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The Most Dangerous Words in the English Language

By |2018-08-04T18:49:14+00:00July 9th, 2018|Main category|2 Comments

Always. Never. Every. Everyone. Everybody. All. Must. These are some of the most dangerous words in our vocabulary. For writers and speakers, as my nephew in Alabama would say, these words are as about as useful as a steering wheel on mule. That’s because these words are typically perceived to be an exaggeration.

For PR professionals, I would suggest that always and never are two words that you should remove from your PR vocabulary. Don’t use these in any press kit or news release. Avoid having them fall into a quote and definitely don’t let your clients slip them into their biographies.

I can only think of one sentence where it makes sense to use the two words “always” and “never,” and even this was taught to me in a writing class in Grad school a few decades ago. Never use “never” in a sentence and “always” avoid using always.

Guilty as Charged

But we all use them, right? See, I just did. I said all. As in everyone or everybody. Even my headline for this piece infers that these are “the” most dangerous words and the only ones. I don’t claim this in the copy below, but the headline screams exclusivity.

Yet the danger of these words is that they are going to rub people the wrong way. The impact once they are written, or said out loud, is going to be immediate. The reaction is likely to immediately challenge what was just written or said. When this happens, it seriously undermines your credibility as a writer or speaker. The listener or reader starts looking at what you have written with a newly filtered view.

Find and Replace

The best approach is to double check your writing to make sure you haven’t fallen victim to the use of absolutes. Use the power of Word’s Find and Replace feature to fix the problem. Always can become often or sometimes. Never can become seldom or rarely. Every can be most or many, some or several. Everyone and everybody is better replaced with most people or many people or some people or someone or somebody. All sounds a lot better as most or much or many. And the substitute for must can be should, could, better, may or might.

A qualifier really is necessary for what we write about and what our clients say in the PR world because there are exceptions. Even when we don’t think there are any exceptions, you will be surprised how fast when you use an absolute, some will find that singular exception you did not believe existed.

To Err is Human, to Play It Safe is Good PR

Yes, in our world of instant online updates, you can botch a PR communication with an absolute. If someone catches you and calls you out, you can simply apologize and make the fix. But I think a smart PR person recognizes that the silent majority – the folks that don’t call you out but still see the mistake – are far bigger than the few that do. They’re the ones you may never win back, so it’s better to play it safe and avoid making the mistake in the first place.

Just get rid of using absolutes. Always and forever. It’s a must. For everybody and everyone. Because it will make us all look better, including your clients.

2 Comments

  1. Ken Jenny July 11, 2018 at 11:28 am - Reply

    A must read. You always do such a great job Kevin. Getting the word out in this industry is not always easy but it never fails to be worthwhile to everyone who reads and depends upon the news. You’re the best man! 😉

    • Kevin Hawkins July 11, 2018 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Ken. That’s high praise coming from one of the industry’s great masters.

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