The One Where I Quoth Something Someone Once Told Me About Quotations


One of my more peculiar habits is that once I start paying attention to something like a new album or company or news, I have a really hard time adjusting once that topic is out of the limelight of coverage. As a result, I spend a lot of time staying up to date on things I probably would be better off ignoring.

It was on one such fact-finding mission, that I noticed an old associate recycling one of my old tags in an interview with a journalist. It was a good line, and we had tested it before hand. At the time we were working on building real relationships with customers, and a tested line seemed like the best way to do that.

…which is how you know it was a few ago. After 2016, I’d be surprised to see pre-tested lines too often.

Thinking about that reminded me of something someone had once said to me about quotations. All too often, you’ll hear someone say “I heard this great quote.”

The temptation to dive into the weeds of the history “quote,” is overwhelming. but for the sake of focus, I’ll resist it. Suffice it say that in contemporary vernacular english we’ve taken a few words and molded them into one shorter word we abuse the hell out of.

“Quotation,” isn’t the only bit of speech where this happens, but it’s one of the more interesting ones — because the nature of evoking the language of another is wrought with nuance. As the language we use to describe an action evolves, so to does our understanding of the action we use the language to describe.

Settling into a familiar pattern of describing your business happens to everyone. After you’ve told the founding story once or twice, it all starts to sound the same. It gets easy to slip into the rhythm of the high notes and the low notes of the story.

You start to feel the parts of the story that receive a reaction, you start to explore the pauses and after awhile, the details just all become things you play with.

That’s true of any story you tell enough to have memorized, I think, and the trouble is that when it comes to presenting your business in an authentic light — pretested lines fall flat.

See the trouble with quotations is that they’re one of the few examples of speech that we look to as though it might hold value on its own.

Have you ever told a story to a group of friends about something funny that happened? It probably included a moment that was something along the lines of “so then (so and so) said”

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing a story that doesn’t hinge around that sort of movement, you know just how dry such a story can be.

Have you ever wondered why?

It’s because when you retell a story without that little bit of motion, that little bit of context? You tell a story that sounds like it doesn’t have a point.

“I Think Hail To The Chief Has A Nice Ring To It” the famous Kennedy quotation, just doesn’t pack the same sort of punch if you hear it divorced of its context.

But the with the context, knowing the statement was uttered by a man running for president, the words take on a new meaning. The words are given a power they didn’t have before.

While this may not be true of every repeatable phrase, there’s an important lesson here to be learned by those of us who are engaged in the work of professional communications.

It isn’t good enough to say something that “sounds good,” you’ve got to spend a little more time thinking about the where and the why of what you’re going to say.

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