The Right Word

At the heart of marketing is finding the right words. But how do you do that?

Do you ever need help finding the right word? I do. So do millions of others on Google and Reddit.

So do the people I work with. They say, “I just can’t find the right word”. Or, “I don’t want to use words like that“.

Fair enough, though the fix isn’t usually “one word to the rescue”. The fix is rewriting – and rethinking – the whole thing, whatever that thing is.

As you rethink – your elevator pitch, your product name – you will hopefully consider many words deliberately. Here, I’d suggest a traditional dictionary as a first stop (and not the world’s de facto most popular dictionary,

For most people, at least. But for people like you – knowledge workers, entrepreneurs, experts creating new solutions – I have another suggestion.

Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Glossary

Two of the most important tools in marketing are the dictionary and the thesaurus, which is basically a dictionary subtype. But a thesaurus doesn’t always provide you with useful synonyms. A given word may have 15 synonyms in a thesaurus without any one of them helping you say what you want.

That’s because as terms get more complex, the more they differ from their so-called synonyms.

For example, it’s fair to say that sofa is a synonym for couch. But is digital transformation a synonym for automation? Is The Why Conversation a synonym for the Socratic Method?

No, terms such as these that you might use are complex and nuanced. So the thesaurus becomes a place not to “find the right word” but to get hints that stimulate your thinking. 

Speaking of which, this is how linguist Noam Chomsky thinks of a dictionary.

“What we call definitions are not definitions, they’re just hints. If you take the OED, the one you read with a magnifying glass, they give you a very long definition of a word. But they’re not really definitions, they are just hints that a person who already knows the concept can use to understand what’s really going on”

What we call definitions are not definitions, what we call synonyms are not synonyms. Just as grammatically correct is not necessarily correct and every good copywriter knows that correct grammar is a silly conceit.

Ok, Now What?

Here’s the takeaway – if a term is important to what you do, you should probably define it yourself rather than relying on the hints created by the professionals for the mass market.

To be precise, you as a knowledge worker should make your own dictionary, or glossary, as Jonathan Stark does so well. You can think of this partial dictionary as a glossary, which the OED defines as, “A collection of glosses; a list with explanations of abstruse, antiquated, dialectal, or technical terms; a partial dictionary.” 

Some of Jonathan’s entries are long enough to be short-form blog posts, such as, “The Why Conversation“, which is like (but not synonymous with) a Socratic-method-for-business. This method, also known as “Peeling the Onion,” draws out assumptions that would otherwise hinder progress. 

Other digital publishers deliberately use entire posts as term definitions, like Seth Godin’s Viral Marketing.

And if you consult the most complete dictionary, the OED, many entries far exceed blog-post-length. The publicly-available OED entry for “dictionary” is almost ebook length, about 4,500 words.

You might need to write that many words about the thing you make to find the right word – or better yet, create a new definition of the right word, custom-crafted for yourself and your audience.

Let me know how it goes!