As business copywriters to scores of companies in the UK and overseas, we at Wordsworks Towers like to think we do our bit to improve the world’s grammar and punctuation.
As such, we take it a little more personally than most when we receive packages through the post with warning notices such as this…
Rest assured, the offending slip of paper was fed into the office shredder before we excitedly opened the box and removed our new wine goblets.
And needless to say, they were smashed anyway.
In recognition of this crime against spelling, here are ten more words which sound the same but have different spellings and meanings – otherwise known as ‘heterographs’.
- Reign/rein: royal rule/horse’s leash
- Tyre/tire: a car wheel/to feel sleepy
- Colonel/kernel: military rank/centre of a nut
- Balmy/barmy: mild/mad
- Lightning/lightening: electrical bolts from the sky/lessening the load
- Gamble/gambol: wager/lark about like a little lamb
- Bear/bare: picnic-loving animal/unveil or endure
- Flaw/floor: blemish/what we walk on
- Stalk/stork: to follow/large bird which delivers babies
- Laud/lord: To praise/deity or high-ranking politician
You’ve heard the ol’ saying “less is more”? Well, it’s as applicable in your written materials as it is in any other aspect of life.
If you want your website to pack a wallop, your pamphlet to pack a punch, or your tender to touch a nerve, it’s generally best to call a spade a spade.
Copywriting that clarifies, not confuses
Don’t confuse your reader in an attempt to sound clever or, god forbid, ‘corporate’, because if your potential customer has to reach for the dictionary to understand what it is you’re on about, he or she won’t feel inclined to invest in your product or service.
As a professional copywriting agency, at Wordsworks we spend fair bit of our time unpicking tangled messages which are sent to us for a polish before being used in company communications.
Some of the raw material we receive causes the odd giggle. Take these two recent examples:
“Omni-competent peripatetic staff”
Unless we’re very much mistaken, the writer of the top term was trying to describe… drinks! And as for the pen-smith behind the second mangled message? It turned out he simply meant workers who were mobile and multi-skilled.
Curing tortured text like this is our bread and butter – but you might want to watch out for similar howlers cropping up in your own copywriting.
Consumer research shows that people spend less than two seconds on average
casting their eyes over the front page of a newspaper or magazine before deciding whether to buy or venture further along the rack.
That’s two seconds for your headline to work its magic and make that hand reaching into its pocket for some small change.
In a recent blog, we examined some top tips for expert headline writing.
Armed with these pointers, we decided to look back over some of the most famous – and indeed infamous – headlines from history, to see what made them lodge in readers’ minds.
Top 10 headlines
In no particular order, our top headlines are…
- ‘Murderers’ Direct and to the point, the Daily Mail’s damning one-word judgement in 1997 on the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case was legally shaky but gained worldwide coverage.
- ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?’ In 2006 The Sun riffed on the Sound of Music ditty to speculate on how the world should respond to Kim Jong-il’s nuclear tests – manipulating popular song titles has long been a favourite hobby among Fleet Street headline writers.
- ‘It’s Paddy Pantsdown’ The Sun again, this time reacting in 1992 to the former Lib-Dem leader’s revelations of a marital indiscretion. Another classic example of a pun from Murdoch’s wordsmiths.
- ‘Men Walk On Moon’ No clever gimmicks here, and nor were they needed, as The New York Times reported in four plain single-syllable words the momentous achievements of Neil Armstrong and co in 1969.
- ‘Gotcha’ Another one-word wonder, but this Sun effort provoked controversy by appearing to celebrate the 1982 sinking of the General Belgrano during the Argentine conflict. Editor Kelvin MacKenzie toned down later editions when the scale of loss-of-life became known.
- ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’ Sometimes, an element of the bizarre can work in your favour. How many people could have walked past this 1983 edition of the New York Post, reporting on a murder case, without at least doing a double take?
- ‘The Truth’ No stranger to stoking controversy, The Sun’s Scouser-stoking headline following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster – alleging some Liverpool fans had robbed the corpses of dying fans – got The Sun blacklisted for many years in Merseyside.
- ‘Thank you and goodbye’ A rare humble moment for a tabloid paper, this was the News of the World’s apology-cum-farewell in 2011 following the bad publicity arising from the phone hacking scandal.
- ‘Obama’ Who needs verbs, adjectives or indeed conjunctions? Not the New York Times in 2008, who turned the proper noun into an art form with its five-letter summation of one remarkable night in US politics.
- ‘Zip Me Up Before You Go Go’ But the last word must go to The Sun, whose Wham-inspired take on singer George Michael’s public toilet indiscretion needs no explanation…