It can be a greeting (Yo, guy!), an expression of excitement (Yo, that’s dope!), a shortening of “your” for effect (Yo mama), a request for a moment to formulate your thoughts (like these dudes do) and, of course, one half of the most frustrating toys ever invented. Seriously, do you know someone who can rock the cradle? We don’t.
But because we spend a lot (a la-hawt) of time on the Internet, we found what’s probably our favourite “yo” in the world, and it’s in Ulyanovsk, Russia, a city about halfway between Moscow and the Kazakhstani border.
The letter yo.
Yo (written as “ë”) is the 7th letter of the Cyrillic alphabet. As a piece of information, this isn’t terribly exciting. But what made us smile was finding out that there’s a monument to the letter in Ulyanovsk, home of Nikolai Karamzin who wrote the first complete history of Russia and was responsible for the creation of this letter in the late 18th century.
This got us thinking about what letters in our alphabet deserve a monument. Here are our top 5:
Y — Sometimes a vowel. Sometimes not. That’s some hardcore super power right there.
C — Sure, there’s the K and S properties of the letter, which is interesting. But C’s the combo king of our alphabet. “Cr,” “Cl,” “-ck,” “–ch.” If you get a C playing scrabble, start looking for combos. Yo’ options open right up.
K — Military people probably thought they were so smart when they came up with “ten-four,” a two-syllable sound that says, “I hear what you’re saying and I acknowledge what you’re saying.” Then K went ahead and did it in one syllable.
X — It can be 100 percent right (as in X marks the spot) or 100 percent wrong (as in an X next to an incorrect answer on an exam). Put three of them together and they can be 100% right and wrong at the same time.
R — We like pirates.
Volkswagen comes close. So does Nike. MasterCard hit a few out of the park. But from where we sit, nobody does it better than The Economist.
If you’ve never heard of The Economist, it’s a British current events magazine of the highest quality. It’s so eloquently written, so well-researched, so thorough in its reporting and so thoughtful in the stances it takes.
But it’s not for everyone because it assumes an educated reader. It doesn’t dumb anything down and it doesn’t pander.
And you get that from every Economist ad you see.
No rebranding necessary. Ever.
Think of a brand, any brand, and you can probably think of its iterations. Not so with The Economist. From day one, they’ve never changed their look, tone or promise. And they never shied away from pulling people in by pushing others away. Their thinking: if you don’t get it, we don’t want you.
It’s a dangerous game to be sure — acquisition by ostracization — but they have two things going for them: firstly, their magazine delivers on its promise every issue; and secondly, their ads are just so damn compelling.
As copywriters, we salivate every time we hear of a new Economist ad, and they never disappoint.
In fact, the only disappointing part of the entire experience is after we read them the first time because the first time’s always the best.
We could go on and on, or we could just show you our top 10 favourite Economist ads.
It seems you can’t go anywhere without meeting someone who thought 2016 was a steaming pile of horse crap. And what’s amazing is how varied the reasons for discontent are: from Bowie to Brexit to the boob in the White House (God help us all).
We actually had a pretty good year. Business grew at a record pace, we got to work with some pretty amazing companies and we learned a ton about a ton of stuff ranging from construction equipment to sports gambling to HIV survival rates in Ontario.
But what we also did throughout the year was a lot of yelling. And a lot of not listening to each other. And it wasn’t just in the political realm. It seems to us that people have temporarily forgotten how to talk to each other — and to hear each other.
And look, we get it. Emotions have been charged all year, and that rage leads to selfishness — not selfishness like you’re only looking out for yourself, but selfishness that you can only consider your point of view and everybody else’s is adversarial, regardless of how much merit it has.
This is not good for two main reasons: we’re losing perspective and we’re making poor decisions.
There’s a concept in social media called the “Eco Chamber.” Essentially, this means people are only being fed content that validates their opinions, and nothing that challenges them. Thing is, progress is forged through challenge. This lack of perspective directly led to the American Democratic Party and the UK’s Pro-EU swing and misses, the blind faith far too many people have put in nationalistic leaders, the general lack of empathy for the “others” among us and a lot of finger-pointing and shouting.
So here’s what we propose for January: a return to the 80/20 rule.
That means you should be listening to others 80 percent of the time and talking 20 percent of the time. And by listening, we also mean reading. Make a commitment to hear and read opinions — all of them. Some will be crazy, and that’s okay. Because you don’t know what sane and lucid is if you don’t know what crazy is.
Every once in a while on this blog, we’ll highlight some of the more, um, colourful opinions we come across — as long as they’re well-written. Because if nothing else, we always appreciate a well-told story.
We recognize that alcohol abuse is a disease. But this post isn’t about that. This post is about a fantastic play on words that had us giggling for at least a few minutes, and stirred up that jealousy that only writers feel when they see something awesome: I love it. But I hate myself for not coming up with it first.
The best part about this piece is that it’s a simple business card. There was no mass media buy, no huge social push and no celebrity endorsement. Just ten words put together to tell a pretty funny joke and introduce a service.
And introduce it they did. From what we were able to ascertain, this card generated hundreds more calls for these guys than they were getting before the cards went out.
And yes, the under-sensitive among us have a problem with it. They think it makes light of a serious problem. They’re right. But we don’t care. Because it’s funny. And in a little bit of irony, it’s the people so bent out of shape about this who probably need to call the most.
The lesson here for all you aspiring writers is that you don’t need to outspend the competition or spend weeks devising an elaborate disruption. Here’s a simple joke with a simple call to action.
If you’ve ever been to our office, the first thing that jumps out at you is the 28-foot ceiling height. This differs sharply from our last office where the ceilings were a paltry nine feet.
Now, you might say, “Well, come on, does this really matter? You’re staring at a screen.”
Because, as human beings, we’re affected by our space even if we think we’re not. To validate this, we spoke to occupational therapist April Lebovsky.
Us: So, really, can the amount of space in a room affect creativity?
AL: Absolutely. Think about how your heart rate increases when you feel constricted, be it in a small plane, among a crowd of people or in your dreams if you have that “stuck in a coffin” nightmare. That constriction carries over to your active mind; the part that helps you create. Constricted body leads to constricted mind leads to constricted thoughts — which is the enemy of creativity.
Us: And so a large space has the opposite effect?
AL: For sure. When your mind feels like it has more space to breathe, it can take deeper breaths. And a deep-breathing mind is the one that generates the best ideas. It’s free and unencumbered.
Us: That’s all fine and good, but do you have any evidence of this?
AL: I do, actually. Last year, we studied how space affects productivity. We gave 100 test subjects in the same building the same right-brained task to complete, but we put 50 of them in tiny offices with low ceilings and no windows, and the other 50 in a large atrium. Then we got the two groups to share their ideas with the other. The atrium group did their tasks faster. Their ideas were more well-received by the tiny office group than the latter’s ideas were received. We ran the experiment four times and the results were consistent.
Us: So what advice would you give people who actually have to work in small spaces?
AL: Get out of there as much as you can. Give your mind the room it needs to stretch its arms.
Most of the time, we leave our politics at home. But this time isn’t like most times. And because we’re all about words that’s what we’re going to talk about today, specifically the words Mr. Trump used over and over again in his campaign.
Look, his policies are his policies, and to be honest, we don’t know enough about them to comment one way or the other on their efficacy — of if he’s even going to follow through on them.
But we do know what a word can do to legitimize hatred, prejudice and ignorance. And it’s up to all of us, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, everybody, to teach our children that these words are NOT okay.
It’s not okay to mock disabled people.
It’s not okay to insinuate that all people of a certain background are a certain way.
It’s not okay to body shame people.
It’s not okay to draw subtle correlations between hard times and Jewish bankers who are making it so.
It’s not okay.
We say this especially to those of you who have young children because they’re all going to get in trouble one day for saying at least one of these things. And you have to be steadfast in telling them that it’s not okay.
And when they come back and say, “Well, the president says it,” and you feel like you have no apt response because, well, the President DID say those things, you have to tell your children that the president was wrong.
It’s not an easy thing to do because the president is supposed to be the yard stick by which everyone measures their own conduct.
We don’t have that luxury now, so it’s up to us to fill that gap.
Don’t let the words of a buffoon define what is and isn’t acceptable. We’ve seen far too often throughout history where this leads. And we certainly don’t want to see it again.
Dan went apple picking this week with his kid and twelve other kids. It quickly descended into little shits throwing apples at one another and tired parents trying to avoid black eyes. Good times.
And then something lovely happened. Here’s how he tells it.
“I’d had it. Seriously, man. I was ready to leave him there. And as I led him by the arm towards the check-out barn to pay for our apples, I laughed for the first time all afternoon. I saw this fantastic sign on the barn door, and the corners of my mouth went up without me trying really hard to feign happiness. I could’ve kissed the orchard master for that.”
First of all, Dan — well played on “orchard master.” So much better than “owner.” But also, that natural grin you described is a common effect of good writing, because good writing’s easy to read. And easy makes us smile.
That goes for writing in any medium. How many more instruction manuals would get read if they weren’t written with such little consideration for readability? And how many accidents could be avoided because of it?
In the boardroom, how many awkward snoring situations could be avoided if the writing in the presentations wasn’t so dry and verbose?
And don’t even get us started on websites. Or get us started on websites. Maybe your website? We do those, y’know.
BTW, here’s the sign Dan saw:
Maclean’s, one of Canada’s finest magazines, and Dan’s favourite, recently put out a video about the history and etymology of swear words. It’s interesting, but the one line that made us think the most was the explanation for the reason we enjoy saying fuck:
The explosive consonantal opening sound, short vowel in the middle and a hard ending make it extremely satisfying.
Amen to that. The combination has gotten us through many a stubbed toe, lost set of keys and less-than-reasonable client request.
But it got us thinking about the extension of the word fuck: motherfucker.
First of all, if we step back and consider it, it’s really gross (and illegal).
But that aside, we found it so interesting the way different people drop it. Some leave out a few of the consonants so it becomes muha fugga. Some over-emphasize the final “r,” giving it a rather dorky feel. And, not sure if you noticed, but motherfucker is uniquely North American. You don’t hear Europeans dropping it ¾ like you never hear us saying bollux or poxy.
Of course, because it’s 2016, we took to the Internet in search of motherfuckers. And we hit the motherfuckin’ load.
The problem with writing is the immediacy and relative ease by which something can be changed. It doesn’t take a ton of effort to open a copy deck on your computer and do something different.
And so, when some clients want you to make a copy change, they think it’s that easy.
Those are the clients we don’t have. We have the others. The ones who see value in the writing process. The ones who are never in “hurry up and wait” because they were prepared beforehand for any directional changes.
We work with clients who take chances, who want their messages to stand out. And that’s why they pay us.
Sounds like the kind of client you want to work with? We don’t blame you. So send your resume and/or portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re looking for copywriters, technical writers, copy editors, proofreaders and F-E/E-F translators. We’re not married to full-time freelance. But either way, our office is among the best in the city.
We’re not horn-tooters. For the most part, we sit in our little office pounding out words. We get happy when a client gives us the opportunity to make ourselves laugh. We get happier when someone comes back to the office with a shawarma platter from Alexandria’s. And we’re happiest when we’re busy as stink. We thrive on it.
But today we’re gonna toot our horn for a second. And we’re gonna get super jacked about ourselves. And then it’ll be over and it’ll be back to business.
We’re now writing about North American sports for one of the largest sports content providers on the planet.
For those of you who don’t know Dan, he’s a sports junky. He’s the guy who road trips with his buddies to see awesome stadia, the guy who’s repeatedly ignored his children because there was something brewing in the game. So for him to be leading the charge on this stuff is pretty spectacular.
Gina’s a hockey nerd. Shell talk passionately about politics or cooking or what makes writing good. But get her talking about the Maple Leafs — no seriously, we dare you. She wants tickets to games. Lots of them. And she’ll get them in time.
Okay. Back to business.