Keep Pace With Online Language As It Evolves

Even my mom says ‘WTF.’  OK, not my mom exactly, but it's out there.

The Internet is the monolith spurring the evolution (de-evolution?) of English. We see it spread across the digital landscape, and take hold IRL (in real life), as  words and symbols (@, #) have taken on entirely new. Even the venerable Oxford Dictionary looks to the Internet for "selfie," its word of the Year 2013.  These evolutions represent opportunities in search and social to reach out with a message that is tailored to your consumer. Fail to evolve at the pace of online language, and you’ll quickly become a nub.

If you’re reading search query reports and reviewing social feeds, you can likely spot large deltas in the words used, year over year, or even month over month. It’s not enough to just name your product because people don’t simply search for your product, they search in the way that they speak -- and the way they speak is changing.  Embracing this change doesn’t mean pandering or trend-hopping, it signifies an understanding of your customers, and your participation in the collaborative sculpture that is language.



I recently had the privilege of hearing bestselling novelist Donna Tartt, whose books include the contemporary classic “The Secret History,” at the Chicago of the Humanities Festival. Tartt said she believes the English language is very flexible and leaves room for incorporating foreign words and variant spellings due to its hybrid roots. She stressed that there is a fantastic, loving history of slang that loses its power when standardized. And when language is edited, it leads to the narrowing of ideas, she said. “Orwell would agree. Why keep good china and silver locked in the attic?” she noted.

Grammarians and linguists have long debated the use of prescriptive versus descriptive grammar.  Descriptive grammar has as its goal to describe what the native speakers of a language do; prescriptive grammar categorizes certain uses as acceptable, according to a standard form of the language.  For example, the popular Chicago question, “where’s it at?” is answered by the prescriptivists with, “It’s at a place where they don’t end sentences with prepositions.”

Good news: the debate rages on, leaving all options on the table. Personally, I believe that the T-shirt is right. Commas save lives: Let’s eat Grandma vs. Let’s eat, Grandma. But as long as your message resonates with intended audiences, you can liven up the story. Use the flexibility inherent in our language to open up less saturated connection points with your audience, build trust and stand out.

Yes, we’re approaching the dreaded campaign revaluation time of year. To avoid having to stitch, “Santa, I can explain” on your stocking, isolate a few campaigns and rewrite the messages. Be bold with your language in the new year because this is not your mother’s hashtag.

1 comment about "Keep Pace With Online Language As It Evolves".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, December 18, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.

    Commas can kill too: "cease fire" vs "cease, fire".

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