The new new

Sam Palin
13 January 2017

Once, new meant new. The opposite of old.

New was exciting. It was something you hadn’t seen before. It was something that hadn’t existed before.

But then, we got used to new. When someone said ‘new’, we said ‘same old’.

So we needed a new new.

You may have seen this ad, for Google’s new –  new-ish – Pixel Phone.

Here, I’ll transcribe some of it for you.

Need a new phone?

Like new new?

Like doesn’t have a version number new?

A battery that charges 7 hours in 15 minutes new

And so on.

The whole ad – a multi-million dollar campaign, for Google’s first proper smartphone – is predicated on the idea that new doesn’t mean much anymore.

When someone says, ‘I’ve got a new phone’, we don’t find that exciting. We don’t even find it interesting. It’s expected. Everyone gets a new phone every year or two.

This is a long way of saying: language changes.

All. The. Time.

You can resist it. But you can’t stop it.

‘Literally’ doesn’t mean what it meant a decade ago.

For many of us, ‘Because’ is now a preposition. Because the internet.

This can cause problems for copywriters.

Some people want us to be defenders of ‘proper’ language. Of not splitting infinitives, and making sure no one says ‘You’ll have less things to worry about’, and explaining the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther’.

But that’s not what we’re here for.

A copywriter’s only function is to improve the way a company communicates with a customer. Literally, that’s all we do.

If we’re not using language that works for our target audience, we’re not doing our job.

That’s why I get annoyed when I see copywriters calling themselves ‘grammar snobs’.

It’s why I get excited about a lawyer rewriting Instagram’s terms so teenagers can understand them.

Now, there are nuances here. One is: the language people want to hear from a company and a friend isn’t necessarily the same.

That’s an important conversation. A conversation I will happily have with you, at length, if you buy me a pint.

But the focus should never be on the rules of grammar, or the way a CEO was taught to write 50 years ago.

It should be on customers. On people. On the words we use, and the words we understand.

The living, breathing thing that is language.

Happy new new year, folks. May it be filled with new new words, and new new ways to use them.

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