Crimes Against Clarity: Marketese and Malaprops

by | Aug 6, 2009 | Writing Matters Blog | 7 comments

“These people really need you.”  That’s what I hear just before a reader, client, or other word lover shows me some buzzword-loaded, abstraction-choked paragraph of marketese she’s found online. And that’s what Writing Matters reader Jill Leahy said to me when she forwarded this spectacle of bureaucratic PR verbiage published by the Federal Reserve in a press release last spring:

The TALF is designed to catalyze the securitization markets by providing financing to investors to support their purchases of certain AAA-rated asset-backed securities (ABS).

But “catalyze the securitization markets” pales in comparison to this dreadful clump of Frost & Sullivan marketing copy submitted (but not written by) by reader Jennifer Plath.

The sales of machine vision (MV) systems witnessed continuous growth until mid-2008 due to strong fundamentals – rapid innovation rates and the deployment of machine vision in an ever increasing range of  applications. However economic recessionary trends affecting the manufacturing sector adversely have triggered a decline in the vision systems market since the last quarter of 2008. Nevertheless high innovation rates and new applications development continue to open up new vistas of growth for the machine vision industry. Cutting down vision system integration and development costs, acquiring strong core technology capabilities in vision systems integration, and diversification of business to new applications and markets are key requirements for sustenance for players in the MV market.

Jennifer was right on the money when she described this paragraph as terribly
wordy, indicted its tortured sentences, and commented that it is “… hard to read, even though there isn’t that much being said.”

And while we’re on the topic of writers’ “word stumbles” (or outright word crimes) we’ve started a running list of malaprops and hope you’ll add to it. Reader Barbara Hughes, who has an eye for these things, sent us:

  • a gluten for punishment
  • for all intensive purposes
  • Wa-lah! (instead of Voila!)

Krista Molino (via Twitter) has contributed:

  • mute point

My two malaprop finds for the week are:

  • just my two sense
  • all the sudden

And Marilynne has contributed what has to be this week’s winner:

  • flash in the pants

Let’s keep the list growing. Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … I mean send me your examples of marketese or malaprops or post them as a comment. I can’t wait to read what you’ve found.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Tags: Marketing, Usage


  1. “Gluten for punishment” – very funny!
    A friend of mine always writes “Oh, contraire.” At least she spells “contraire” correctly.
    Not exactly a malaprop, but I recently saw the word “persay” on another blog. Even if it had been written correctly, “per se” didn’t seem to fit the context. Obviously a lot of people have trouble with foreign phrases – another post subject for you?

  2. Machine Vision indeed: Looks like that piece was written for Search Engines, not to be perused by people.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Dan. I’ve reread that machine vision systems passage about 112 times, and I still can’t make sense of it. Maybe I’m too human?

  4. Reader Pat Cope sent this example: Peak (pique). Someone who wanted me to hire him as a writer concluded his pitch with, “If I have peaked your interest….” Sometimes seen as peek as well as peak.

  5. Here’s one of my favorite malaprops, courtesy my ex-mother-in-law — “in-grown swimming pool” as in: “He’s loaded, he’s got an in-grown swimming pool.

  6. Contributed by reader Sarah Sheard: My all time favorite example of manager-ese is:”We’ve got to put a stake in the ground and run with it.”

  7. Great.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Upcoming Events

Recent Posts

Writing Workbook