Category Archives: Copywriter

Checkout the red big car

Chatting with friends recently about our internalised register of the correct order of adjectives – ie:

1. Opinion
2. Measurements
3. Shape
4. Condition
5. Age
6. Color
7. Pattern
8. Origin
9. Material
10. Purpose

…which is why we talk about ‘the big red car’, not the red big car. Following up later online, and musing over what felt like an analogous issue we’d previously discussed – whether there’s something inherently melancholy about music played in minor chords, or whether that’s a learned association, and I came across a fascinating blog covering that and related issues. For example:

Speaking of key, some people think that songs in a minor key sound sadder than those in a major key. Is that something that infants notice?

We know that infants can discriminate major from minor chords, but we don’t know exactly when they begin to associate major keys with happy, and minor keys with sad.

Also, that association depends on what you’re used to. Musical systems differ, just as languages differ, and the structure of scales, keys, and harmony in your native musical system is largely learned through passive exposure, like language. Music in major keys is much more common in Western tonality, and music in minor keys does tend to sound more sad to Western listeners. However, in some musical systems, the minor scale is the most common, and can sound happy to listeners who are accustomed to it.”


“Speaking of cultural differences, when do these develop? Are Western babies born preferring Western music?

No, young infants are sensitive to a diversity of music. A process of “perceptual narrowing” appears to take place during the infant’s first year. Western music tends to use very simple meters, such as in a march, in which every second beat is accented. However, many cultures use more complex meters, for example, accenting every fifth or every 7th note. Young Western infants are able to detect changes in both simple and complex meters. But by 12 months, Western infants are only able to do so for the simple meters found in Western music.”

Fascinating stuff!

Contexts may settle

Looking online recently for a definition of the word ‘akin’, I came across

Pretty fair definition, I thought. But when I scrolled down, I came to

What a great way to define words! By providing an array of contexts in which they’re used. As you read them, one after another, you get an ever-closer feel for how the word works – what it does – which is (thanks Wittgenstein) what the word actually means.

Give me strength…

The things people do to the language…

Businesses’ appropriation of the word ‘passion’ has been one of the more egregious assaults of recent years. I see utilities vehicles prowling the streets with ‘We have a passion for water’ emblazoned on the side. Really? A passion? For water? Have you seen a doctor?


Yer pays yer money…

A client queries; a copywriter responds: 

  •  %, percentage or per cent? – I think the default should probably be ‘percent’ – all one word. Percent is US; per cent is British. 
  • Fullstop after each bullet or not? – default is no. On the basic principle of minimising clutter (ie, anything that adds no value). The exception being when one or more of the bullets contains more than one sentence. In that case, the first sentence ends in a full stop, so the second can’t not have one; if one bullet has a full stop, all other bullets within that list (for consistency’s sake) also have to have full stops. I try to avoid multi-sentence bullets, not least for this reason.
  • & or and – always the word spelt out, other than in contexts/phrases where the use of the & is well established – A&E, P&L, fruit & veg. You would never, eg, talk about ‘our recording & publishing businesses’.
  • USD$ (then space) or US$ and no space after – I would say US$no space. USD$ = ‘US dollar dollar’. And as for the space, we wouldn’t say £ 100, and ‘US$’ is just their ‘£’, albeit a three-symbol rather than one symbol symbol. So, £100, US$100.


I was struck by the tone of the Nationwide’s recent letter to my daughter:

Something like 20 years ago we did a big campaign of work for Nationwide, stretching over a year or more. Part of it was a straightforward exercise in drafting their basic materials, from letters to leaflets to ads. But the other part was a conscious empowerment programme, aiming to equip Nationwide with a clear and distinct tone of voice, and help them put it to work.

Looks like it was a success! They can communicate. The messages come across clearly, and they sound like people, rather than adenoidal officials.

Not that there isn’t room for improvement.


…is no way to address your customers. Use her first name if you have the balls (and you should). If you can’t bring yourself to, then at least don’t bludgeon her with POINTLESS CAPITALS. And if you can’t or won’t make it human, then discard it altogether; it won’t be missed.

And why begin by offering ‘your replacement Personal Identification Number (PIN)’? Does anyone ever call it that? Why not

…your replacement PIN

If you really feel the need, you can spell out the acronym in the following chunk of body copy.

But on the whole, not bad! Certainly a major improvement on the kind of bloodless officialese that was the norm for such communications back in the day.


After reviewed copy came back, I protested to my client that theirs had turned all my single inverted commas into doubles, flying in the face of what I called accepted contemporary practice, which employs doubles only for reported speech.  Word came back that the client insisted on doubles, which, they said, was standard practice in America.

Are they right? I’d never heard of such a convention, and a few minutes’ googling provides no definitive answer. But I’ll continue to recommend singles, for no better reason than my general instinct to ‘cut the clutter’, and keep everything as clean and minimalist as possible.

None of which, needless to say, affects the primacy of the client’s preference. So long as it’s not unquestionably and definitively wrong, the client gets what the client specifies. You paya da bills, you maka da rules.