Be Honest, Not Trendy, with Your Word Choices

An image of a typewriter and a coffee mug.

By now you may have heard or read about the latest additions to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. This year's updated edition features over 150 new words and you've likely already incorporated them into your lexicon without realizing they weren't officially 'words.'

Take that statement with a grain of salt. In reality, there is no true English. There is no definitive compendium of all words English and our language changes not just year to year, but from minute to minute.

The English we speak in southwestern Ontario is not the same as what's spoken in the southern U.S. Or across the Atlantic in England. English is an evolving, adaptive verbal tool that reacts to the world around it.

It's a concept that sends prescriptivists home to curl up in the foetal position, rocking themselves to sleep, but it's the reality of the life we live.

However, there's a danger for business – just because a word is true doesn't mean it can't sound fake.

When you're marketing a product, service, or opportunity to the masses, there's always the desire to try to appeal to certain demographics by, quote-unquote, speaking their language. This is especially true when a business decides it wants to appeal to youth.

But that never works. It almost uniformly comes across stilted, fake, and shallow. If you've seen the Saturday Night Live clip of Republicans trying to appeal to youth at Coachella, you know what I mean (I'd link it, but it seems we're not allowed in Canada). The cadence is wrong, the inflexion is off, and the terms are misused. Like learning another language, if you're not immersed in it, you're going to sound 'off.'

So what's the solution? Talk like a human. Be yourself.

We have this wonderful ability to communicate across demographics just by being ourselves. Honestly is the universal language and when you're true to who you are – whether as an individual or as a business – then that resonates with your audience.

You don't have to pander or talk down to someone. You don't have to change the way you speak. You have to be honest and passionate about your offering. And, most importantly, you have to be respectful of your audience.

So what are the new words (remember, this is the American dictionary, not Canadian)? Here are 15 additions. You'll notice that you've likely already used many of these words (like selfie, hashtag, etc.) already. It's not about inventing new words, but rather acknowledging those words that have become a part of our everyday lexicon. 

Just one personal question... how was poutine NOT in the dictionary before this???

Your thoughts? How closely do you keep up with the linguistic Joneses? Comments are open.

Questions Answered

How should I talk to young people?

How do I target my message?



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