Getting Your Rhetoric Right: A Response to Seth Godin

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

We’re gratified to read marketing guru Seth Godin’s blog post, “Words are hooks, words are levers.” Seth lays bare the tried and true (and clichéd) phrase, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it,” giving it fresh relevance with a local debate over whether to replace public grass for Astroturf:

Turf is short and punchy and feels organic. If they had called it ‘plastic’ or ‘fake grass’ or ‘artificial turf’, every conversation would feel different before we even started.

The meanings of words aren’t fixed. Instead, they shift like sand, conjuring concepts, opinions, memories, and a colony of cultural associations. Seth dubs these “emotional anchors,” and they color the way we interpret meaning—often before our brains even register their presence. Rhetorical battles occur every day, in every thought or sentence. Your words can resolve these—and assert benevolent dominion in a flash. That’s the brush wielded by a worthy copywriter.

If you’re writing your own copy, start by carefully considering your audience and weighing your goals. Then, try some phrases on for size. Be playful. Take the tired and turn it inside out. Yank a single thread of the linguistic web, and see what moves on the other side. Finally, take a page from everyday copywriters, and keep a thesaurus close at hand.

Your words represent you, and they also shape you—they influence which clients you pull, which in turn determines the skills you develop. And whether it’s time or money that you’re spending, your words are worth the investment.

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Lucy Dotson

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