Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear
Author: Frank Luntz
Size: 178.29 MB
This book is masterful in its exploration of the use of language in American life, especially in business and politics. It was written by Dr. Frank Luntz, who calls himself a “linguistic geek.” It’s ideal for anyone, like me, who loves words and reading.
The subhead to the book is “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”The trick is to speak in a way to make people hear what you want them to hear. To be persuasive. As Luntz writes, “It’s not enough to be correct or reasonable or even brilliant.” People must first listen, and then understand.
This book gives many comparisons of word choices, and explains why one choice is the most effective. For example, instead of saying “comprehensive,” say “easy to understand.” “Pre-owned vehicle” sounds much better than “used car.” “Housewives” have turned into “stay-at-home moms.”
Luntz gives a list of ten rules of successful communication that anyone can use:
1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
3. Credibility is As Important As Philosophy
4. Consistency Matters
5. Novelty: Offer Something New
6. Sound and Texture Matter
7. Speak Aspirationally
9. Ask a Question
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance
Words have such power. They force you to organize your thoughts if you want to connect with other people. When my daughter was in preschool, she was told to “use your words” when she and another child had an angry, emotional disagreement. This strategy worked. It works for grownups, too.
Fortunately, you don’t have to share Luntz’s politics to benefit from his book. I had to overlook his glee when describing the successful Contract with America in 1994, or how changing “drilling for oil” to the gentler phrase “energy exploration” frustrated “the entire environmental community.” He describes Barack Obama’s speeches as looking like they were “designed by Benetton.” Learning how a wordsmith like Luntz helped usher in policies I disagree with is instructive and valuable.
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