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Guidelines for a spin free world

We’ve been talking for a while about social business; how new norms brought about by technology should be embraced by organisations wanting to evolve, and the need for organisations to stand for more than sheer profit. Aside from the huge cultural shift and new platforms, for me an important ingredient of social business is language.

At risk of sounding like a naive puppy, language is pretty mega. It can set a stuffy, bureaucratic business apart from a dynamic, free-flowing one, and those that wield language effectively can influence far more than those that cannot. It’s the currency of gossip, meetings, press releases and marketing. If a business was a body, language would be the blood. Or piss.

Business language is rubbish. Brands spout guff with alarming ease, and whole organisations can thrive on made-up words and well-placed adjectives. I imagine that most (or both) of you reading this will have rolled your eyes when on a conference call, or felt a part of you die upon reading some particularly puffed copy. ‘Bullshit bingo’ is a commonly used term for a reason – we are all surrounded by language which sounds great but means little.

What if this was no more? What if we can the adjectives, lost the hyperbole and only said what actually was? A little while back I gave a talk to our charity clients entitled What if businesses couldn’t lie?, in which I posed the same question. Then more recently, I saw the term ‘Weasel words‘ when reading something random on wikipedia. Weasel words are part of a cracking style guide written by the wiki community, and help keep entries factual, rather than full of spin and speculation.



… legendary, great, eminent, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, cutting-edge, extraordinary, brilliant, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso …

Words such as these are often used without attribution to promote the subject of an article, while neither imparting nor plainly summarizing verifiable information. They are known as “peacock terms” by Wikipedia contributors. Instead of making unprovable proclamations about a subject’s importance, use facts and attribution to demonstrate that importance

What if such a guide governed all company comms? What if meeting rooms contained buzzers so that offenders would be shown the error of their ways? What if advertising was based on function rather than desire? To be honest, I think this extreme would also be pretty rubbish – the creative use of language is one of the best things about communicating. Could we meet in the middle?

My utopian vision is for businesses that communicate honestly. If a business, and its employees, is honest about its intentions, its successes and its failings, clear guff-free language would be essential.

What do you think? Do business needs to eschew spin and guff to evolve? Or is it an essential part of commerce?

Peacock photo used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user bbmexplorer.

This post was filed under Digital transformation Comments are currently closed.


  1. Hey Ross. Couldn’t agree more. Check out Linguabrand (dot com). I think you might Like. Can intro you to Alastair who runs it. He lives in Brighton…

    Posted 26th January 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Ross

    Hey Roger. Love the sound of Linguabrand. Didn’t realise such a service existed :)

    Posted 26th January 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Me neither – until a mutual pal introduced us. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, so was very impressed. They work with Adidas and a bunch of other brands, plus agencies like ourselves.

    Give Alasdair a shout. He’s on alastair AT linguabrand DOT COM.

    I’ll tell him to post a comment here too.

    Ciao, R

    Posted 27th January 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  4. Hi Ross,

    We feel the same way about business language. On average brand agendas are 54% generic. They write to a reading age of 17.5 – compare that with the FT at 16.1.

    Shall we catch up? You can take a peek at our list of the top 50 business terms. Also we’ll show you how to measure tone of voice. And how language reveals the sub-conscious of brands and their audiences.


    Posted 27th January 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink