Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Joy of Words

If you look at the history of advertising, it's been a three-parter so far. Back in the very early days, many people couldn't read, or didn't have access to a daily paper, so advertising worked primarily through visuals and symbols. The first part of the 20th century was dominated by words - copy -  and there was a golden age (I think) where art directors and copywriters were put together as teams and produced some of the best advertising ever. This co-incided with the rise of commercial TV.

Then there's this century so far, where screens are all around us, and the emoji has taken the place of the text-speak.

I still have a hankering after words, maybe because I write in my spare time. I recently got the book version of Shaun Usher's brilliant website, Letters of Note. Shaun Usher's favourite of his collected letters (and mine so far) has to be the 1934 covering letter from Robert Pirosh, who at that time was a Madison Avenue copywriter, but had designs on a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter.

How could anyone resist a letter that starts: 'I like words'? And, here it is in its full glory:

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave "V" words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land's-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around. 

I have just returned and I still like words. 

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024


I have a belief that if we work in Marketing or Advertising, even if we aren't copywriters, we should be able to put together words in a way that shows we like them, love them even. We are in the business of communication, so surely our documents and presentations should be written with care and feeling and attention to the richness our vocabulary gives.

Instead we (self included) so often fall back on whatever the flavour of the year buzz words are. Engagement (which to me is nothing more than an amalgam of the first bits of that AIDA model - awareness/attention and interest/involvement.) Experience. Insight. Content. KPIs.

Next time, I'll see if I can replace those with fat, buttery words, suave 'V' words or even sullen, crabbed, scowling words.


Barbara Fisher said...

I like all those words too and feel sure I will love Shaun Usher's Letters of Note website which I will be visiting as soon as I’ve left this comment. You already use beautiful words Sue, but if you want to butter them up, please do. Maybe leave the sullen words alone though there are already too many of those in the world. ;-)

Sue Imgrund said...

Kind words, indeed - enjoy the website. There are copies of some of the actual letters there and seeing the handwriting or original typeface adds to the words, too.