The Question That Was Too Geeky To Ask At The Time

This past week I attended a session of the Anatomy of Design lecture series as produced by the Northern Ireland Design Alliance. It was a talk by Mike Reed of Reed Words titled: Giving Voice to Ideas.

Mike is what he calls ‘a creative writer for brands’. Or, to the rest of us, a copywriter.

It was a great talk about collaborating with designers in creating branding that includes words as well as some insight into the best way to choose words for design.

During the Q&A Mike was asked what he thought the difference was between the way words were used 10 years ago and now. His answer was that the biggest difference was that people were more aware of words impact now than they were then.

And the geekiest question in the world came into my head. I spent the rest of the Q&A agonizing over a) if I should ask it and b) how to ask it without looking like the biggest geek in the world.

In the end, I didn’t ask it. So I’m going to ask it here, where I can plan it and edit it, and maybe if I tag Mike in my Twitter of this post, he’ll answer.

In Robert Heinlein’s Future History Universe, in more than one story, word science is mentioned. PR companies and Advertisers have created a whole science around the impact of words, to the point that some words are consider too ‘loaded’ to be used. That their meaning and  context were much to manipulative.

Not necessarily words we think of as un-PC today, but other words that might have sub-meanings or context that can be upsetting. Or influential to buyers and the like.

I wondered if Mike thought we might be headed in that direction. Towards a science of the impact of words. Or if we already have it to some extent.

God I’m such a Geek.


5 thoughts on “The Question That Was Too Geeky To Ask At The Time

  1. Not really, as semiotics, and it’s subset semantics, is more to do with meaning, as opposed to emotional response to meaning, if that makes sense?

  2. Hello Tee. Thanks so much for the kind words on the talk – glad you enjoyed it. It’s a very good question, and one which, like many of those asked on the night, makes me flounder a bit.

    Whether it’s possible to have a science of meaning I don’t know – meanings are so fluid and personal in many ways, how could you ever tie that down?

    More and more brand guidelines attempt to list ‘good’ and ‘bad’ words in terms of the brand itself, which is a bit like trying to make a science out of an art. I recently completed a very thorough set of guidelines with a long list of ‘banned’ and ‘approved’ words at the end.

    Sometimes the reason for banning a word is legal – ‘we can’t promise X because of Y’. Other times it’s more subtle – ‘we say A instead of B, because it’s a more informal/formal/friendly/authoritative/etc way of saying it,’ or ‘We don’t say X because we’re talking to an audience for whom X has certain connotations.’ I guess the latter is more what you’re talking about: trying to codify which meanings are ‘good’ and which ‘bad’.

    It all gets a bit Orwellian if you’re not careful, of course – and that would be doubleplusbad. But then I suspect (hope) any attempt to be so rigid about controlling meaning is doomed by the nature of language itself.

    Geeky enough?

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