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The ‘epic’ endemic: what’s the next new buzzword?

John Murray

I’m not that old but I can remember a time when using the word ‘epic’ was only acceptable if you were describing work by Brecht or the film ‘Ben Hur’.

Not only does ‘epic’ now top a number of online surveys about annoying words but, when combined with the word ‘fail’, it is one of the most overused hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

However, it’s a much maligned word and  its resurgence in popular language is only the most recent rise in its long and heady career. Coming from the Greek for story (epicos), the word epic dates back to 1225, when it meant excellent or special. Over the years it’s been used as a slang synonym for everything from jolly (1540s) to immense (1760s) and radical (1960’s) to its current bed partner, awesome.

Epic’s illustrious career is far from over and will no doubt continue trending, which does serve to remind us that emotive language is essential in structuring attention grabbing headlines. However, what words can we use that won’t set an audience’s teeth on edge?

Quite simply, you need to understand the effect that the words you use have on people and then match it to the content of your post.

Words like ‘guaranteed’, ‘research’, ‘official’, ‘no-risk’ and ‘tested’ make us feel safe and, when combined with an online offer, testimonial or sign-up form, can do more to assure an audience of the site’s trustworthiness than any lengthy explanations.

The FOMO (fear of missing out) factor is influenced by words suggesting scarcity, so using phrases like ‘today only’, ‘limited offer’, ‘only five available’ or ‘sale ends soon’ can also increase engagement.

Research undertaken by an online analytics company demonstrated that the top nine words for shareable content on social network sites contained one of these words: ‘secret’, ‘discover’, ‘help’, ‘promote’, ‘take’, ‘increase’, ‘create’, ‘tell us’, and ‘inspires’.

For obvious reasons, meanwhile, the words ‘you’, ‘free’, ‘instantly’, ‘because’ and ‘new’ are the five most influential in the English language.

The psychology of words is a powerful tool and can make a huge difference towards whether your content reaches its intended, and wider, audience.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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