Words ‘R Us

Last month, we focused on the power of storytelling in communications. As a strategy, storytelling is a powerful way to communicate a message. Which brings us to our new theme – messaging. Part art and part science, messaging is fundamental to communications. So, for the next two months our focus will be on the building blocks of messaging – words and word choice.

In May, we will look at how words originate and how we are having fun with them in our culture. In June, we will highlight word choices that are rapidly evolving in their meaning and importance. This two-month series will be “cool.” A word – according to the Online Etymology Dictionary – that first described something as “fashionable” in 1933 and “is said to have been popularized in jazz circles by tenor saxophonist Lester Young.”

Hey, that’s pretty cool.

1950’s Beatnik Glossary

So, yes, we think this month’s exercise will be “blast.” Not the explosive kind, however, which was coined in 1630. We’re talking about a “good time,” which came about in 1953. Who knows, maybe the beatniks used it? Beatniks? That word was created “in 1958 by San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen during the heyday of -nik suffixes in the wake of Sputnik.”

(Sorry, but we could do this all day…)

Words have some heavy lifting to do. They build consensus and bridge gaps. They move forward projects and motivate people to stop smoking, eat healthier, pick up their litter, save water and use transit. You name it and there’s a word doing it. Except when there’s not, which is when new words come on the scene.

When it comes to messaging, words are our most important tools and considering how many words we have at our disposal, we have quite the toolbox. But talk about an inexact science. Experts can’t agree on how many words we have. Is “mouse” – a real live mouse that cats chase – one word or two? That’s because it also describes the thing you use to move the cursor on your computer screen? And what about mousy? It that its own word, too?

Pick the right word with the right meaning and your message sings. But pick a word with the wrong meaning and it loses its voice. Or even worse, it is heard loud and clear only to confuse the listener. Words matter.

So this month, we’ll answer the question – where do words come from? We’ll look at words in the global world and what can happen – the good and the bad – in translation. We’ll also explore our penchant for having fun with words  – Words with Friends anyone? Or old school – Scrabble?

In June, we will look at word choice – know the difference between climate and weather, clean and green, smart and intelligent? Keep checking our blog,  which according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is a relatively newcomer. It was coined in 1998 and is short for “weblog…”

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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