Marketing Strategy

Give Your Marketing Message a Je Ne Sais Quoi

written by Steve Lange

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English has a certain something, a   je ne sais quoi, which makes it such a creative language for presenting your marketing message. It has a sponge-like ability to absorb and use words and phrases from other languages. And we quickly adopt these loan words into our daily usage, and adapt them to our advertising.

We regularly use nouns from other languages to improve the image of the same items in our product or services offerings. Pomme de terre frites, (or simply pomme frites) appears on fancy menus instead of French fries. Grande and Vente make our cappuccinos and caffè Americanos taste far better (and cost more) than simple big cups of coffee.

Atelier (a workshop or studio) is a popular addition to the store names of artists, or specialty shops or boutiques (to use one French word to describe another French word [wink]).

We use abbreviations such as R.S.V.P. instead of spelling out répondez s’il vous plaît, when please respond is just as succinct and stalwart.

When applying for a job we’ll prepare a summary of our accomplishments and call it a résumé, unless it is a job in academia, in which case that summary might be called curriculum vitae.

Our business plan financials are often labeled pro forma (in advance, or as a matter of form).

Your physician’s protégé may give you a pro bono prognosis and prescribe a placebo and wish you prosit. Geshundheit!

Can you tell the difference between ad lib., au-h2o, ca., circ., ebit, e.g., et al., etc., i.e., ibid., lsmft, v., vs., viz, v.s. or v.v.? Can you spell out all these abbreviations?

It is so easy for us to read over, past or through these foreign words that are emigrating into English. Many times we simply make a guess on the meaning, based on the context of the sentence, because we are too busy, or too lazy, to look them up. But then many of us compound the error. We incorporate them into our own marketing writing, advertising, and branding efforts, still without knowing what we are actually saying.

So, what can you do? Obviously the first thing to do is use your dictionary. There is the old standby, the printed book (our Documentation team has six different editions from different publishers). There are plenty of online dictionaries as well. Google or Yahoo! search and you get a plethora of links. Bookmark your favorites and return to them often.

There are a couple free translators on the Internet as well, such as SDL Free and Babel Fish, though they don’t translate Latin.

And, here are two good reference books I’ll recommend to you.

Latin for the Illiterati: Exorcizing the Ghosts of a Dead Language by Jon R Stone. Over 5,000 entries of Latin words and phrases that turn up regularly in modern English.

Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases edited by Jennifer Speake. Covers 8,000 words and phrases from over 40 languages.

Give your marketing message that certain indefinable quality (je ne sais quoi ;-)) of worldliness when you drop in phrases from other languages. No faux pas.

Steve Lange

about the author

Steve Lange

Steve Lange is Senior Editor at Palo Alto Software. He recently received the Entomologist EXCELlante award in recognition of searches for bugs in product tables and features. Outside of work, he is a polymath and information generalist who enjoys seeking and finding intuitive correlations in information between different fields of study. A voracious reader, he has been known to scrawl edits in the archaeology, history and aviation books he reads for personal pleasure. Naturally, Steve is an inveterate player with words, having a Pollyanna-ish preference for polysemous polysyllabic polyphonic vocabulary and regularly puts the "p u" back into pun.


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