Copywriting experts offer an ode to the obscurity of the English language

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Yesterday was Yorkshire Day, a national celebration of the county which, if you come from there, stands head and shoulders above the rest as the closest anyone can get to God’s kingdom. And if you don’t hail from any of the four Ridings it still stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of size- a far bigger expanse than any other in the UK.

Yorkshire is, of course, significant for more than scale alone. There was that big war with Lancashire that both sides still talk about, especially when they meet in the pub and banter ensues. And you also have the not-so-small matter of dialect; although few speak what you could describe as ‘proper Yorkshire’ anymore, but nevertheless it does have a sub-section of English all to itself.

The remnants of this are still evident in how people living on that side of the M62 speak today. Particular words, turns of phrases and expressions that mean nothing to those who grew up elsewhere in the country remain prominent in Yorkshire. And it’s not the only place in the nation that can claim such individuality when it comes to comms.

Here in Manchester, for example, there are subtle differences between the accent and words you’ll hear from a born and bred Mancunian compared with someone raised in Salford, despite the two being next-door neighbours. This is even more pronounced when you consider those brought up in the Cheshire plains, or Lancashire hills. Then you have Liverpudlian tongues, which are a world away from those in our home city. And this is just the immediate north around Smoking Gun’s HQ. You could also talk about South and North London, Newcastle, Essex, Herefordshire, and pretty much every corner of the UK- not least Glasgow and Edinburgh, with are less than one hour apart and yet sound completely different.

So what has all this got to do with writing?

Two weeks ago we wrote a blog post on the importance of marketers understanding, and learning how to exploit, Britain’s proud regionality. For this we focussed on advertising targeting specific demographics by their locality, but the same can be said when it comes to copywriting- both in terms of blogs, and standard sales copy.

Any copywriting experts will tell you that good copywriting, as with good copy of any kind (for example, editorial), is all about engaging readers from the off. In order to do this, you need to understand what it is that will engage them. Let’s look at it like this; you’re not going to write in the same style for a music website as you would a local news site- the latter would be much more formal, the former would need to be penned in a way that reflects the tone and language used by the target readership- a form of colloquialism, only centred on interest and non-localised culture, rather than location.

 

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‘Eee by gum’, we’d rather not

In many ways, attempting to do this within more general copy is much more difficult. So, whereas words aimed at young people have some obvious touchstones that can be used to make the writing appear as though it was created by someone of that age group and subculture, very few people want to read a localised website that’s full of cliched turns of phrase. To reference Yorkshire, again, it would be a little silly to produce articles that begin with ‘Ey up’, or something similar.

This means the real skill is in gauging where the line between genuinely well-written and ridiculous is. Fail to do this and chances are people will not only move on to something else for their reading time, but they will likely harbour a negative view of where they read that ridiculous ‘Ey up’. It sounds like it could almost be condescending, or sarcastic, which is rarely good form.

Ultimately, though, we are blessed with a language that does have a huge amount of scope. The BBC recently ran this piece on Britain’s weirdest weather words, which gives plenty of examples whereby our dictionary- both official and slang- has numerous ways of usage that can mean different things, even with the same words involved. Herein lies the most important aspect of targeting copy correctly- using words in a way that means something unique to the people you are most keen to have read those words, without blatantly separating them from the overall population.