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March 9, 2022
April 1, 2022

Sticky language and concrete words

Back when I was vaguely into music, I enjoyed a passing interest in the band Pavement. I read that they were so called because the word pavement is the 15th most popular word in the English language.

I always wondered if that was true. And if so, why?

Twenty years later and I’ve found the answer.

In 1972, Ian Begg, from the University of Western Ontario created an experiment that started with him reading out 20 two-word phrases to listeners. Some phrases were concrete, like ‘white horse’ or ‘rusty engine’, whereas others were abstract, like ‘basic theory’ or ‘apparent fact’. You can see the list of some of the words below.


Afterwards, Begg asked the participants to recall as much as they could. Overall, people remembered 9% of the abstract words and 36% of the concrete words.

Begg surmised that it’s because when we hear a concrete phrase we can easily visualise them. That makes concrete terms sticky. In contrast, abstract words conjure up no mental picture, and therefore slip quickly from our memory.

But it’s the scale of the change in memorability that is most striking. Begg’s experiment showed nearly a four-fold difference in recall.

Boom.

So if you're thinking of naming a service or simply want to be remembered, used as many concrete words as possible.

No dilly dallying or fannying about here.

Article of the week

‘My name is not value customer’ Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement gets to the heart of why this kind of salutation is so wrong, and why personalising emails offers such a huge opportunity.

Simple hack

Tripit works like a personal assistant. Simply forward your confirmation emails for flights, hotels and restaurants to plans@tripit.com and it’ll create a create a detailed itinerary for you.

Happy clappy

A growing number of companies are hiring ‘chief happiness officers’ to boost morale. When Timpson’s director of happiness heard a member of staff’s oven had broken on 23 December for example, she arranged for the firm to replace it.

TV on a stick

LG’s cutely named StandbyMe is a 27 inch, battery-powered TV on a height-adjustable stand that you can wheel around with you, making it easy to plonk in front of your Peloton or at the end of your bed. You can also remove it from the stand and use it as a giant tablet.

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