The right word at the right time can make all the difference in the world. As Mark Twain noted, it’s “the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening”.
Words can spark fantastic emotions or fall flat. They can build bridges with your audience or they can put up walls. And they can also reveal your age.
Consider, for a moment, the word “sneakers”. Not sure what those are? Then you’re probably younger than 50. Instead, you could call them “kicks”. Not sure what those are? Then you’re probably older than 30.
As a writer, the words you choose say an awful lot about your age, which can also get in the way of your ability to effectively convey your messages. Write too much like an “older” person and you’ll likely lose all credibility with the younger folks. Write too much like a young whippersnapper, and you’ll likely lose all credibility with the older folks. Sadly, people’s personal age biases affect the way they interpret the words they read–if they read them at all.
What’s a writer to do?
Well, to bring it all back to Mr. Twain (all you youngsters reading this may need to Google him), you need to choose the right word at the right time. The simplest way to do that is to follow two age-old rules of writing: Put your audience first and keep it simple.
If you’re writing for teens, use words they’ll understand. Instead of trousers or britches, just say pants, khakis or jeans. Instead of davenport or love seat, just say couch. “Kids” these days are in a hurry, they don’t need to know how the watch is built, instead they just need to know what time it is.
On the other hand, if you’re writing for older people, more descriptive language can be effective. Passenger van paints a better picture for your readers than simply using the word “van”.
Then again, sometimes it’s best just to keep things simple. Writing about some sweet “kicks” that look like vintage “sneakers”, then how about just saying that the person is wearing a cool pair of “shoes”.
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