Monday, 20 August 2012

The hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

If you are in the business of writing anything, chances are you like words. I love words. I love writing, because it allows me the luxury of time. The time to find the right word, the right phrase, to consider how I’d like to present my thoughts. No-body ever has to type ‘oh what’s that word again?’ in copy-land.

One of my favourite sites is letters of note. It isn’t a fundraising site, it is a collection of, to quote the founder, ‘correspondence deserving of a wider audience.’

It is a great resource, jam packed full with other people's words, thoughts and letters. If you have to write anything for your charity you should head to the site and take a look. If you don’t have to write a single word, you should head over and have a look anyway.

One of my favourite letters on the site is 'I like words.'  It is a brilliant piece of persuasive writing - something we fundraisers are constantly striving for. Written in 1934 by Robert Pirosh, it is the ‘begging letter’ of a budding screenwriter. He sent it to all the directors, producers, and studio executives he could think of. And it worked. After securing three interviews off the back of these words, he took a job as a writer at MGM and went on to win an Academy Award in 1949.

Here’s what he said

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave "V" words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land's-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around. 

I have just returned and I still like words. 

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh

Another site I rather like is lists of note (do you see a theme developing?) 

This list, sent in 1982 by advertising legend David Ogilvy to the employees of his advertising agency, was entitled 'How to Write,' and consisted of the following list of advice.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather.  People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like 
reconceptualize, demassification,attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want.



And with that I have a donor report to write, and I’m paying particular attention to point 4. 



  1. Dear Rachel,

    LOVE IT! YES! I need to go read that book 3 times.
    I do think good writers can also think. Did you read the latest letters of note from Dorothy Parker?

    Too bad Dorothy Parker had to dissolve her brain in gin. She was a good thinker as well as a good writer. Wish she hadn't been blacklisted as a communist.

    Anyway thanks for the reminder to read lists and letters of note more often!


  2. I will look that note up right away!