Sharp Nails in our Memories

The words you choose make a difference, so pick them wisely to connect, convince and compel your audience.Words matter, and well-chosen words are remembered.

Or, as French philosopher Denis Diderot put it, "Pithy sentences are like sharp nails that force truth upon our memories."

Despite irrefutable evidence that chiseled phrases stick in people's brains, many communicators are casual or careless with the words they choose. They write as if the words on their pages will have little effect, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Word selection demands attention to detail. Here are some of the details that require your attention:

Drifting Across the Pond Exactly How a Bowling Ball Wouldn't

(The following is part of a random series of rants about writing.)

“Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.”

The above statement is more than an amusing, contemporary example demonstrating abuse of the English language; it’s a great example of a mixed, or mangled, metaphor.

Professional communicators often mix their imagery, accidentally creating mixed metaphors. The rule on mixing metaphors is simple. Don’t do it, unless it’s intentional.

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to paint one concept with the attributes normally associated with another,” says the Museum of Mangled Metaphors on its website.

It offers an example: "He has the wild stag's foot." This phrase suggests grace and speed as well as daring.

A mixed metaphor, The Museum says, is one that leaps to a second identification inconsistent with the first one. Example: "Now we can just kiss that program right down the drain."

The Museum offers a few more examples: