This article was originally published in May 2020.
The words we choose are revealing. In an amusement park, small electrically powered cars with rubber fenders all round are driven in an enclosure. Some people call these cars “dodgems”, others call them “bumper cars”. Based on their choice of words, which group do you think will drive more recklessly?
According to the BBC, the Vikings “attacked Britain’s holy places, slaughtered the monks who lived there and carried away countless treasures”. In a Scandinavian museum, the narrative is more likely to be that the Vikings “established trading posts in Britain”.
On 1 March 1815 Napoleon returned to France from exile on Elba. It took him three weeks to march to Paris from his landing point near Cannes. As Napoleon moved slowly north gathering supporters as he went, the French newspaper headlines evolved as follows:
- “The Corsican ogre has landed”
- “The monster slept at Grenoble”
- “The usurper is directing his steps towards Dijon”
- “Bonaparte is only sixty leagues from the capital”
- “His Imperial and Royal Majesty arrived yesterday”
Choose your words carefully
Choice of words may be revealing in a business context too. For example, the words can reveal underlying concern about prospects. Take the text of the chairman’s statement in annual reports. Typically, it summarises events of the past financial year and concludes with a brief discussion of the firm’s prospects. It is a discretionary narrative and it tends to address issues of a strategic nature.