“I miss you loads. I’ve got an ache inside because I miss you so much. I wish you were with me right now. I remember that last time we were together with great fondness and miss that.”
Somehow, this doesn’t quite express what I really mean. According to my wife (who speaks fluent Portuguese), there’s a single great word for all of that sentiment. It’s saudades (sow-dar-jees) and basically crams all of the above into one handy expression. And the receiver immediately knows that it’s all there without you rambling on too much.
This got me thinking about how we naturally use language and adapt it to our needs. It’s not merely a communication tool but a complex reflection of culture.
English is a fabulous, expressive language but it can be a bit lacking in economy. We Brits spend far too much time being polite and modest. So when it comes to expressing a thought or idea, we have to borrow from other languages to get to the point.
Schadenfreude is a deliciously German way of expressing the pleasure you might feel over someone else’s misfortune. The French amuse bouche is a surprise little something from the chef with an unusual combination of flavours, literally “a mouth amuser”. I can’t imagine Brits coming up with that somehow. We’d complain there wasn’t enough on the plate. Ex pats in India spent many years borrowing language (amongst other things) because it just did the job a bit better.
Buckshee – apparently from the Urdu word baksheesh meaning money and indicating a bribe – has been widely used by the British army and according to the Army Rumour Service, has a complex meaning behind it:
“Buckshee kit is an interesting thing. Somebody can be in posession of considerable quantities of Buckshee equipment, without ever having bought it, or stolen it…Buckshee is a currency all in it’s own right similar to barter. No matter what you need, there will always be someone with a buckshee item.”
People have always been adapting language to suit and communicate more efficiently. Txt spk being an obvious example. Teenagers have for generations managed to create language that’s exclusive to them and makes other users look a bit er…lame? I mean, that’s like random right?
Which leads me on to wonder why so many brand owners resort to verbose and often meaningless mission statements/visions/aims or spend enormous amounts of time carefully defining what their brand is or isn’t? Who really cares that you “will become the first choice provider of widgets and first choice supplier partner by 2018 through an unrelenting commitment to quality products and excellent service….”?
As Simon Sinek has argued, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Consider consumer brands that have (arguably) become part of the culture; Dyson, Apple, Facebook, Vespa, Marmite, Ronseal et al not only had strong products and great advertising ideas behind them, they were supercharged by cultural acceptance and became handy vehicles to express ourselves. Buying a Dyson was a statement of non-conformity. “A Marmite person” was quickly understood, “does what it says on the tin” a bluff rejection of complexity, Vespa is shorthand for a life of Italian cafe cool and 60s chic.
Customers rapidly join the semiotic dots and will “see” and use your brand accordingly. Make their lives easier, less complex and smoother running by plugging in to what they’re thinking about and what matters to them. Converse became the biggest brand on Facebook not by flogging trainers but through getting in flow with their buyers and their lives.
If your brand doesn’t become three dimensional shorthand for your raison d’etre and then you’re maybe wasting your time and company’s money. Spend time thinking about how your brand fits with the prevailing and specific culture of your customers. Why does it matter? Of course I mean to say, the zeitgeist. Handily, Google even measure it for you here.