Tag Archives: advertising

Read this, but watch out for the side effects

Have you heard about the fastest growing job market for technical writers?

Cialis ad with couple in bathtubs

Oh, and if you read this blog in the bathtub, be careful. You could slip and fall.

If you can write the lists of side effects and disclaimers in pharmaceutical advertisements, you’re in high demand. I mean, you must  be in high demand, based on the sheer number of ads I see that promise to cure everything from diabetes to depression to, um, other things.

In keeping with the spirit of the times, here are the particulars about the blog you’re reading. At the bottom of the page, I’ve provided annotations to give you all the training you need to enter the exciting world of medical disclaimer writing.

Do not read this blog while operating heavy machinery, while trapeze-walking across Niagara Falls, or while performing brain surgery..

Do not read this blog if you are a man who is pregnant or about to become pregnant, if you are taking certain [1] enzyme inhibitors, or if you’re just plain feeling inhibited.

Side effects can include drowsiness, nausea, and sudden snorts of laughter. Some severe reactions, including blurred vision and decreased appetite, have happened [2]. Rare but serious side effects, including some fatal events [3] have also been reported [4].

Tell your doctor if you experience memory loss, seizures, hives, and sudden unexplained loss of body parts. They don’t have anything to do with this blog. But you should tell your doctor anyway, because — yeesh — they sound pretty bad.

Happy reading, and best of luck in your new career.

Notes:

  1. Certain ones. We don’t know which ones. Just trying to avoid liability here.
  2. Have happened: The perfect phrase for disclaiming any and all responsibility for anything at all.
  3. I’m preparing a conference presentation called Pharmaceutical Advertisers’ Euphemisms for “You’re Dead.”
  4. Have also been reported. Sharpen your passive-voice skills with this liability-evading construction.
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Look that up: the lexicographer’s conundrum

Old dictionary advertisement

“The one dictionary that puts your family in command of today’s English”

Some of the best stuff you’ll read on Twitter is the wit and wisdom of Kory Stamper and her fellow lexicographers — including the fresh and very woke tweets from Merriam-Webster itself. Those tweets prove the point that Stamper strives to make in her book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries: that lexicography and lexicographers aren’t as boring as you thought.

Stamper makes her point well, in a distinctively breezy, engaging, and elbow-nudging way. Although a few of her chapters run long, going a little deeper into the weeds than necessary, I recommend the book for anyone who’s interested in writing or language in general.

Old dictionary advertisement

“Accept Nothing Less Than the SUPREME Authority”

The best chapter is the one titled “Marriage,” in which Stamper deftly portrays the tension between lexicographers, who know that their job is to describe the language as it is, and their employers, who for more than a century have touted their dictionaries as the absolute authorities on how our language should be used.

Stamper emphasizes that our language is a river, and lexicographers work tirelessly to discover and track all of its whorls and eddies. It took her weeks, for example, just to update the various definitions of take.

(My use of took in that last sentence is sense 10e of the definition for take, the verb. I haven’t even mentioned take, the noun.)

Yet since the days of Noah Webster, at least, dictionaries have contended in the marketplace by claiming to be authoritative, by insisting that they alone can give you a mastery of words. Funk & Wagnalls, in its pre-Laugh In days, trumpeted that its dictionary contained all human knowledge since the world began.

Old dictionary advertisement

“All human knowledge since the world began is concentrated in this one mighty book”

Even today, Stamper’s own Merriam-Webster displays these words on your browser tab when you display its home page: America’s most trusted online dictionary.

How should we reconcile the difference between the marketer’s insistence on prescribing and the lexicographer’s work of describing — especially in an age when dictionaries rely on online ads, not sales of printed books, to survive financially?

Stamper doesn’t give an answer, and I suppose there probably isn’t one. People expect dictionaries to tell them how to write (and speak), while lexicographers compile dictionaries to reflect what people are writing.

It truly is a question or problem having only a conjectural answer — sense 2a of the definition for conundrum.

Meanwhile, our language flows on, whorling and eddying as it pleases.