Be careful what you say

Every word is a fine wine. 

Your response is the result of its years of slow maturation and of the years that brought you to that precise word. 

Your response is also the result of the context within which you uncorked the word. 

The response of your audience will be similarly, and differently, defined.

  For a Better Life VI

Two examples from recent reading stick in my mind.

In Frank Luntz’s book Words That Work, he describes the results of some message testing he ran:

“a majority of Americans (55 per cent) said that emergency room care ‘should not be given’ to illegal aliens.  Yet only 38 per cent said it should be ‘denied’ them.”

He  goes on to explain why this might be…

“… if i refrain from ‘giving’ you something, I’m not necessarily impinging on your rights … that’s a whole lot easier to live with than ‘denial’”

The second example, from Joseph Romm’s Language Intelligence, concerns phrasing, specifically with regard to refuting lies and busting myths:

“When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a flier to debunk myths about the flu vaccine, it repeated several of the myths … and labelled them as false.  A study of people give the flier found that ‘within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 per cent of the false statements as true.’  Worse, ‘three days later, they remembered 40 per cent of the myths as factual.”

This aligns with what we know, but too often forget: that the human mind does not process “negatives”.  Hence, as Romm observes, Richard Nixon could have chosen more wisely when he asserted, “I am not a crook.”

Words are fine wines.  Handle with care.


About Andrew Munro

An independent business consultant, interim manager and writer, Andrew operates through his company, Burning Pine Ltd (
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