The Four Languages of Failure

“languages which often get between us and our audience”

〱 Back to Life Stuff

An author on business writing (Tom Sant) describes four languages of failure which often get between us and our audience:

1. FLUFF “The language of grand claims, vague assertions and hype.”


Your project will be facilitated by our extremely talented and highly meticulous customer representatives.


Your project is in good hands.

2. GUFF “The language of the bureaucrat. Needlessly complex, pompous and dense.”


A brief meeting will be held in Conference Room B to address the consequences and implications with regard to the adoption of new policies for travel reimbursement and associated issues and the effect of their implementation on our division.


Meet Room B 11:00 – 11:30 New travel pay-out policy and what it means to our division.

3. GEEK “Language which is too technical or obscure.”


Me: I’m interested in buying a new TV.
Geek: You want plasma or LCD?
Me: Sorry?
Geek: Plasma or LCD?
Me: I don’t know. Which is better?
Geek: Depends. You looking for high def or just HD ready? DLP or ETV. You want six by nine or four by three?
Me: Eh? I’ll go and buy it online.

4. WEASEL “Language that sounds wishy-washy or even sneaky. Politician’s speak.”


I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over,” he said. “And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.

As an example, consider two copy writing approaches highlighted in Lucy Kellaway’s Golden Flannel Awards in the FT:

A>> Winner for the award of “Chief obfuscation champion” (COC). Rob Stone, CEO of Cornerstone “As brands build out a world footprint, they look for the no-holds-barred global POV that’s always been part of our wheelhouse.”

B>> Winner of the “Flannel-free award”. Wan Long, founder of Shuanghui International and a global leader in the pork chop space: “What I do is kill pigs and sell meat.”

Colleen Backstrom

Director of Kaleidoscope NeuroMarketing for Email Marketing & Website Design

Advertising Agency Cape Town

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