Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to be a Wordsmith, Part 1

Are you a Wordsmith?

Someone who loves to explore and research the TRUE meanings behind the words people use every day?

If so, congrats! You’re one step ahead of everyone.

Because word exploration is GOLD.


For learning.
For research.
For branding.
For satisfying your curiosity.
For expanding your expertise.
For enhancing your creativity.
For clarifying your understanding.
For changing (and challenging) your thinking.

Even if you don’t like to write, read or do research, becoming a Wordsmith actually creates value for you AND your customers.

PICTURE THIS: you’ve been given the task to come up with a new company slogan. And just for fun, let’s say you’re in the waste removal business.

Let’s go through five Wordsmithing techniques to help clarify your understanding of the subject:

1. Etymology. Always begin with the word’s derivative. It’s usually Latin, but whatever language it comes from, this technique will open your eyes to the true meaning of the term.

For example, the etymology of the word “garbage,” derives from an Anglo-French word meaning “refuse.”

Hmmm. Interesting. Maybe your tagline could say something like, “What your dog won’t chew, our company won’t refuse!”

It’s silly, but it’s fun! And the creative process is just beginning.

2. Books. Whatever industry you’re in, you need to have read every book ever written about that industry.

For example, if you go to Amazon and search for “garbage,” you’ll find books like:

o Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, by Elizabeth Royte
o Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, by Heather Rogers
o Rubbish! The Archeology of Garbage, by William L. Rathje

I’m not even IN the garbage business, and I kind of want to read those books.

REMEMBER: there are always at least three books written about everything. Expand your expertise regularly. You will become a better-educated authority and a more valued resource to the customers you serve.

3. Google. Every time I work with new company, I always make it a point to google their one-word industry category when preparing my talk. Then I usually show a screen shot of the search results during my slideshow.

It’s amazing what comes up first.

For example, I was working with Verizon’s call centers. I discovered the first hit on Google was a Wikipedia page. It indicated the most common complaints of call centers, according to a worldwide study.

During my speech I asked the audience, “Anyone ever googled ‘call center’ before?”

Not a single hand went up. Interesting.

What about you? Have you googled YOUR job title lately?

4. Articles. Speaking of Google, another great resource is to do a search on your word (in this case, “garbage”) along with the word “article.”

This will bring up every published article on, about and connected to garbage.

Just for fun, I did a search on garbage while writing this article. And I learned something pretty cool.

DID YOU KNOW: Joseph Longo, from Bristol, Connecticut, has built a career around uniting trash and tech?

That’s right! According to the article from PopSci.com, he’s known as “The Prophet of Garbage.” Joseph Longo's Plasma Converter turns our most vile and toxic trash into clean energy—and promises to make a relic of the landfill.
Sweet.

If I had a client in the garbage business (which, strangely enough, I actually do), this is the kind of stuff I’d want to know.

5. Definitions. Although it’s sort of cliché to say, “Webster’s dictionary defines ‘garbage’ as…” there’s still validity in this Wordsmithing technique.

What’s more, it’s amazing how many businesspeople don’t know the TRUE definition of the industry in which they work.

OK, back to garbage again. If you look up that word on dictionary.com, you’ll find several definitions.

I happen to like this one the best: “Garbage is anything that is contemptibly worthless, inferior, or vile.”

Wow.

(I disagree, seeing as how I've made an entire career out of a nametag I saw in the garbage!)

Who knows? Maybe a definition like that will spark the creative impetus you need to make a marketing breakthrough!

HERE’S THE POINT: Ultimately, googling, researching and exploring words probably won’t get you promoted. It probably won’t change your life. And I doubt it will make you any more money.

But.

When you take the time to explore a single word, a word that summarizes the entirety of your industry, it could only…

Help you learn.
Help you understand.
Help you be more creative.
Help you start to think differently.

So take a few minutes today to become a better Wordsmith.

And next time you see your garbage man coming around the corner, tell him I said what’s up!

(To read Part 2 of this series, click here.)

LET ME ASK YA THIS...
What Wordsmithing techniques do you use?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
Post your ideas here!

* * * *

Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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