Is Soft Language Killing Your Pitch?

We just paid homage to Ernest Hemingway for his support of simple, clear and effective writing. Add George Carlin to the list of talented individuals reminding us to write tight.

The infamously expletive-wielding Carlin could be the NSFW poster child. So does that make him the worst possible role model in this situation? Before you decide, consider the phrase he invented…soft language.

“American English is loaded with euphemisms — because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. So they invent a kind of to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation.”

To explain soft language, Carlin details the evolution of the term shell shock — in a way only he can.

Term / War Meaning Carlin
Shell Shock / WWI “A condition when a soldier’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum.” “Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables.”
Battle Fatigue / WWII Same “Four syllables now. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock.”
Operational Exhaustion / Korean War Same “We’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile and sounds like something that might happen to your car.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Same “We’ve added a hyphen. And the pain of the condition is completely buried under jargon.”

 

The Best Intentions…Don’t Matter

Soft language can ruin your pitch regardless of how well-intended it might be. My favorite example of soft language is from a student’s resume I received for an internship. To dress up the description of a waitressing job, she noted she “excels in suggestive selling.”

I don’t know what suggestive selling is, much less if it’s legal. But more importantly, this word choice almost distracted me from the fact that this student helped finance her college education. This is a good sign that she is probably a hard worker who can manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Softening or inflating language may be used to present something in a better light. It usually does the exact opposite. Even Carlin noted it “takes the life out of life.”

Oh, and if you are up for some NSFW content, Carlin’s bit on soft language is here in its entirety.

Kevin Dugan, @prblog

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