Huffpost WorldPost
Nick Jefferson Headshot

What's Your (Tory) Name?

Posted: Updated:

Last week Twitter was awash with the latest bout of UK pre-election madness: work out your "Tory name."

Using this admitted rehash of the old "porn name" game, even the most humble amongst us can be instantly transformed into heavily-set, ruddy-cheeked, wobbly-jowled landed squires.

Your "Tory name" works as follows:

Take the first name of a grandparent to make your new "Tory" first name. Then take the name of the street you grew up in and then hyphenate that with the surname of your headmaster, to achieve your grandiose "Tory" surname.

I come out as James Bracewood-Kitley...

Certainly sounds more "Tory" than plain, old Nick Jefferson.

And that's the point. We attribute meaning and value to language in very important, highly nuanced ways.

Look at the argument raging in the run-up to this General Election about the proposed rise in national insurance.

Or it would be an argument about national insurance if the Labour party had their way.

Because the Tories want to call it a "jobs tax."

And this is more than just a simple argument about semantics. The label that we give to something is absolutely capable of defining and shaping our thoughts on that thing.

So a "jobs tax" just feels bad. It's punitive; it's about people having something taken away from them.

"National insurance," on the other hand, feels good; it's about people being given something in the form of healthcare and welfare.

The same is true of the old Inheritance Tax vs. Death Tax debate. Do you want to be taxed on your wealth (Inheritance Tax) or on your death (Death Tax)? The answer may well be "neither" of course, but the former is indisputably the more attractive of the two propositions. In the US, the Republicans totally changed the argument when they decided, as a matter of deliberate policy, to refer only to "Death Tax" and never to its more socially acceptable equivalent.

All of us involved in corporate communications need to be acutely aware of the importance of language in this respect. Indeed, an Investor Relations journalist recently asked me why we called the "Credit Crunch" the "Credit Crunch," and not the "Debt Crunch." It's a good question.

And, whilst we're on the topic, why not a "debt card" rather than a "credit card"?

Outside of very sophisticated financial circles, most people attach negative connotations to "debt" - it burdens people and organisations. "Credit" on the other hand is an enabler, helping people and organisations to do things that they otherwise could not.

It would be difficult, naive even, to argue that the subtle, almost unnoticed, change of language from 'debt' to 'credit' was responsible for the crisis, but as communications professionals, we should ask whether we think it had at least a part to play.

Was our global, insatiable obsession with what might just as easily have been called "debt" connected to our choice of the sunny, positive language of "credit": credit the enabler, credit the positive force for good?

Who knows?

Not James Bracewood-Kitley, that's for sure.