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Invisible Words

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#1 AbleReach


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Posted 24 May 2008 - 12:01 PM

Just now, while reading something from someone I don't know, I came across the word "boost," and thought "this will be spam." It wasn't especially deep and marvelous, but it wasn't spam.

After reading it I could not remember what I had read, what it referred to, where I saw it - my mind was a blank, except for my reaction to that unfortunate word "boost."

I backtracked, found it, and read it again. "Boost" was the first in a string of big-sounding words that had the same invisible-izing effect. When I hit one of those words it was as if the rest of the sentence lost the benefit of the doubt: this was no longer a sentence worth reading.


There's nothing wrong with boosting the popularity of your enterprise with secret tactics integral to success, but if those bouncy words aren't a reflection of an integrity that's already there, they're not going to boost anything, especially if they go on to tell me about certain overused phrases:

anything about hat tactics
almost anything about page rank
signing up for your "unique solution" or "superior program"

This got me to wondering. Are there any bad words? Are some buzzwords so over-used that their presence alone is enough to discredit the message? Or, is it all in the delivery? How important is pre-existing trust?

What buzzwords go flat for you? Why and how?

Edited by AbleReach, 24 May 2008 - 12:02 PM.

#2 Ron Carnell

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 12:25 PM

Dang. I jumped into my word processor to compose an answer, but . . . suddenly I can't remember anything I just read. You really shouldn't have used the word "boost" in your post, Elizabeth. ;)

I'll be back. :)

#3 bwelford


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Posted 24 May 2008 - 12:36 PM

Well, it all depends. :)

I'm always struck in many of these situations by that old 2 X 2 table approach. It's a game of percentages. What do you win versus what you lose.

I occasionally use the words powerful or strong, which probably have the same associated question. How many more eyes do I get by using such a word? Are they favorably impressed and look at the item with a greater interest? That must be set against the proportion of eyes I lose because they glaze over when they see such a word appearing.

#4 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 24 May 2008 - 01:30 PM

I would definitely say that there are certain words which almost instantly devalue text for me; although I find myself thinking that it's probably more an issue with certain combinations of words or contexts.

Certain buzzwords in the context of titles or headings may be more obviously marketing ploys, and therefore tend to turn me off more than they might in the context of expository text.

Your lists definitely get there for me, but I have to say it's very hard for me to come up with many more --- perhaps, because these are the words which cause me not to read further... :)

I don't think it's an absolute though --- you can't readily say that there are "bad" buzzwords; they'll just be appealing to a different audience. The trick may be targeting the right audience with the right vocabulary. Scam artists, for example, pick the vocabulary to appeal to people who are susceptible to their scams --- some of us may view the same article and react very negatively; but that's because we find the idea of scams to be specifically offensive. The choice of language, however, is correct in the context of it's intended purpose.

#5 AbleReach


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Posted 24 May 2008 - 01:55 PM

Maybe, in context, these words are chosen to try to make something or someone look bigger than they are.

Ron's post made me laugh. If I write "boost" on my refrigerator, will I forget that I have the munchies, or will I overindulge myself back into the fat pants?




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Posted 24 May 2008 - 02:29 PM

I think who is talking plays an important role. If I have a secret certain people might listen, but if Hilary or Paris have a secret then more and probably different people will listen.

#7 yannis


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Posted 24 May 2008 - 03:15 PM

this reminds me of Miss South Carlolina's response to the question, "Recent polls have shown that a fifth of Americans can't locate the US on a map. Why do you think this is?"

Her answer:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because uh some uh people out there in our nation don't have maps and uh I believe that our ed- education like such as in South Africa and uh the- the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should uh our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or- or- should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future

What I believe you experienced Elizabeth is a common problem in semantic analysis when you have more than one noun in a sentence and the words can either be nouns or verbs. In the English language is actually hard to find more than three nouns in a row! There is a word for it but without some form of a brain boost I cannot remember it. I am off for a 'powerful' coffee! :)


#8 AbleReach


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Posted 24 May 2008 - 10:06 PM

What I believe you experienced Elizabeth is a common problem in semantic analysis when you have more than one noun in a sentence and the words can either be nouns or verbs.

Now THAT would be a fun writing challenge to play with sometime.

Do you know what the name of this phenomenon?

#9 yannis


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Posted 25 May 2008 - 12:02 AM

They are called Garden Path Sentences, such as:

The old man the boat.

Most people will have trouble understanding this simple sentence at first. If you understood it without back tracing and reading it again you are more than a genius you probably unique! The correct reading naturally is:

The old (man the boat)

This simple sentence illustrates that human beings process language one word at a time (a disappointing reality)! It is also possible to have a grammatically correct but meaningless sentence. Marketing people sometimes turn this into an art, politicians though are the real experts!


Can you have the well read old man the boat people?

#10 Nan


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Posted 25 May 2008 - 08:08 PM

Context - Context - Context..

When I envision the word, "boost," I can't help myself from thinking about the dietary supplement we used to coerce my mom to drink in her later years. :yuk:

IMHO - Our choice of words, fit into context appropriate to our marketing goals, can be either effective or detrimental to site visitors. Written properly, even "boost" can entice a potential customer to continue reading. Every word counts.

She never drank it, btw. :)

#11 StormCat


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Posted 29 May 2008 - 06:02 PM

She never drank it, btw.

heh, I don't blame her, that stuff can be kinda nasty.

#12 root123


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Posted 30 May 2008 - 11:46 PM

For me this word is pretty encouraging. And something that encourage you I think is not bad provided constructively.

Edited by root123, 30 May 2008 - 11:48 PM.

#13 DCrx


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Posted 31 May 2008 - 06:03 AM

My list of invisible words would be different. Mostly they are words which pretend to give meaning, but through over and misuse mean nothing.

Content-Free Buzzword-Compliant Vocabulary List rounds up the usual suspects.

1. Robust

2. Powerful

3. Flexible

4. Integrated

5. Seamless

6. Extensible

7. Scalable

8. Interoperable

9. Easy-to-use

10. Intuitive

11. User-friendly

12. Comprehensive

13. Best-of-breed

14. World-class

I have a similar reaction to reading content-free buzzwords. It's like information junk food, you can't help but think that you've just lost a few seconds reading something, and you have nothing to show for the reading. I call them sweet nothings.

People use sweet nothings to seem to claim something while offering a loophole. Easy-to-use is meaningless ...everybody says what they put out is easy to use. Precious few actually bother to say they did any testing, or what makes their product so easy to use. A claim which actually claims nothing.

Edited by DCrx, 31 May 2008 - 06:04 AM.

#14 AbleReach


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Posted 31 May 2008 - 02:29 PM

15. Great

16. Revolutionary

17. Breakthrough, especially when used as an adjective.

#15 SEOigloo


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Posted 31 May 2008 - 03:08 PM

While we're on the subject, I'd like to officially register a complaint regarding the overuse of the word 'nice'.

I saw television while I was on vacation awhile ago. A woman was being shown a bunch of houses in her quest for a new home. The sum total of her comments about every room, feature, yard, window, door she saw was, "This is nice. That's nice. It's nice. Mmm, nice. Oh, nice."


Once upon a time, nice meant particular, discerning, careful, refined. I think nice is the new uhmmm.

Yannis, is that quote actually real? It gave me quite a laugh!

A word that shuts me off is 'trust' or any form of it. It immediately makes me suspicious. Just the opposite of what it's doubtless supposed to do.

Neat-o conversation, Elizabeth. Or should I say - nice!


Edited by SEOigloo, 31 May 2008 - 03:08 PM.

#16 iamlost


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Posted 31 May 2008 - 03:55 PM

I can honestly say that you can absolutely positively trust the new and improved SuperDuperPooperScooper.

The intuitive easy-to-use articulated seamless robust scooper complete with integrated extensible flexible handle is infinitely scalable, able to accomodate the smallest to largest doggie-do's with ease and without bending.

And this breakthrough hi-tech revolutionary product comes complete with our world-class absolutely guaranteed lifetime warranty. When walking man's best friend in public there is no more peace of mind than knowing one is carrying the latest and greatest SuperDuperPooperScooper.

Ah, nice.

#17 _jc


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Posted 26 July 2008 - 01:34 AM

Read somewhere (somewhere here?) that when people lie they use far more words than when they speak or write truth.

Guess one could re-read Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" every month or so?
And remove all adjectives from their marketing copy?

For me, all those hype marketeze words are like a bad habit. As soon as I get a bit lazy or distracted, they start to infect my ad copy.

I don't doubt that those phrases stop people from their snatches of reading and put them back into scanning mode.

At least Googlebot doesn't mind reading them - or does he? :search:

#18 A.N.Onym


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Posted 26 July 2008 - 07:04 AM

I think it depends on the context.

When you speak of good hosting or distributed software architecture, using the word "scalable" is pretty reasonable.

The context for the word boost is when there's rapid acceleration, such as "the car switched to hard fuel and got an immediate boost in speed". When it's not clear what, how and why it is increased, using "boost" bears no meaning and there's no context.

Edited by A.N.Onym, 26 July 2008 - 07:06 AM.

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