Blogs Are Thirsty for Content

Once you’ve decided that a blog will serve your communications needs, it’s time to do some planning. The blog fairy – a cousin of the tooth fairy — is generally too busy to make content appear magically, so you’ll need to give it some thought.

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Think about your audience(s),the subjects that interest them and the messages you’d like to convey to them or the information you’d like to disseminate. Instead of using the space to directly advertise products or services, consider offering  useful advice or fresh ideas. If you provide interesting content, your readers will see you as an enjoyable read or a good source and they’ll be more tempted to return to your website.

Start your ideas flowing by creating an editorial calendar. This is nothing more than a chart displaying the publication dates for your blog posts and the topics each post will cover. It may look daunting, but brainstorm with your colleagues and you’ll have the calendar filled in before you know it.

Think about natural markers, such as seasons and holidays. There are bound to be topics that suit particular times of the year. For example, since my blog generally focuses on language, in advance of Valentine’s Day, I might write a post exploring pickup lines today and in the past. Quirky, but interesting.

Writing concisely is better than being verbose, especially in today’s world of short attention spans. Try to keep the length of your posts from 300 to 500 words. You can always break a topic into portions and run them consecutively, rather than overwhelming your readers.

Even though blogs are language-based, readers are attracted to images, so try to include at least one with each post. There are sites that offer free photos, such as Pixabay and Freeimages; the photos may require attribution, but it’s worth the “price”!

Finally, don’t forget your spell check feature, one of a writer’s best friends online. Nothing will hit a wrong note with your readers like spelling errors.

Take the blogging plunge and enjoy the results!

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So, You Want to Create a Blog

Social media are here to stay, as evidenced by the ongoing popularity of tools such as Twitter and Facebook. However, if you prefer to convey your ideas in complete sentences or phrases longer than 140 characters, blogging may be the vehicle for you.

If you’re reading this, you are already familiar with blogs. A blog – a shortened version of the term web log — is nothing more than an ongoing series of articles or stories posted online on a particular website. These posts generally appear in reverse chronological order, newest first.

Your blog can stick to a specific topic – mine is generally about words and language – or can be a collection of musings on a variety of subjects. It can also be a tool to keep employees or clients up to date on the organization’s plans and activities.

For organizations and individuals, blogs can be a great way of keeping website content fresh, even if the majority of the site remains static. A clothing store’s blog, for example, might contain posts about the latest fashion trends and hints about wearing a particular item of apparel with style.

Before you take the plunge, however, do a bit of research to be sure that a blog is the right tool for you. If you’re going to put the time and energy into creating a blog, you want to make sure it meets your needs. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What kind of information will interest/intrigue them?
  3. Who will write the blog? Who will they be representing (e.g., the CEO? The organization as a whole?)
  4. Who needs to approve the copy before posting?
  5. How often do you plan to refresh the copy? Once you begin, you need to be committed to adding posts regularly.
  6. Who is responsible for posting the copy and making changes, as needed?
  7. Will you allow comments? If so, who will respond to them?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to roll. All you need is content. I’ll address the guts of a post in my next blog entry. Stay tuned.

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The Sound of Branding

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a pair of University of Toronto researchers about their work in sound symbolism, the intersection of linguistics and cognitive science that demonstrates the perceived link between sounds and meaning.

New research by research fellow Cris Rabaglia and Professor Sam Maglio shows that people associate words with front-of-the-mouth vowel sounds — those produced with the tongue relatively far forward in the mouth, such as the ee in feet – with nearness. Conversely, back-of-the-mouth vowel sounds — those produced with the tongue far back in the mouth, such as oo in food –are associated with distance. The research is published online in the journal Cognition.

It’s not only English where sound symbolism is evident; researchers have shown it to be valid for languages as diverse as Japanese and Swedish, and it is BoubaKikiEffectapplicable for more concrete characteristics, too, such as an object’s shape. This was demonstrated as early as 1929 in an experiment by a scientist named Wolfgang Kohler and repeated in a 2001 experiment with English-speaking students in the United States and Tamil speakers in India. They were asked to look at a pointy object and a rounded object and determine which was called a bouba and which a kiki. At least 95 per cent of those in each group chose kiki as the pointy object and bouba as the rounded, organic shape.

Learning about sound symbolism is quirky and fun, but why should we bother otherwise? For anyone who works with branding, it’s important because these linguistic associations affect people’s impressions and behaviours.  Doing some research before naming a product is worth the time it takes.

“Our feelings and intuitions about sounds influence what we feel is okay for names of specific items or brands,” Rabaglia told the University of Toronto Mississauga news. “If you name something in a way that isn’t intuitive, it could decrease the likelihood that people will want to interact with that product.”

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Let’s Play Ball, Language Lovers!

As all of Canada began cheering, “Go, Jays, Go,” at the start of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2016 Major League Baseball season, my thoughts turned to team names and their intimidation factor.

blue-jay-1238211_640Historically, many team names were chosen to exude a strength that caused their opponents to shudder.The blue jay may not be a muscular, frightening creature like a tiger, but at least, jays strike fear in the hearts of other avian species with their sneaky, destructive ways.

By comparison, pity the poor baseball player who opens the season in the minor leagues. It’s likely that he will be wearing a uniform featuring an oddball creature such as a grasshopper (Greensboro, North Carolina) or a Flying Squirrel (Richmond, Virginia). Great for marketing, but tough on the ego!

Minor League Marketing

Minor league teams are generally farm teams for the major league clubs. Minor league management signs contracts with the big guys to train players on their behalf. The minor league affiliates benefit from a steady supply of potential future stars, but one of the problems they have is that the talented players can be called up at any time to the next level of play. They can’t bank on their stars being around for an entire season, so they look to catchy names, branded gear and clever promotions to fill the ballpark seats.

“The minor leagues are all about cheesiness and entertainment,” wrote Brandon McClintock, a correspondent for Major League Baseball. “One of the wackiest, and greatest, things associated with minor league baseball are the team names.”

Offbeat Monikers

The Blue Jays can relate to this assertion since their Single-A affiliate is named the Lansing Lugnuts. Lansing, Michigan, is part of the massive automotive empire that once fanned out from Detroit, and lugnuts are essential for holding wheels in place. A local association and a lively name: who wouldn’t want to own a Lugnuts T-shirt or pay a visit to the ballpark?

Lugnuts players should rejoice that they don’t play in Montgomery, Alabama. The Tampa Bay Rays AA team in this Southern city is called the Montgomery Biscuits. Sure, I love biscuits and gravy, but wearing one on my uniform? What is the team cheer, I wonder? “C’mon, Buttermilk”?  Or “We rise to the occasion?”

rubber-duck-248093_640Residents of Akron, Ohio, don’t have much better luck. Their AA team, an affiliate of the nearby Cleveland Indians, is called the Akron Rubber Ducks. The name pays homage to the local rubber industry that produces automobile tires, but wasn’t there a more fearsome way to do so? Do the players threaten to drown opponents in the bathtub?

Animation Appreciation

At least, the ballplayers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have a fashionable, funny story to explain their oddball team name, the Albuquerque Isotopes. The Colorado Rockies’ AAA affiliate takes its name from an episode of the popular television series, the Simpsons.

In this animated comedy series, Homer Simpson, the family’s father figure, works at the Springfield, Massachusetts, nuclear plant. The Hungry, Hungry Homer episode homes in on his dismay at the possibility that the town’s baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, will be moving to Albuquerque. When the city of Albuquerque needed a name for its minor league team, the amused owners called it the Isotopes in a case of life imitating art. At least, the players can proudly boast, “We’re da’ bomb!”

Of course, I’m looking at the names from a player’s point of view. The same names that cause grown men to shudder as they sport the team logo on their chests are a marketer’s dream. They’re unique and interesting, and they draw baseball fans from other cities to the ballpark to enjoy their curiosity and buy their merchandise. I’m sure there are few complaints at the cash register.

So, Blue Jays fans, what do you say? Would you rather be cheering a dust devil (Tri Cities, Washington) or a Mudhen (Toledo, Ohio) instead?

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Gender Confusion, Pronoun Style

In today’s gender-sensitive world, I know I am not the only one trying to wrap my head around the new realities of language usage. There are a plethora of words being tossed about as gender-neutral pronouns, but which ones shall I use – if any – in my writing?

The New York Times recently published a story noting that the American Dialect Society, an organization of etymologists, grammarians, lexicographers and linguists, recently named they – in singular pronoun form – as the word of 2015. The society suggests that they is appropriate for situations where someone’s gender is unknown or fluid, as well as for the gender binary individual, a person who doesn’t view gender as only male or female with no gradations (e.g., Mary said that they isn’t ready to take the exam.).

I understand the need for alternatives, but I’m not yet comfortable with the choices available. Using they as a singular pronoun still jangles my ear, although I now see it regularly on Facebook when Suzie or Charlie has updated their profile.

I am also unprepared to commit to other alternatives, such as ze or ey, as suggested by the office of campus life at The American University in Washington, D.C. Staff at AU  have embraced the new reality and taken the step of providing guidance to the university community on pronoun options and usage, but many other institutions lag behind.

Until I see wider uptake and more agreement — Oxford Canadian Dictionary and Canadian Press, I’m talking to you — I’ll undoubtedly follow the existing Canadian Press guidance, which suggests avoiding gender-based pronouns and using the singular they only as a last resort.

The gender revolution is underway. As writer Adrienne LaFrance notes in a recent Atlantic article, … “culture doesn’t just trump language rules, it creates them.” Will your own language usage lead or follow? Do let me know!

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Homonyn Horrors

I’ve talked previously about homonyms – words that sound alike, but have different meanings, such as peer and pier – and the importance of knowing the difference between them. Yet, these errors crop up, time and again, as well-meaning people get confused or don’t realize the limits of their vocabularies.

For a writer/editor, it’s jarring to encounter the misuse of a homonym while reading along in an otherwise well-written story or document. It stops me short and breaks the flow of the narrative; it also frustrates me that someone didn’t catch the mistake before the piece was printed/posted. It shows carelessness or ignorance and reflects poorly on the source.

I come across such words regularly, as much as I wish I didn’t. This week, while MountBakerreading through a brand profile provided by a client, I discovered that James enjoys discovering new flavours that “peak” his taste buds. Oy! Peak is generally used as a noun, not a verb, e.g., climbing to the peak of Mount Baker. The writer actually meant pique, or arouse (curiosity, interest, etc.).

The next day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across an artistically designed, inspirational post from an acquaintance. The sentiment was lovely, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully, because it talked about finding someone to love who “compliments” you. (Hmmm, taken literally, isn’t that a given? Why would you want a lover who insulted you or ignored you?)  Complements, or completes, is the word the author was undoubtedly seeking, and all the work that went into creating the lovely lettering and layout was spoiled by the use of the wrong word.

To what shall I attribute these missteps? A poor educational system? Sloppiness? I know that language is fluid and ever-changing, but mistaken usage isn’t part of that evolution. Let’s get it right!

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Expletive Deleted

Sitting on the subway or walking down the street, I often feel like cringing as I overhear nearby conversations where every other word seems to be “f*#!.”

The tight rein on polite language of decades past has evaporated. Words that once meant a mouth washed out with soap are now part of the everyday vocabulary. I’ve even found myself weakening when I’m upset, but I’m not proud of it. For the New Year, I’m aiming to use more interesting ways of expressing myself.

To find other options, I’ll simply travel back in time to 19th century Britain, where words were colourful without being quite so off colour. The richness of that period’s language never fails to make me smile.

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For instance, while singer Carly Simon wouldn’t have had a hit if her song, You’re So Vain, had been titled, You’re a Coxcomb, she would certainly have sent people scrambling for their dictionaries. Conceited or vain is the definition, although the term once meant fool, because the fools (jesters) in the royal retinue wore caps adorned with bells and topped with a piece of red cloth shaped like a cock’s (rooster’s) comb.

Often, said coxcombs speak nothing but fustian — pretentious, pompous language. We’ve all certainly come across people in positions of power who hold forth as if every word is a pearl of wisdom, when we privately consider their words nothing but faradiddles (lies).

One of my personal favourites from the 1800s is rapscallion, which translates to rascal, scamp or rogue. Let it trip off your tongue and enjoy the sound.

So, time travel it is. The next time I’m in high dudgeon (angry) about something, don’t be surprised if I eschew an expletive in favour of balderdash (nonsense). It has a satisfying ring to it as we ring in the New Year.

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The Name Game, Part 2

“A rose is a rose is a rose,” 20th-century author Gertrude Stein famously said, and on a superficial level, that’s true. However, names are also about identity — how you see yourself and how others see you.

It’s an issue that Anna Maria Tremonti, the CBC journalist, explored this week in a CBC radio panel discussion about how to refer to the group that the U.S. and its allies are fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Prime Minister Trudeau calls the group ISIL, while French Prime Minister Francois Hollande calls it Da’esh and the group itself prefers the term ISIS. Why all the confusion? Does it matter?

Yes, it does matter, because a name is an identity. The group, says The Guardian, refers to itself as  the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a name that it uses to proclaim itself a caliphate, or an Islamic state for all Muslims. (The term al-Sham refers to the western portion of the Middle East).

The term ISIL, used by Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama, is the acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the English term for al-Sham. It’s convenient, but it also confers a legitimacy on the group that many people question.

Many of the group’s opponents believe it’s wrong to call the violent group a state because that term generally implies laws and governance. They gravitate toward the appellation preferred by France, Da’ esh, shorthand for the group’s full Arabic name. It has added appeal because its plural form, daw-aish, translates to “bigots who impose their views on others.”

So, a rose may be a rose, but in the case of ISIS /ISIL/Da’ esh, the name you give it may indicate whether it smells sweet to you or not.

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“Letter” Rip: Sharing Your Thoughts

When was the last time you wrote a letter? If you’re like many of us, it’s so long ago that you don’t remember. Today, we have email, e-cards and texting. Why bother with snail mail when you can get in touch with someone in real time? LetterWriting

Recently, my hometown paper carried a story about a woman who is trying to revive this lost art, maintaining that letters are a way to tell someone else that you want to get to know them. It’s a lovely sentiment and one that rang true for many centuries. How else would we get to know many of the talented leaders and creators from times past if it weren’t for their letters to others?

Priya Parmar, author of Vanessa and Her Sister, a novel about painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, told an interviewer that her understanding of the two women arose, in large part, from their letters. Many biographers turn to extensive correspondence for clues to the subject’s character.

I wonder if in today’s fast-paced world, where we are caught up in so many obligations, whether we have the time or inclination to truly get to know others. Perhaps Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the substitutes – a chance to share some of our thoughts and feelings, hoping to be heard. However, “Likes” don’t necessarily equal understanding and insight and they are no guarantee of real two-way communication.

The winter holidays are a time of year when we think of those we love and those in our larger circle. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to reach out to one or more of them in an unconventional way – the letter – and start a real conversation. All it costs is our time and a stamp.

 

 

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Alphabet Soup and Social Media

Have you ever thought that the world of social media has plunged us deep into a bowl of alphabet soup and left us to climb out as best we can?AlphabetSoup

I’m referring to acronyms, of course – those “words” that are created by taking the first letter of a longer phrase or title and stringing them together. We all use acronyms in our conversations – think NATO, for example (North American Treaty Organization). Sometimes, they are even so well integrated into our language that we forget that the term we’re using is actually an acronym; scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is one that comes to mind.

The advent of social media and cellphone technology, however, has taken acronyms to whole new level. Given the character limits imposed by Twitter and the need for speed when texting — or Keyboard_Twitterthe reluctance to type more characters than is absolutely necessary – an entire new collection of acronyms has come into being. These acronyms are rarely spoken, because they are generally unpronounceable (LMAO, anyone?), and besides, they were designed for an online medium that is read, not verbalized.

If you are new to texting or to Twitter, you are suddenly assaulted by a barrage of terms that seems foreign and incomprehensible. When I first came across LOL (laugh out loud), I was puzzled. Lots of love? How did that relate to the sentence I had just read?

It’s all a matter of exposure, however. Everyone can play the game – they just need a teacher to guide them through kindergarten, as it were. These days, I can decipher online acronyms with the best of them. IMHO? In my humble opinion, of course. ICYMI? In case you missed it.

Today, when I come across an online acronym I can’t identify, I just say WTH* (What the heck – known in other circles as WTF) and google the translation. If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of online acronyms, it’s time to GWTP* (Get with the program) before you drown in your soup.

*My own creation

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