the Colorado Wine Company's e-newsletter, but we return to him for his
appropriate use of literally, in CoWineCo's Valentine's Day greeting, which marked the shop's third
anniversary: "Well, when we missed a Christmas opening, missed a Valentine's Day opening, and then had water
dripping through our light fixtures literally as the electrical inspector was pulling his car up in front of the
store, we thought, hey, maybe [the naysaying competition is] right. But no! No I tell you!"
When he says literally, he does indeed mean actually – the inspector really was driving up as the water
was coming down. Now, it's true that he didn't have to use literally there; even if he'd written, "
... had water dripping through our light fixtures as the electrical inspector was pulling his car up ... ," you'd
make the leap that the water dripping coincided more or less exactly with the inspector arriving. But the
literally provides some oomph. The problem is when you deploy the oomph at the expense of credulity.
So next time you think of saying, "I literally jumped out of my skin," think again. Or seek medical
This isn't hyphenated correctly either.
It occurs to us that some of you might not know about that garrulous
gadfly Grammar Girl (aka Mignon Fogarty), who, according to her website bio, "believes the vast rules of grammar are
wonderful fodder for lifelong study" and whose "arch enemy is the evil Grammar Maven who inspires terror in the
untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful." G. Girl is a podcaster first and foremost, but you can read the
transcripts of her podcasts on her site (me, I'm a reader, not a listener). When we wrote last month about hyphens,
I'd yet to read Grammar Girl's gloss on the subject, which I find downright riveting and certainly worthy of your
attention. I also enjoyed her treatise on the oh-so-thorny issue of relative pronouns, a topic so divisive that I
once almost came to blows with my own sister over it (when the gender of the subject is unknown, I'm a he/him girl;
she favors them/their). For more on that, not to mention the double genitive and "nouns in drag," check out what
noted conservative and – who knew? – stickler James J. Kilpatrick has to say about it (we're not
endorsing his political beliefs, but when it comes to grammar, the old coot has a certain charisma, albeit of the
evil Grammar Maven variety).
Not Our Clients: Clueless Vampires Edition
Whatever else might be said about
Count Dracula, he's known to be stylish and well spoken. Judging by this missive, however, his punctuation skills
leave much to be desired. You'd think that someone who's – hello! – immortal would have time to learn the difference between dependent and independent clauses, would you not? The hardy bloodsucker isn't this month's only offender, though. Check out the other culprits here.
Play With Us
Some time ago, we wrote game cards for Pictionary Mania, Mattel's multi-category, international
version of Pictionary. Only recently did we stumble upon this YouTube video of some fun-loving Italian folks playing it. Either this game is staggeringly enjoyable, or they're drinking the best Chianti ever harvested. Have a look (you may want to turn your volume down a bit first):
what games you've been playing.