Never Use a Word You Can’t Spell

Short words! Short sentences! Short paragraphs!

I’ve finally come up with a title for my new book on writing:

“WRITE IT RIGHT: Let the world’s greatest copywriters show you how to make readers love your emails, letters, memos, blog, ads, white papers, annual reports, PowerPoint, articles, books, website and yes, especially your résumé.”

Here’s a preview—the chapter on Words that follows Outlines, Research, Plagiarism, Getting Started, Headlines, Ledes, Moving the Readers’ Eyes 1 & 2, and lots of other stuff.

I hope you find it useful.

“‘What’s all this business of being a writer? Just putting one word after another.’ My reply was, ‘Pardon me, Mr. [Irving] Thalberg—putting one right word after another.'”
—Lenore Coffee (1896-1984), American screenwriter, playwright, novelist

“Build a big vocabulary, but use it sparingly.”
—Jack Maxson

“[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
—William Faulkner

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”
—Ernest Hemingway (A. E. Hotchner, “Papa Hemingway”

“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”
—Winston Churchill

“Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.”
—Andrew J. Byrne

The 12 Most Evocative Words of the English Language
At a transformative lecture on my first day at Grolier Enterprises in 1966, Lew Smith pulled out a column from the old Saturday Review by radio personality Goodman Ace and writer for The Perry Como Show, who had assembled the 12 most powerful and evocative words in the English Language:

You – Save – Money – Easy – Guarantee – Health
Proven – Safety – Discovery – New – Love – Results
I typed up this list and pasted it at the base of the lamp on every desk I ever had; the logic: If these are the most powerful and evocative words, my copy should be laced with them.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.
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Comments
  • Scott Huch

    Very useful, Mr. Hatch, and well stated. Thank you! The advice from Herschell Gordon Lewis struck a chord with me. Years ago, a mentor in the direct mail business taught me that any sentence starting with "There is" is the mark of a lazy copywriter. And it’s not just that the phrase is neutral. As my mentor used to remind me, "A sentence starting with ‘There is’ is a sentence that doesn’t really have a subject."

  • Tim Orr

    Great article! Not so sure about your title. I count at least half a dozen "Write It Right" titles on Amazon. Maybe you should try "Writing Right" or "Right Writing."

  • Chris Benson

    I highly recommend this short essay by Richard Lederer on The Case for Small Words – he read it out loud in his session at the Mensa Annual Gathering last summer in Reno: http://www.babyboomers-seniors.com/pdfs/jul06/articles/lederer.pdf

  • Marc

    Bravo!
    Where do I send my deposit?

  • Jim C

    Another great piece…Interesting one of the words stumping readers of NYT is one of H G Lewis’ favorites – verisimilitude – I’ve heard him say many times "all great copy has it."

  • Rik

    "Extant?" Huh?

    Why use that when "exists" would be clearer. And simpler.

    And even I can understand that one.

  • Paul Wilbur

    Hi Denny,

    Have you ever read any of Stanley Elkin’s novels? Try one called "The Dick Gibson Show" or my favorite "George Mills".

    I agree wholeheartedly with the rules that you are sharing. But I think there is another problem that people have too: they don’t know how to make things short. Like painters working from a limited palette,. they’ve never explored the possibilities of "short". They don’t know what other word options or sentence structure there might be. They don’t have a map to guide them to where you are saying they should be and they are a little bit scared to explore (what if they end up coming off like that kid! Or worse, confusing a customer.)

    Stanley Elkin wasn’t scared of language. I sometimes think of him as a great laboratory on the different possible ways of using language. He said it a different way – he said it every possible different way. If you haven’t read him, gheck him out.

    Paul

  • David Himes

    I remember when I read, The Art of Readable Writing, and the Art of Plain Talk, 40 years ago. The guidelines for writing so people get what you say have not changed. thanks for the reminders, Denny

  • Jessica S.

    It pains me every time I hear or read the word "utilize." Never use the word utilize when use will do!