Words should be a delightful treat in small business marketing

Ann Landers had great advice for small business marketing http://NanetteLevin.com

Words are wonderful. They can make bland topics delicious and bitter news palatable. We’ve all heard a picture is worth a thousand words. Consider, though, how you could paint pictures with your prose to spur peoples’ imaginations for visions far grander than what the eye can see that set you apart from all other with your small business marketing.

Story telling is the rage these days. Curiously, word choice – or understanding – isn’t spotlighted.

This is sad. Words can be more powerful – both in how they excite and how they hurt – than most other celebrated techniques. Of course, people have to hear your words (or read them), which is where style is important, but without the right words, the most flamboyant presenter can still fall flat.

Surprisingly, people often don’t know what they’re saying – or at least how it may or may not be understood by others.

I’m no grammar natzi and certainly have a lot to learn on the vocabulary front, but there are some terms I see commonly misunderstood – or not recognized at all – that can help you be a much better communicator if you’re aware.


We’re famous for using these in the United States and equally guilty of failing to recognize how confusing they are to readers (or listeners) in other countries. Basically, this is group of words, like “bought the farm” or “dead wood” or “barking up the wrong tree” that mean nothing to an international audience. Sometimes locals don’t get it either. Since I moved to the “south” (ish), I’m beginning to learn a whole new vernacular. “Drinking my own Kool-Aid” was new one for me – I had to ask the gal who kept using it what she meant.

In case you’re not idiom enlightened, the definitions respectively are dead, not useful any more, believing the wrong explanation for something and the Kool-Aid thing is related to the Jim Jones’ cult mass suicide and has morphed to mean listening to maladjusted mind demons. None have anything to do with farming, timber or beverages, so it’s easy to see how such phrases would boggle the mind of an ESL individual (that’s English as a Second Language – acronyms are a topic for another day).

Double entendres

These are powerful in marketing copy or for affect (or effect) elsewhere. Triple entendres can be even more fun. With a thinking audience, you can say so much more with a single word. This device shows how many different meanings life can have, depending on your interpretation.

Double entendres are a word or phrase that has two interpretations. Recently I discovered a new term and tool – contranyms – two opposite meanings with the same word. How cool is that for thought provoking commentary? Think sanction – this means both a penalty for disobeying the law and official permission or approval for an action. Another is dabster – both an expert and a bungler. Ann Landers had great advice for small business marketing http://NanetteLevin.com


Irony is a word that’s been misused for so many years, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a new dictionary definition. For now, though, irony is not coincidence, minor deviations from expected outcomes or necessarily sarcastic.

Verbal irony is saying the opposite of what is meant. Think satire or paradox.

Situational irony requires a huge divergence from expectations or perceptions. The Oedipus prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother come true is a classic example of this.

Cosmic irony, historical irony and Socratic irony don’t often apply to most of typical written or spoken discourse, and probably account for the majority of confused usage of the word.

Get excited for a small business marketing challenge

Are you ready to recognize idioms in your speech and strive to use them more purposefully for an audience who understands or eliminate them from material where your spectators may not? Do you want to take on the challenge of discovering perfect double entendres to add a clever touch to what you present that may miss some but grab others toward excited engagement? Do you think you can tackle irony in a speech for effect or strive to use the term appropriately in the future?

Pick one. It’s easy to focus on a single device that will improve how you express yourself. You’ll be amazed at how quickly recognizing how to use these devices and terms properly will excite and impress your audience.

Words are wonderful. Using the right ones, at the right time, in the right place can compel an audience to respond in ways you didn’t imagine – until you think about what you wanted first and found the right words to make it happen. Isn’t that fun?

Need help making words work better for your small business marketing or other aims? Give me a call at (585) 554-4612 or e-mail NLevin@FulcrumNY.com to see if we can discover, together, a better word choice approach to help you reach your goals.

By Nanette Levin

Writer, author, marketer, public speaker and small business advocate with more than 25 years of experience. Check out some of our affordable introductory deals designed to make it fun and easy for new clients to test results with small projects.


  1. Thanks for shining a light on possible marketing snafus. This post was a great reminder to choose words carefully – not only when marketing, but anytime we express ourselves. 🙂

  2. How on earth did I miss this post? It’s so helpful, Nanette. And the timing is rather spooky. I was walking with my daughter and our dog this afternoon and after several people commented on how pretty or cute our pup was, I said “Hope she doesn’t get a swollen head.” My daughter looked most confused and asked me to repeat myself. Once I did, she replied “That’s one idiom I’ve never heard of before.”
    Off to share your post. I suspect it’ll help many.

    1. Great to hear you found it helpful, Kelly. Yes, spooky on the timing. Wise daughter you have there. I’m finding few recognize an idiom when they hear (or say) one.

  3. It IS amazing how when we come from our own point of view, we can fail to recognize that it doesn’t speak to others. Cultural differences should always be top of mind!

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Carol. Great point! I think it can be hard for many to recognize cultural differences, so it takes thought to realize what we think we’re saying may not be what people hear.

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