In a recent post, I talked about organizations that believe their preferred way of doing things represented the industry standards. In a similar vein, I’ve done work for companies that have their own lexicons — even style guides spelling out exactly how things should be worded.
For example, I used to do a lot of work for some divisions of Amoco Oil (since absorbed by BP). Among the no-nos in their style guide was that you couldn’t refer to their primary product as gas. Even though the average consumer may say, “I need to buy gas” and go to the gas station to pump ten gallons of gas into his gas tank, any materials produced by Amoco were required to reference “gasoline.”
Back when I worked for a large phone company, they referred to hearing that noise that comes out of the phone when you lift it out of the receiver (I know I’ve just lost younger readers with that) as “having dial tone.” Not having “a” dial tone or hearing “the” dial tone, but “having dial tone.” To me, it sounds like some level of spiritual enlightenment.
There are times, though, that such lexicons contribute to real confusion. Amoco also tended to refer to convenience stores as “c-stores,” which is a common industry term. Unfortunately, it’s not so common among consumers, so when they were told to visit their nearest c-store, many weren’t sure to turn. Others probably assumed that it was located between the b-store and the d-store.
The moral? It’s okay to have and use a corporate or industry lexicon, but leave it in the office when you’re ready to communicate with consumers and others outside the company. Otherwise, your message is likely to get mangled or simply misunderstood.