01 May

Words I feel sorry for

I’ve always been aware of them, in the background, but in recent days I’ve become acutely aware of particular words that have a terrible rep. In fact, they’re so tarnished, I can’t think of a context in which they can be used any more.
In a way, I feel sorry for these words. They’ve done nothing wrong. They’ve just sat around waiting to be spoken or written… but they’ve been spoken and written so much, and so often within the same settings, that they’ve become social pariahs in the lexical armoury of copywriters or anyone else, to be frank.

So, first up –

Cheap – It doesn’t matter if you want this word to mean ‘at a very good price’, it will always come with the attached afterthought(s) ‘Nasty product, hastily made, poor quality, will fall apart within minutes/taste like cr*p’
Think about the term ‘a cheap suit’. You don’t think ‘ooh, I bet that’s reasonably priced’. Instead, you think ‘I bet that’s made out of rubbish material, will be itchy, and the stitching will come apart after one wear’.
There’s nothing that can be done about this, but there are other ways of saying ‘cheap’ without using that word;
‘Reasonably priced’
‘Affordable’ (although it’s rather subjective)
‘Competitive rates’
‘A fair price’

In reality, all of these terms have become a bit tired and cliche themselves, but they’re infinitely more acceptable than ‘cheap’.


Free – It’s very simple: in today’s commercially-driven, money-oriented, profit-making world, we (as consumers) just do not believe that something is ‘free’. Think about it – even air isn’t free: 50p to fill my car tyres yesterday.
When you hear the word ‘free’, there has to be a catch somewhere. There has to be a point, somewhere down the line, where ‘free’ means ‘ah, but only if you pay for this, this, and this’.
With staff wages to pay, shareholders to satisfy, deadlines to meet etc. companies just do not have the time or money to make (or buy in) stuff and give it away for nothing.

My mobile network provider called me, a couple of weeks ago, asking if I wanted a free i-pad (as they’ve generally been quite good to me, I let the conversation continue for a bit). Of course I want a free i-pad: who wouldn’t?
However, you and I both know that no company – no matter their size – can buy in thousands of i-pads (even on ‘mates rates’, from Apple) and just dole them out, gratis. I did ask, a couple of times, ‘what’s the catch?’, and was told ‘no catch’…. and then, eventually, ‘all you have to do is switch your broadband to us’….. ah, there it is: no such thing as ‘free’.

If you have an offering, as a company, you could use:
‘no obligation’
‘added value’
‘initial consultation’
‘minimal risk’

Again, these aren’t ideal, but customer/clients aren’t morons (well, most of them aren’t) and the word ‘free’ usually raises concerns immediately.



Quality – Not even ‘good quality’, just ‘quality’, as in; ‘quality meat’ or ‘quality tailoring’ or ‘quality service’.
The quality of something is comparative, so to simply call something ‘quality’ doesn’t actually mean anything. However, let’s assume that it’s shorthand for ‘good quality’: do you trust a company that has to point out to you that its offering is of ‘good quality’ before you’ve even tried its goods/services for yourself?
Long and short: the word ‘quality’ becomes invisible when companies use it in reference to themselves. Better to just leave it out altogether and let customers/clients decide on the quality of your company.


Although not quite on the list above, honourable mentions will have to go to the following words;

Innovative – much like the word ‘quality’, the use of the word ‘innovative’, by companies describing themselves, has become something of an epidemic (if not a pandemic). Simply calling yourself innovative does not suddenly make you so. What is it about your company that proves you’re innovative? What service or product do you offer that’s different (in a positive way) to that offered by any of your competitors? What new products or services are you bringing out, that haven’t been seen before? Do your staff treat customers/clients in a way that’s different to the industry standard?
If the answer to all of the above questions is ‘no/none’, then you’re probably not that innovative, so don’t just say you are – people will see through it.

Bespoke – A real shame to mention this word, as I kinda have a soft spot for it. I’ve also used it in two briefs recently. The problem is that, suddenly, every company wants to be seen as ‘bespoke’ in their offering. Every company wants to come across as really caring about each, individual client/customer, and not giving the impression of a one-size-fits-all service. Unfortunately, if every company starts describing their service as bespoke, then bespoke will become generic …. which is what was being avoided in the first place.
Oh dear.

Any other words I’ve missed off? Any other sinners? Do let me know.

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