The Write Stuff

22 Jan, 2019


The Write Stuff

January 2019

Advocating Against Oxymorons

By Alan Crawford,
Impact Editor

Is it possible that a University of San Diego business school professor, writing on brands that take positions on political issues, set out with the sole intention to aggravate me? His subject is a worthy one, and he uses readily identifiable examples — Nike’s promotion with Colin Kaepernick and Ben and Jerry’s work in support of, well, a lot of causes.

Alan Crawford is a published author and journalist who, in his books and articles, has written on the period of the United States’ founding and the American tradition.

His conclusions aren’t noteworthy, but that’s okay. Most of what is written on any subject is a regurgitation of received opinions, and his are unexceptional. Companies should take positions that have some logical connection to their business objectives and represent their underlying values, if they have defined and articulated them. Their public stances shouldn’t sound noble and highfalutin when their own internal policies do not live up to these ideals.

From a Marketing Memo

It’s the way the professor expresses these unobjectionable notions that should make all of us cringe. For someone who is trying to get to the substance of the issues at hand, his word choices are right out of a marketing memo.

The fact that a company supports a cause, he writes, “resonates with” young consumers. Taking an ill-advised position can offend a firm’s “customer base.” Customers’ attitudes are shaped by those “with whom they interact on a daily basis.” Just saying “daily” apparently wasn’t good enough, if you believe it is always better to use four words instead of one. He prefers “utilizing” to “using,” because, for similar reasons, four syllables and nine letters are presumably preferable to two syllables and five letters. (And why “interact with” instead of “talk to”?)

As irritating as the preceding passages are, they’re nothing compared to the atrocity the professor commits in paragraph 16. That’s when he mentions how Ben and Jerry’s has been “advocating against” drilling for oil in the Arctic. “Advocating for” is bad enough. It is a redundancy. But “advocating against” is an oxymoron. What he means, you have to figure, is “opposing” the practice. There’s a case to me made for oxymorons, by the way, and it involves making us chuckle, and that doesn’t seem to have been the professor’s purpose here. Here are a few memorable examples:

  • deafening silence
  • original copy
  • unbiased opinion
  • friendly fire
  • zero tolerance

And my all-time favorite: free love.

ANNOYING WORD OF THE MONTH. Potentially. Watch MSNBC, CNN or Fox, and you hear the experts say “potentially” or, worse still, “could potentially” over and over and over and over and over and over until you’re ready to scream. “Could potentially” is a redundancy since “could,” like “would” or “might,” expresses uncertainty. If you’ve already expressed uncertainty, you don’t need to add “potentially.”

But watch how the pundits use “could potentially.” “The withdrawal of U.S. ground forces from Afghanistan,” they might begin, “could potentially….”

And what follows is the pure and simple speculation. The talking heads (not David Byrne’s band, but the other talking heads) seem to think saying “could potentially” gives them license to say just about anything, which they proceed to do.  They’re just guessing. They don’t know, and saying “potentially” doesn’t change that.

Want More Information on This Topic?

Contact Alan Crawford, editor of Impact

Additional Resources

How to Write Like Tom Friedman

The Write Stuff: “At That Point in Time”

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