Archive for May, 2009

06 Cuss Words: Who Gives a S**T

Posted in Uncategorized on MayThu, 28 May 2009 21:05:59 +01000528pm09 24 PMpThu, 28 May 2009 21:05:59 +010005Thursday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

uk chavsPicture yourself on a train. You’re at Paddington one seat back from a teenage couple straight out of Chav Central Casting. They are a polyester friction hazard, fairground rings, ta’oos galore, feet on seats, two screaming babies already pierced of ear. Reader, I trust I’m not offending any of your direct family.

Enter another couple. They are old, tweedy, gracious and travelling with their grandson to the West Country. Checking their tickets, they are confused to find their reserved seats occupied. When smilingly they inquire, what they get back from Chel and Wayne is: “Wot? You want me to move my fuckin famly? That’s a fuckin disgrace, that is.”

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it?
What made it shocking was that the abuse was cross-generational. Because within generational groups there’s a whole lot of cussing going on. Take your random group of adolescents sitting together on a bus, swearing like wolves going to a spelling bee. Bless! They’re just being naughty with words. And they can’t believe their luck: most swearing helpfully involves either sex or bodily excretions. That’s a youngster’s dream, is that.

And how this relates to business is…?
What’s curiouser is that adults are becoming swearier too. Have you noticed? There’s a strange predilection among professionals these days to punch a point home using top-grade expletives a lot more often than strictly required. As if professional language just got puberty. I hear it in meetings as well as round the water cooler.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Swearing probably saves the NHS millions in psychotherapy bills. And if you can cuss cathartically like Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi’s superbly crazed spin doctor from The Thick of It and In the Loop) then more power to you inventive invective.

What should be condemned is the prissiness of the Daily Maelstrom and other shrieking red-tops in using asterisks to protect their readers from… well, from words. How patronising can you get? Do they think the spinsters of Great Bromley or Bagshot or St Andrews do not instantly recognise the word denoted by s**t when they see it? “Oh Agnes, according to Piers Morgan, turns out Simon Cowell is a pile of silt.” What are the chances?

So what is your advice, on balance?
Thank you for asking. On balance, my advice is probably to swear more. Last week here, I was banging on about the need to rid ourselves of cliché and to reinvigorate our language. Maybe cursing can help: the more you swear, the more the power of swearing diminishes through overuse, requiring us to think afresh and create new vocabularies.

Stupid idea? Well, gadzooks, Sir! Have you not noticed how overuse has moved us on from zounds – which, as a conflation of God’s wounds, was in Shakespeare’s day a vigorousy offensive phrase that drew gasps from even the hard-nosed denizens of Shoreditch?

Just don’t go stopping people in tweed from taking their seats on a train.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember



05 Welcome to Clichéville

Posted in Uncategorized on MayThu, 21 May 2009 10:42:20 +01004221am09 24 AMpThu, 21 May 2009 10:42:20 +010042Thursday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

cardigancrop copy
It is surely a matter of urgency at this point in time that we address the pressing issue of why our speech is riddled with clichés. To be honest, I’ve no clue myself.

How many did you count there? Four? Five? Look, I’m as charitable as the next man. Six. But when our language gets clogged with cliché, isn’t that a searing indictment of how we treat our mother tongue? Seven. Eight.

Obviously some clichés are so self-evidently daft they’re worth preserving. Thinking outside the box, for example, or pushing the envelope are such entertainingly surreal concepts that nobody now would ever dare to be caught thinking inside a box or giving an envelope a good pulling.

Clichés are like items of fashion. On first experience, they’re the must-have phrase we must all use. Blue sky thinking was a real catwalk model in the Spring 1993 Cliché Collection. Now it has all the credibility of a cardigan from C&A.

So why do people use them all the time?
Some linguists suggest that clichés act as a sort of social binding to show we’re all speaking the same language… sorry, singing off the same hymn sheet. Really? Or do we just use clichés out of laziness, because it’s easier to parrot a phrase someone else made up than refresh the way we speak ourselves?

A good example of this is the phrase my pal Wilson invented. Whenever a conversation is veering towards tedium, he says, “Well, you know: flat fish swim in shallow waters.” This means absolutely nothing (as well as being piscatorially untrue), but it’s greeted every time with murmurs of agreement and nodding of heads all round.

And this relates to business how…?
We should all be in the business of debunking loose language. Bullshit Bingo enthusiasts have served the cause well. Check out if you need to leverage some extensible cross-platform linguistic paradigms any time soon.

More seriously, you may wish to examine the language you use in, say, the bid documents you write. I read a wondrous phrase in one I was editing last week. The job involved designing a research laboratory where clinical cleanliness was paramount. The writer explained that “a rigid and fixed fenestration system will be deployed to ensure the absence of problematical external dust transmission.” This, when I enquired, translated as: “The windows don’t open, so no dust gets in.”

Stick your own examples of nonsense below and let others share your breeze. I’d be over the moon if you did. In all fairness.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


04 What’s on the Opium Channel tonight?

Posted in Uncategorized on MayFri, 15 May 2009 12:20:44 +01002015pm09 24 PMpFri, 15 May 2009 12:20:44 +010020Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

04 video-tv copyAs you know, it’s not enough to just watch TV these days. You have to pick up the phone and vote vote vote about it too. Who’s the greatest celebrity eater of jungle grubs? Who’s your Best of British Character from History? Someone, allegedly, wants to know how you feel about these things.

“Call us, text us, tell us what you think!” Makes you feel good to know your view is valued?

Of course, you know your view isn’t valued. It’s simply counted like a bean in a pot. While someone coincidentally creams off the cost of your call. And then you get to hear how many other people are beans just like you.

Some media quack on Radio 4 last week called this the democratisation of communication. No it isn’t. Not unless democracy now means a lardy super-sized tub of vox populi where everyone’s view of nothing important is suddenly vital to the health of nations.

Call me a killjoy. Tell me all this all-voting all-interactive junk TV is the latterday equivalent of gathering round the village pump. Except that people actually talked to each other then, if they weren’t too knackered after the competitive morris dancing. Now we pick up a phone and dial into a computerised black hole for a sense of connection.

Oh come on, what’s wrong with a bit of harmless fun?
Are you saying morris dancing is harmless?

The thing about TV voting.
The thing about TV programmes vigorously soliciting our reactions to trivial subjects (apart from being a scandalous money-spinning scam worthy of any MP) is that it smacks of what Marx said about opium and the masses. Perhaps encouraging the masses to express themselves about trivia is a good way of shutting them up about stuff that actually matters.

And how this relates to business is…?
We’ve all been in the meeting where, to everyone’s dismay, everyone is dutifully asked to ventilate their views on a subject – before the chair imposes their own pre-made decision. There’s no better way of ignoring people than pretending to listen to them. On the other hand, you could be known as someone who listens properly. I’d vote for that!

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


03 White Van Man and His Teachings

Posted in Uncategorized on MayFri, 08 May 2009 01:01:01 +01000108am09 24 AMpFri, 08 May 2009 01:01:01 +010001Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

You don’t normally equate White Van Man with multi-layered sub-textual socio-messaging.

But how about the van belonging to T.W. Fisher, Electricians Ltd, parked in a London street last week? So multi-layered with grime that it sent the subtle message: Too busy working to wash me motor, mate.

Mr Fisher, your commercial nous is noted. But so is your notion of what a business should call itself in public. T.W. Fisher, Electricians Ltd. The name gleams through the grime in a burnished heraldic Olde English font. Curious. Do I want a mediaeval electrician?

And do I need all the initials? What are the odds of confusing T.W. Fisher with that other famous wiring wizard, T.Q. Fisher?

And trumpeting your legal status as a limited company? Am I suddenly supposed to infer that yours is a venerable institution? Meaning I can relax safe in the knowledge that, in my hour of electrical darkness, my wallet will not be stiffed while you and your brother Shane impersonate a pair of sloths on valium?*

* Names have been changed to protect the author’s face from being mashed.

And this relates to business how…?
Does your business present itself more effectively than Mr Fisher’s? Ok, the initials and the historical font stuff is just Mr Fisher grandly planting his identity in the world. And we all need to do that.

But confident businesses don’t bark like alsatians. And they don’t make their branding talk exclusively about themselves. They make their branding talk about the values they and their customers share.

Customers want organisations to present themselves in a way that’s inspiring to engage with. And – consider this – employees want to be proud of their employer’s image.

Strong brand projection secures emotional commitment. So we need smart websites, literature and packaging. Because our customers want those things too. Branding is part of people’s mental arithmetic these days.

For example?
Innocent, the smoothie drinks outfit, have a truly engaging tone of voice and fun marketing tools. Some 130,000 people have signed up for weekly emails and 45,000 go to their Fruitstock pop festival every year. Be inspired at or just read one their cartons. It’s lovely stuff.

Or was until last month when they sold 30% of their company to Coca Cola, ostensibly to benefit from the giant’s distribution network. What do you make of this? Are Innocent guilty of compromising their brand values, the values that 130,000 of their customers thought they shared? You can comment below.

Oh, and just for the avoidance of doubt… Mr Fisher is not a dinwoodie client.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember



02 We have the technology

Posted in Uncategorized on MayFri, 01 May 2009 15:05:52 +01000501pm09 24 PMpFri, 01 May 2009 15:05:52 +010005Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

02-britI’m on a train. But, in a reversal of apparently normal social behaviour, I’m not yelling about it down a mobile phone.

Instead, as we meander through the Suffolk countryside this morning – all verdant meadows and sun-dappled streams – I’m listening to an on-board announcement. 

It is completely unintelligible. Crackle. White noise. Crackle. Perhaps the announcement is intended to enhance our Health and Safety. Perhaps it wishes to advise us of an unexpected stop, alight here for the Fields of Elysium. Perhaps the hot and cold buffet snacks, for this day only, have been bussed in by Gordon Ramsay.

Regardless of the message intended, the fractured intercom expresses pretty well what’s wrong with most of our attempts to communicate meaningfully with other people.

Oh, wait a minute. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it?

You think so? Well, picture the guard (sorry, let me capitalise that) Train Manager tapping the intercom. He knows it’s bust, but he proceeds anyway. Does he care if he’s getting his message across? He has a whole other set of Key Performance Indicators to honour.

And how this relates to business is…?

Well, ask yourself: how often do we assess how well we’re communicating? Take your average meeting. Full of people yammering away, loving the sound of their own voices, others drifting in and out of consciousness. And, like our friend on the train, very few bothering to check if they’re actually making sense to anyone else.

A client asked me the other day for a single sentence on why communication fails. Simple. It fails when you fail to monitor the degree to which your listeners are or aren’t getting what you say.

Or, in this case, when you’re on the 08.00 to Ipswich.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember