I was having a few drinks a while back, and I popped outside to get some air. After maybe five minutes, this guy I know came up to me and said, 'You know what really pisses me off?'
'What?' I said.
'When people say literally. Not every time they say it,' his voice went all high and defensive like he didn't want to offend anyone nearby. 'But when they don't mean to say it.'
He gave me some examples. Like when people say, 'I literally died of embarrassment,' or, 'I literally couldn't stop laughing.' At the time, I literally couldn't care less about the issue.
A couple of weeks later, I sent an email to a few people asking them to beef out their profiles a little bit for a client I was working on. There was a part where I asked them to explain why they were passionate about their area of expertise.
Literally, as I hit send, an email flew back into my inbox from a lady on the receiving end of my request. And boy was she happy. She told me that to ask someone what their passions are was a sexual question. That passion and the workplace should never meet, and that I should've known better. I have this furrowed, screwed-up sort of face when something grates on me, so that made an appearance then. I sat up at my desk, and scratched my head.
I remember thinking, 'What is happening? How do these people not get it? And what can I do to make them see that language isn't static?'
Let's jump back to the 6th Century AD. By this time, the Anglo-Saxons had gotten themselves settled in nicely, probably sitting around a warm hearth, and chatting about the woes of the Middle Ages. They were doing it in Old English. Back then, language was unrecognisable compared to ours today. Not only were the words themselves different, the sounds people made were different, syntax was different, the way words behaved in relation to each other was different... like I said: unrecognisable. And okay, it was 1500 years ago, but that's kind of exactly the point.
Language, like the business landscape, is evolutionary. It might feel like it's not, because our frame of reference doesn't let us see it, but it totally is. So when language such as literally or passion is used in a way which clashes with a person's individual interpretation, it riles people up. It riles them up because the view is that using words in that way is wrong. Did the fish get pissed off when his friend climbed out of the sea on his newfound fish feet? Well, no it's a fish - but, well, you get it.
Change is a scary thing. Everyone inherently fears it like they inherently fear the dark, because it's unknown and mysterious. People like to know that their language is their language, but the reality is that's never going to be true.
Learning to let your language ebb and flow with the world is something that's pretty hard to do - for the same reason it's hard to spot it evolving in the first place. But if you spend that extra little bit of time thinking about it, it pays dividends for your brand's personality, and it can truly do wonders for setting yourself apart from everyone else.
Look at the words you use; think about the little quirks and nuances in the way that you speak and write. Like your umming and erring; your subtle interludes, the way you jump from one topic to another, the way you put your own unique spin on words that "should have" concrete meanings and appropriate positioning.
Most people are confident that their conversion rates will be higher if you get a customer face to face. This is absolutely the next best thing (at least in copy form). Give it a go - it's pretty fun - and give me a shout if you've got any questions or anything (email@example.com).