One of my favorite company names is General Atomics. They work in nuclear energy and defense, so ick all around.
Another favorite is General Dynamics. Also icky, unfortunately.
My third favorite is Applied Materials. Semi-conductors. Ho-hum.
You can see where this is going, so let’s get started.
- Atomic Dynamics
- Dynamic Atomics
- Atomic Materials
- Applied Dynamics
- Material Atomics
- Dynamic Materials
- Dynamic Applied Atomics
- Atomic Applied Dynamics
None of that has anything to do with what I do. Or does it?
Atom: “ The irreducible, indestructible material unit postulated by ancient atomism.” Or, in other words, “uncuttable.” Whether I’ve written it or edited it, that’s true for everything I produce (or ought to be): clear, concise, irreducible.
Dynamic: “Characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress…” Any firm that flirts with changing its name from “Lars Peterson Editorial Services” to “Material Dynamics”, is materially dynamic.
Applied: “Put into practice or a particular use…” Such as this exercise in business naming.
Applied Dynamic Atomics: Reality Transcription Services
The old tagline — “What can I write for you?” — is getting stale.
Let’s cook up some new ones. Let’s stay focused on what I do: write and edit. Anything, really.
- Words wr
- Words. Raw and cooked.
- Words. Rough and polished.
- Words. Fresh and easy.
Oops. That last belongs to a grocery chain.
Sticking with what I do.
- Copywritten and edited.
- Copywreditor for rent.
- Copy written, copy edited.
A grab bag. Hey!
- Grab bag, talk job, write draft, cut copy, please client.
- Copy so clean you forget it’s there.
- Words we won’t forget.
- Words I won’t forget to proofread.
- Words that lose themselves in you(r business, product, or service).
- Where the serial comma is always welcome.
- Words first and last.
This came up in a text I was editing for AMEX OPENForum. The copy read “reign”, but the writer meant “rein” and it got me to thinking. How many other words can be made into their antonyms — or nearly so — with the addition of a single letter?
Prefixes and suffixes don’t count.
My explanation of Southern California’s June Gloom didn’t shed much sunlight on why it has become the June-July-August Gloom. Last week the National Weather Service released a brief statement explaining why: cooler than usual waters in the Pacific Ocean and a persistent “upper level trough” in the atmosphere above the coastline. That upper level trough — or low pressure system — has helped keep the air cool. Together, our cooler water and cooler air have prompted the formation of the clouds and fog that creep inland overnight. This combo has also kept monsoonal moisture at bay. So while the American Southwest is enjoying afternoon thunderstorms, Southern California’s mountains and deserts have not.
All that was supposed to have changed this weekend. Temps were up inland and slightly higher here at the beach. And this morning’s bright sunrise, among a handful of fogless dawns this summer, promised a scorcher. But by noon today dense fog had tumbled in from the harbor. If you listen, you can hear the ships’ fog horns booming in the distance, heralding the end of the heatwave that wasn’t.
Last time we looked at the figure of speech chiasmus and how it might be used as a tool for generating memorable or effective copy. Here’s the short version: Chiasmus is the reversal of words in successive, balanced clauses or phrases. We came up with a keeper out of that exercise (“Finding perfect words and perfecting words found”).
Today we look at another figure of speech — antithesis, which is the juxtaposition of opposite concepts in successive, balanced clauses or phrases. As with chiasmus, clauses and phrases are generally parallel, but not always.
It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues. — Abraham Lincoln
The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason. — TS Eliot
It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. — Frank Perdue.
Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven. — Pillsbury Doughboy
What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public. — Vilhjalmur Stefansson
In the spirit of that last example comes my first:
A Poet thrills the Soul, but a Copywriter sells one.
Maybe the simplest way to use this figure is to begin with a statement, then turn it on its head:
You can pay more for copywriting, but you won’t get more.
Continuing the value pitch:
First class copywriting on an economy ticket.
You could use that one over and over. Just swap out the industry.
Top shelf copywriting for the price of well.
Ferrari copywriting that won’t cost you a Corolla.
But maybe I don’t want to compete on price. Maybe I want to compete on erudition.
Erudite copy by a writer who knows what’s wrong with this pitch. Instinctively.
I’m not sure what erudition* is, either, but it sounds good.
*Looked it up. My instinct was right!
Copywriters have been using figures of speech in their work forever. And by figures of speech, I don’t mean idioms or euphemisms, I mean figures from classical rhetoric. These are well-defined shapes and patterns in language. For classical rhetoricians, such patterns start at the highest level of organization and reach all the way down to sentences, clauses, phrases and words.
Let’s look at one.
Parallelism is the repetition of patterns of words, phrases and clauses. It adds rhythm, clarity and coherence. Chiasmus is the anti-parallelism. It reverses the order of words and phrases. Rhythm is preserved, but intriguing new meanings and connotations erupt. This discussion by the guy who wrote the book on it is tops.
The classic example of chiasmus comes from Mae West:
It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life of your men.
There are others you may recognize:
Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
I am stuck on Band-Aid, and Band-Aid’s stuck on me.
Sorry, Charlie. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste.
How about a couple for Lars Peterson Editorial Services?
Dr. Mardy Grothe, linked above, used this line from the Bible, “Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed,” as an example of chiasmus that reverses more than one or two terms (there’s no limit, by the way). Let’s use it as a model.
A Copywriter who pens words that sell must first sell himself with words he pens.
That sounds heavy and old timey. And the rhythm is not quite right in the second clause (“himself” messes it up). Worse, it’s not specific to me.
Let’s start with another truism, in tighter, brighter language, and reverse it somehow in the second clause.
All copywriters think they write like Hemingway. He wouldn’t have thought to write like me.
Better! Self-deprecating humor can work (“With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.”), but I don’t want to give clients an easy way to pass on me. And it’s not tight and bright enough.
Let’s keep it under ten words, for both clauses or phrases, and make it specific to what I do (writing and editing).
Finding perfect words and perfecting words found.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Still a little stuffy, and not easy to say aloud, but definitely one for the keeper file.
What’s an Ecoregion?
The WWF, which takes the lead in categorizing and describing such things, tells us that an ecoregion is:
a large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that
- share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
- share similar environmental conditions, and;
- interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.
The WWF recognizes 825 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 200 marine ecoregions. From these, the WWF has identified 200 priority ecoregions. The Global 200 are the planet’s most biologically distinct regions; conserving these would preserve the broadest possible diversity of plants and animals. The California coastal sage and chapparal ecoregion is one such ecoregion.
The ecoregion encompasses 14,000 square miles of Southern California and Northern Mexico coastline, as well as the nearby Channel Islands. The Santa Rosa Mountains, northeast of San Diego are included, but the San Jacinto Mountains a bit further north and east are not (they’re part of the California montane chaparral and woodlands, instead). The climate is Mediterranean, which means cool wet winters and hot dry summers. Rainfall ranges between 6 and 20 inches a year.
So. What’s here?
If we weren’t here there’d be lots of coastal and valley oaks, groves of California walnut, lots more sage, of several varieties, coastal grasslands and vernal pools, salt marshes along the coasts and manzanita and toyon up in the foothills. There’d be a lot more California gnatcatchers. There’d be plenty of kangaroo rats, legless lizards and rosy boas. There’d be more butterflies (150-200 different species) and there’d be a bunch more spiders.
We still have all those things — and more, including plenty of endemics* like some of the aforementioned and the horned lizard and the Cactus wren. Out on the islands we have some relicts, too, which are species that are holdovers from long ago. Locoweeds, buckwheats and oaks are relicts out there. The Catalina ironwood used to be everywhere around here, but now it’s only found on Catalina Island. Of course, we’ve tilled under and paved over most of the places those things lived. Just 15% of the ecoregion is intact. The whole ecoregion is practically a relict.
Large swathes of the original habitat are protected within the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego. The Torrey Pine State Reserve protects one of just two stands of that tree. Other bits of the habitat are intact here and there at parks and reserves in the Santa Monica Mountains and in Riverside County and in stretches of still undeveloped Irvine Company inventory in Orange County. A little bit more has been set aside recently in Crystal Cove State Park, with hiking trails that used to be roads and holiday beach house rentals that used to be homes, more relicts from another time.
*An endemic species is one that is only found in a particular place and habitat and no place else.
June Gloom is the phrase many Southern Californians use to describe the generally overcast skies that hang over the region in late spring and early summer. The gloom is deepest just after dawn and heaviest near the beaches. But by midday — earlier over points inland — the clouds burn off and the basin’s familiar over-saturated sunlight washes over all. Well, the sunlight washes over all except those of us who live within a mile of the shoreline, where the overcast may linger deep into the afternoon.
The gloom and overcast are a result of the marine layer, which is a kind of temperature inversion layer. Normally, higher air temperatures are found near the ground and cooler temperatures are found aloft. An inversion layer sees this relationship turned upside down: cooler temperatures are found near the surface and warmer temperatures lie above. One effect of an inversion layer is a “capping” of normal convection currents — the rising and falling of air due to thermals — which traps dust and other particles under the inversion layer. LA’s famously bad air quality is partly a result of this meteorological quirk.
Our local inversion layer is generated by the especially chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. The California Current carries frigid sea water south from the Gulf of Alaska to the tip of Baja. The sea water cools the air above, creating a temperature inversion. If there is enough moisture in the air, and the cooling effect is strong enough, then clouds and fog are generated within the marine layer. Depth of the marine layer is affected by the movement of much larger weather systems in the atmosphere above. High pressure systems squish the marine layer so that only coastal areas lie under the gloom. Low pressure systems allow the marine layer to expand upward and outward; fog along the shore rises and pushes inland.
It’s just after 2:00 pm PDT here in Long Beach, CA, and the sun is just beginning to burn through the clouds above. June Gloom has stretched all the way through July. But when the alternative is thunderstorms and sweltering heat, I don’t think many of the locals mind.
Breakfast most days is half-a-cup of nonfat plain yogurt mixed with a quarter-cup of granola chased with half-a-pot of coffee.
I buy Trader Joe’s French Village Nonfat Yogurt in the 32 ounce tub* (good enough for fourth place!). About a day after opening a fresh tub, a thin milky liquid rises to the top. It’s yellowish and unappetizing. Every morning I pour it down the drain before scooping out breakfast.
Not anymore. That stuff is whey.
Whey is a dairy byproduct usually associated with the making of cheese or butter. Old time cheese makers added rennet, a soup of enzymes found in mammalian stomachs that aids in milk digestion, or an edible acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to milk to begin the process. The additives cause the milk to curdle, or separate into solids (“curds”) and liquid (“whey”). Today cheese makers use a genetically engineered rennet substitute to induce curdling.
Whey is filled with protein and amino acids. It is used to fortify all sorts of food products, from Oreo Cookies to KFC’s coleslaw. It is fed to farm animals. It is powdered and poured into bulging plastic bottles with label designs that promise potency, power and vitality. Whey protein is popular with bodybuilders.
Yogurt is produced by introducing bacteria to heated milk. As the bacteria consume sugar (lactose), they release lactic acid, which causes the curds and whey to separate. When the right pH level and consistency are reached, the product is cooled quickly to stop fermentation. The whey is “immobilized” within the curd globules before it has a chance to get away. These globules of curd are not robust. Temperature changes weaken the bonds and allow trapped whey to escape curd’s milky grasp. Gravity, too, can overwhelm the curds’ ability to hang onto the whey. Such mechanical curdling is called syneresis.
Because most consumers don’t like the appearance of whey in their yogurt, producers add a variety of thickening agents — fruit pectin, various starches — to toughen up the curd. But now that I know whey is okay, I don’t think I mind.
*The tubs, after a turn through the dishwasher, make great paint or varnish pans. Or you can use them in the pantry to store granola.
He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about it, and so copywriting may become a rich source of Now I Know mini-essays. I do know a few things about writing, in general. Here are some of the pearls I frequently share with my writing students, in no particular order.
- Show don’t tell;
- Be clear and concise;
- Choose the right word;
- Write active sentences;
- Understand parallelism;
- The most important part of the introduction is the hook;
- OK, I lied: the hook is the most important part of the introduction that comes before the thesis, which is the most important part of the entire thing;
- (Still, come up with a good hook, otherwise nobody will read your thesis);
- Think about your audience, but don’t pander to them;
- If you imagine that your audience is *this much* dumber than you are, you will write with more clarity and coherence. This is not pandering;
- Don’t use “you”*;
- You can begin a sentence with “Because”*, but only when “Because” is used in the sense of “Since”;
- When in doubt, describe;
- Revise as many times as time allows;
- Proofread at least once more than you think you need to.
A copywriter who added some tricks from Classical Rhetoric to that list could do pretty well. But that’s a topic for another day.
*Here my experience as a writing teacher bumps up against my experience as a demographic target and a copywriter. One would be hard pressed to find ad copy that does not rely heavily on both “you” and “because” (and not in the sense of “since”).