Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Bobby was full of information when I was in elementary school. He was the Google of our time. He told me how babies were made (it made me cry), why our teacher had bad breath (lint in her dentures), and about the monsters living just under our feet in the sewer (it’s warmer there of course). Often his “facts” were twisted, his stories overly dramatic. However, one day he added a new and interesting word to my vocabulary.

Armed with my new word, I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. I didn’t have to wait long. It was during the holidays, and dad had just come home from work in a festive mood. We gathered in the kitchen to discuss the day when suddenly I said, “Hey Dad, you’re a ___!”

I could tell immediately by the way my parents caught their breath, and held their hands over their mouths in horror, that I’d unleashed a real humdinger. I was somewhat proud, but also scared – this one looked to be a biggie. Nothing was said other than to never repeat that word again. I didn’t.

Many years later I learned what the word really meant. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of my better moves. I recalled the incident with my mom and dad much later. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed at that point. We just laughed and wrote it off to Bobby.

Words have power. Roughly 1,000 words are added to the Oxford English Dictionary each year. Many are words previously considered to be slang, but that have become more mainstream over time. This, too, adds to the confusion for many people communicating utilizing the written word. The word I called my dad many years ago has become more mainstream, and can be found in the dictionary, but it should still never be used as a name for a person.

In marketing it is important to chose words that create an emotion in the recipient. It’s key to impacting opinions or influencing people. But words that mean different things to different people can risk creating an impact that wasn’t originally envisioned. Always keep your audience in mind. They are the key to any successful communication. What would they think about your word choices? What may be acceptable to some people may be very offensive to others.

Punctuation is also critical. Being lazy with punctuation is risky when writing for business.

Two sentences, with the same words, may have very different meanings. For example, “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” As a woman, I would take issue with this statement. However, change the punctuation and it becomes, “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” I know some men who would take issue with that statement. So which is it?

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.

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