Dove of peaceI’ve never been comfortable with the second definition of ‘toolkit’, below. As someone who rarely picks up a hammer, it seems too macho to me. I’ve always wanted to find a more gender-neutral alternative. Sewing basket? Recipe book?

ToolkitI find it even more unnerving that so many marketing expressions are military in tone or origin. Here are some examples, with my definitions:

Target market: Your ideal customer in the firing line.

Marketing campaign: A series of actions taken to achieve a goal

Market positioning: On a grassy knoll, perhaps?

Outflanking the competition: Trying to beat (hit) a business that does what you do

Hit list: Who you want to reach, hopefully, without physical contact

Engage your reader: Enter into combat

Grab attention: Clutch something (or someone) with your fist

Capture attention: Imprison your reader

Make an impact: When a bomb lands or a vehicle crashes

Call to action: A rallying cry for an army

Trigger: Prompting people to respond

Punchline: A line that hits people in the face

Punchy copy: Words that constantly hit people in the face

Killer copy. I don’t think anyone has ever died from reading anything I’ve written. It’s not what I aspire to

Much computer jargon also has military roots. We used to ‘boot up’ our Apple Macs. People had ‘flame wars’ on email. Windows will ‘execute’ files. Your PC might ‘bomb’ or ‘crash’.

I write for a few professional services firms, including solicitors, who commonly talk about ‘the other side’. It’s another this phrase that I find needlessly combative.

What this means to you

As a picky wordsmith, language is important to me, and I think hard about every little word I use.

The invasiveness (unwanted invasion) of military language particularly bothers me. My worry is that it creates an ‘us against them’ way of thinking.

But marketing is not about win or lose. We’re all in this together, trying to help each other get where we need to go.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try harder to find more inclusive and peaceful alternatives. It’s the least I can do.


I find etymology fascinating. Here’s an example:

“The word ‘slogan’ was first recorded in the year of the Battle of Flodden, fought on 9 September 1513, when the English army defeated the invading Scots under their monarch King James IV.

The term is one with unexpectedly bellicose roots, coming from the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, from sluagh ‘army’, and ghairm, ‘shout’. It was, in other words, a war cry, used by Scottish Highlanders and Borderers in their many battles against the English.

Over time, the ‘slogan-cry’ left its roots and became instead a distinctive note, phrase or cry – particularly that of a brand vying for attention in the marketplace.”

Word Perfect’ by Susie Dent


Email received from Jimmy James 25/2/22 and published with permission

I enjoyed your e-mail, as I always do !

But as someone who has served (albeit only for a short time) in both the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) and the British Army, I must take issue with you about military language.

  • Most of the examples you give are straight from Hollywood films, rather than military reality
  • Military language (at least in Commonwealth armies) is designed to communicate a request or an instruction as quickly and simply as possible, with the minimum chance of misunderstanding
  • This could be a radio communication; or an oral or written communication – it matters not because simplicity and accuracy are vital when people are tired, under stress and being shot at or bombed! (I speak from personal experience)
  • One example of this is to preface numbers with the word “figures”. So if I am calling you on the radio, I would say “I will be with you in figures two minutes.” This avoids confusion with “I will be with you too” – which has a different meaning
  • The German Army goes further. Because the word for “two” is “zwei” and the word for “three” is “drei”, these could easily be muddled up in the heat of battle. So the German Army replaced “zwei” with “zwo”
  • The need to keep communication short is also important because of the danger of enemy radio intercept, as the Ukrainians have discovered to their cost in the last few days
  • The classic example often cited of military misunderstanding comes from the First World War. The message sent from the front line to the support areas in the rear was: “Send reinforcements: we’re going to advance.” The actual message received was: “Send 3/4d; we’re going to a dance.” This may be apocryphal – but the point is clear!

It is true that the military has a language all its own. This is partly due to the above points, but also because the military are dealing with things, incidents and a general way of life which is different from that experienced by the rest of us.

They are also continuously under pressure – so tend to omit (in their view, unnecessary) words like “please” and “thank you”. This is sometimes perceived as rude by civilians.

Some years ago the Home Office decided to experiment with putting Young Offenders in military prisons (or Military Corrective Training Centres – MCTCs, as they are known).

One young offender interviewed by the media after his stint in a MCTC said that the hardest thing he found to get used to was the fact that the Army staff shouted at him (and the others).

However, after a time he realised that it wasn’t aggressive – it was just the way in which the Army communicates.

So I can understand your concerns about the language you mention – but most of it isn’t really military language: it’s sort of quasi-army Stars Wars film-speak, most of which I don’t recognise from my military years!

The Army also writes in a completely different way than the rest of us – or, more precisely, in 2 different ways, because it has Operational Writing and Non-Operational Writing.

This is collectively known as Staff Duties (SD) – which I still use in certain circumstances.

But that’s probably enough Army language for now!

Keep up the good work.


On the other hand

I’m equally unsure about the other approach to marketing jargon:

  • “Make it sexy”
  • Market penetration
  • Customer touch points

Can you think of any more?

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