Author Archives: Alan Paterson

Need a different word? Invent one!

Reading about the proposed Body Shop takeover, I came across not one but two words with which I am not altogether familiar:

‘Complimentarity’? I mean, you can see what they’re driving at, but is that actually a word? Well yes, apparently. Commonly used in physics: “a theoretical and an experimental result of quantum mechanics, [which] holds that objects have complementary properties which cannot all be observed or measured simultaneously.” Less commonly in everyday life, where it is used to describe “a relationship or situation in which two or more different things improve or emphasize each other’s qualities.”

Well well.

Ok, now, ‘naturality’? Surely not. Well, again, it’s not as brand spanking new as I’d been thinking. Quite the opposite: generally described as ‘obsolete’ – a shred of late medieval English which failed to survive into the modern era. Until today! Naturality is back!

En passant, does a journey have pillars?



To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow

Watching Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation last night, and Shakespeare came up. Anyone who wields words for a living can only look on in awe…

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Comms and the man

Three big comms lessons to take away from last Thursday:

  1. Traditional media seems defunct, over here at least. The big poster campaigns of yesteryear are history. Even party political broadcasts no longer seem to play much of a part. ‘Broadcast’, per se, looks obsolete. Today’s action is online, and tightly-targeted.
  2. Strong, simple messages can still engage. “That’s what I’ve always said…”
  3. But beware hostages to fortune. For the many, not the few is immune from ‘news’; Strong but stable may sound potent, but it’s terribly vulnerable to ‘events, dear boy, events’.

When you say ‘focused’…

Ok, according to Wiki:

So, you’re focused on the elderly, give or take. You have an important message to communicate to your audience, and an entire web page to host it. What makes you decide that running it in a single line of 4-point type across the top of an empty screen is a good idea?


A writer should never not use no double negatives

A recent article reporting a restaurant’s threat to sue someone for a poor TripAdvisor review set me grumping:

Why would customers who have not been unimpressed – ie, who have been impressed – be threatened by lawyers? A GCSE student would be taken to task for tripping themselves up with their own double negatives. And this is a professional journalist with his own byline on a major national paper.

It did set me thinking though. I remember being taught that a double negative was inherently and invariably an error. The two negatives ‘cancel each other’; they are therefore redundant, and should be removed.

But how about…

The performer has turned up, the crowd are baying for fun, but she doesn’t feel too hot. Shivering sweats, dicky tummy, achy joints: doesn’t really want to go on at all. But these people have come a long way, paid their money: she has responsibilities to her fans. She can’t not go on.

Does this mean the same as ‘She can go on’? Clearly not. The double negative expresses something quite different: something more akin to ‘she must go on.’

I suspect the unyielding prohibition on double negatives shares its roots with the equally wrong-headed insistence on avoiding splitting infinitives: a grounding in Latin, and the attempt to force English into its hard, logical, almost algebraic straitjacket. As misguided as it is snobby. We are not Ancient Romans, and our language doesn’t work quite the same way.

Mind you, doesn’t not mean a Daily Mirror journo shouldn’t not be able to cope with the rules it doesn’t not have though. Do it?

I guess that’s how you spell ‘Labour’

They used to say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so long as they spell your name correctly. Maybe that’s true. Maybe Labour’s comms people are rubbing their hands in glee at the widespread ridicule that’s greeted their ‘triple whammy’ poster.

I’m not so sure. I have to say, my first thought on my first glance was ‘What the….?’

I still remember the impact of the original:

I remember a Tory spokesperson responding to criticism that ‘double whammy’ was an American expression, little known in the UK. “On the contrary,” he said, “it’s easily grasped, and indeed people have started using it. You hear it in pubs. We’ve introduced a new phrase into the national language – what could be more telling than that?”

What indeed.

And of course nothing speaks more eloquently of the success of that poster than Labour’s ‘tribute’. And maybe, as I say, my disbelief simply betrays my pathetically prosaic approach to such arcane matters….maybe Labour people have a more sophisticated ‘meta-agenda’. They eagerly anticipated the hoo-hah. They haven’t actually paid for it to be put up anywhere, but people are talking about it, so that’s a win, right?

Again, I’m not so sure. I still suspect that if you want people to see you as a government-in-waiting, having them regard you as a laughing stock may not be such a great move, spelling notwithstanding

It’s all the more baffling when you consider that it’s presumably come from the same team that devised probably the single best piece of political messaging of this campaign thus far:

That’s almost up there with ‘Make America Great Again’. Clear, simple, punchy, and right on the money in capturing the party’s pitch, its USP, in a form accessible not just to its core supporters but to the people who matter: borderline voters in marginal constituencies.

So what made the people who came up with that decide that the ‘triple whammy’ was a good idea? Baffling. Almost as baffling as the support for that third glove. Tho’ fortunately Sun-reader ‘bukey’ can help us there:

Now there’s political satire. Or perhaps not.

Simple, clear, clever

Reading the other night, I suddenly became aware of the message poking out of the top of my book:

A bookmark, that had come with the book, advertising an offer from Naked Wines. I hadn’t really registered it when it arrived; just stuck it in the book. A good bookmark always comes in handy. It was only later that I registered the way the offer was always there, within my peripheral vision, thanks to the cunning way the thing had been designed.

wine voucher

A very smart promotion, targeted toward a self-delimiting (book-buying) presumably smart & smart-appreciative (not to mention likely wine-buying) audience.

Salut, whoever came up with that one!