Idioms. We use them every day. They are phrases or expressions that have a figurative meaning that is different from their literal meaning. ‘Burn the midnight oil’ lately? ‘Hit the sack’ early last night? Talk about the ‘elephant in the room’?
These are common idioms. It is estimated that there are at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language.
The use of figurative language will always have a role in conversation, but what about in the written form? At Daymark we often come across the need to write in ‘conversational language’ for many clients in order to remove ‘corporate speak’ and reach customers, and to come across clear and genuine.
But we can rarely use the most useful of tools for conversational language; idioms. When was the last time you read things like ‘as straight as die’ (or an arrow), or ‘bad workers always blame their tools’, in written communications?
Take for example this piece from a recent full year results announcement by a large Australian company:
Our strategy is designed to deliver strong and sustainable outcomes for all our stakeholders. While the current context is challenging we have a strong franchise and our underlying business continues to perform well. We are focused on execution excellence in our business and extending our leadership in digital, and the Board and management team are committed to continued investment in our core business. We are also committed to maintaining a strong balance sheet to enable continued investment and to support long-term sustainable returns to shareholders.
How better would it be to say something like…
Our aim is to deliver a bang for our buck. We are not about to duck the challenges of the day. We will take the lead and we will get the nuts and bolts of our business right. We will build our financial clout and make smart investments that will stand the test of time.
The use of idioms here is of course overstated. But it demonstrates the difference.
The challenge is that we take idioms too literally when it comes to written communications, and we take corporate speak too figuratively. If you read each of the above statements, which is clearer? We would argue both are equally fuzzy, but the idiom one is far more accessible.
As always there is a need for a happy medium, or perhaps throw caution to the wind?
For the record only fourteen idioms were harmed in the making of this article.