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Let us begin by considering the basic building blocks of communication: words.

Robert Pirosh’s Job Application Letter

In 2009, Shaun Usher began the website Letters of Note, which he described as “an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.”  The letters range from the funny to the heartbreaking to the fascinating.  Eventually, Usher collected 125 into a book of the same name: Letters of Note.  Robert Pirosh, a writer attempting to move from the position of New York advertising copywriter to Hollywood screenwriter, wrote what Usher considers his “favorite letter ever.”  The Guardian describes it as “perhaps the most sparse, tantalizing job application in history.”  The letter begins:

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….

(Read the rest of the letter at the link above).

Words have their own character

What Robert Pirosh clearly understood is that words have character.  In his confident grasp, they almost have personalities. Given this, words that appear to have absolutely no obvious relationship can be grouped in surprising ways.  Words can have zing, they can have bite; they even have temperaments and moods.

Robert Pirosh clearly noticed and appreciated the difference between the bland and the not-so-bland. Moreover, he would go for the vivid choice every time. At the end of the letter, he demonstrated his confident mastery over language with his elegant little turn-of-phrase pitch, (“I have just returned [from Europe] and I still like words.  May I have a few with you?”).  Of course you would want to hire him! And indeed, this letter netted Mr. Pirosh three interviews and eventually a job as a junior writer at MGM. He went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on the war film, Battleground.

Use language that is precise, memorable, and vivid

We are positively awash in a sea of words.  Advertisers, marketers, journalists, businesses, bloggers, and politicians used to compete for space. Now they compete for attention. Of course, the nature of your communication and audience makes a difference. Engineers, for  example, generally cultivate different vocabularies than rock artists.  But if doing so will suit your purposes, take the time to consider the mood a word may evoke. Does it convey any sensory imagery, such as smell or taste?  The more precise your language, the better fit it will be for anyone searching with keywords and the easier to remember, too.

If you can’t find exactly the right word, consider making one up. Lewis Carroll coined a phrase for these: portmanteau words. (One of Lewis Carroll’s contributions to our dictionary was “chortle.”) Shakespeare coined over 1,700 words that we commonly use today by playing with language, “changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.”

What are some of your favorite words?