What a 31-point Scrabble word can teach you about copy editing

Chief Creative Officer

I wouldn’t exactly call it a dare, but I was recently encouraged to post something on the socials that I wouldn’t normally write …

My origin story.

The exact moment I thought pushing words around the page might be an amusing way to spend the next several decades.

It was 2004. I wasn’t a proper copywriter yet, but that’s kinda the backdrop for an origin story, right?

My boss asked me to come up with the front of a postcard. Image and copy. The objective was to tell prospects that our product would give them a competitive edge. 

An invitation to get in the ring, I thought.

The image I chose was a boxer absorbing a punch to the face. You’ve probably seen something similar. It’s one of those close-ups where the guy’s whole melon is frozen in a sort of warped and wind-tunneled way as his mouthguard goes sailing into the fifth row.

The headline … “Beat your competition senseless.”

My boss, a real board-up-the-backside type, killed it. Said it was “too pugilistic.”

At first, I wondered what dogs had to do with it. My second thought was how even this amateur attempt at direct marketing was able to stir someone’s emotions. So what if it wasn’t in my favor.

And that was that.

His response told me I should keep writing. And that it’s often better to choose a shorter word when given the option.

* * *

That memory recently came in handy when a client called me asking for an alternative to the word “contextualizes.” 

Few things jazz me more than scrubbing in for some light copy surgery. But this wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. And after 5 p.m. on a Friday, not the faint of liver either.

My opponent was the kind of word that just sits there laughing at you. She’s got every vowel on the payroll while shamelessly flaunting an X and a Z right in your children’s innocent faces. Even if she spotted you 30 points in Scrabble, she’d still have you by one. And she knows it. 

A real Bad Mama Jama.

So, how do you kill a snake? You cut off its head. Or in this case, I dealt the fatal blow between the second and third syllables. Then, I used “context” on its own within a sentence you didn’t have to burn calories to read.

This pleased my client. So much so that she sent me a thank you along with a meme of Tina Turner telling me I was “simply the best” several times in a row. 

* * *

Your takeaway isn’t just about the practice of using shorter words. Sometimes, a well-chosen big boy can add personality to your copy. 

It’s more important to make sure every word earns its place on the page. Reading your copy aloud can help you listen for any interlopers lurking within your prose—words that disrupt the fluency of your work.

My client did this, which is why she knew to adjust something that sounded off.

Does that mean you should call me every time you stub your tongue on the rough edge of a word that doesn’t belong? Sadly, no.

But if it brings us one step closer to a world without the word “synergistic,” happy hour can wait.

Here’s a song to play you out >>> 

See you next time. — Matt

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Chief Creative Officer
Matt is a professional storyteller. That used to be a thinly veiled way to say you still lived with your parents. But the truth is stories have existed since the dawn of humanity and they still have the power to move people, even if it’s no longer from the path of a charging mammoth. Throughout his career on both the agency and client sides, Matt’s work has been known to compel audiences to indulge in higher thread counts, abandon Lenten sacrifice, or move to the suburbs. He’ll even conjugate a noun if he has to. The bottom line: Matt is our agency twofer. Strategy and Creative. The Big Idea and Stealth Deployment. He’s a single expense yielding a dual return. And who doesn’t love a bargain?

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