The catchphrase for an epidemic that ruins most new business pitches and PR interviews is “vocal crutch.”
It is that drastic moment when a flack runs out of something interesting to say, and needs a second to think. Instead of a well-placed pause to show consideration for using a brain, the audience — be it a prospective client, a member of the media, or even a PR director considering your future career — gets pelted with a deluge of “ums,” “uhs,” and “likes.”
Much to the chagrin of anyone having to sit through a conversation with anyone who hurls buzzwords or vocal crutches at anyone in their path, it seems America has found your leader: The New York Times.
In an article entitled “Words We Love Too Much,” the great Philip Corbett (the associate managing editor for standards, who is also in charge of The Times’s style manual) offers the Old Grey Lady’s mea culpa. That’s right, kids, even the NYT has vocal crutches.
That sound you hear is the world stopping on its axis, and a swarm of pigs flying. The musing was inspired by the use of one word the paper uses to describe a truckload of books: “magisterial.”
In all, we used “magisterial” more than 70 times in the last year, with most of those instances coming in the Arts and Book Review sections. Besides books, we’ve used the description for paintings, dances and other works of art — not to mention a hockey game in Sports.
That is a word nerd, logophile, and grammar police way of saying they do it too.
You see, kids get into this profession with their case of the yips called “the likes.” Then, maturity sets in the form of brainwashing, and that’s when the dreaded buzzwords kick in. While most PR pros have crammed a pencil deep into their eardrum by now, the older cats in this profession try to evolve like Cro-Magnon man, only with a bluetooth.
And that’s where the edumicated vocal crutches rear its ugly head, with terms like “at the end of the day,” “journalistically,” “underscore (another one shared in this NYT piece),” and even “magisterial.” Corbett sums it up like this:
Ordinary words like “show” or “emphasize” would probably serve in many cases. Fresher alternatives might also be available. And in some cases, maybe the whole phrase or sentence can be dispensed with. In any case, let’s be aware and avoid “underscoring” on autopilot.
And the PR Church said, “Like, Amen!”