YOU WANT A BETTER WORD?

When FDR spoke about freedom from want in his 1941 State of the Union address, he was talking about the concept, not the word itself. However, I’ve noticed that many people — particularly in the business world — have a very real aversion to “want” and an apparent need to be free from it.

I’m not sure why people are afraid of such a simple word. My only guess is that they’re focused on its more negative contexts, or that they find it too simple and folksy to serve intelligent readers. In most cases, though, it’s the ideal verb for the situation.

Still, I see a lot of people who “endeavor” rather than want. “We endeavor to do business with your organization.” Really? Instead of sounding friendly, that comes across as pompous or a bit on the archaic side. Now, if your company still operates in Elizabethan times, it may make sense.

Another popular alternate is “desire.” Some people actually stretch it into “desirous,” a form that’s just silly in most business communications. “We are desirous of a mutually beneficial arrangement.” But the most common meaning of desire these days involves hormones and pounding hearts. Using it in your letters or brochures imparts the tone of a romance novel. If you’re selling cologne or lingerie, that may be appropriate, but if your company is involved in industrial procurement, you should probably stick to want.

The most amusing alternate I can remember involved an account executive who ended a new-business solicitation with “I would cherish the opportunity to meet with you.” Another writer and I did our best to explain to him why “cherish” was just plain inappropriate in a business context. When our arguments failed, we simultaneously broke into an impromptu rendition of the Association’s top 40 hit of the same name. (And if you remember that song, I apologize for the fact that it’s will be stuck in your mind for the next couple of hours.)

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