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Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear Paperback – Aug 5 2008


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Amazon.com: 52 reviews
123 of 127 people found the following review helpful
Word up! Aug. 23 2008
By Julie Neal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is masterful in its exploration of the use of language in American life, especially in business and politics. It was written by Dr. Frank Luntz, who calls himself a "linguistic geek." It's ideal for anyone, like me, who loves words and reading.

The subhead to the book is "It's not what you say, it's what people hear." The trick is to speak in a way to make people hear what you want them to hear. To be persuasive. As Luntz writes, "It's not enough to be correct or reasonable or even brilliant." People must first listen, and then understand.

This book gives many comparisons of word choices, and explains why one choice is the most effective. For example, instead of saying "comprehensive," say "easy to understand." "Pre-owned vehicle" sounds much better than "used car." "Housewives" have turned into "stay-at-home moms."

I'm reminded of another book I recently reviewed, Eat This Not That! which shows photos of foods to eat on the left, and comparable foods to avoid on the right. Words That Work could have been called Say This Not That!

Luntz gives a list of ten rules of successful communication that anyone can use:
1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
3. Credibility is As Important As Philosophy
4. Consistency Matters
5. Novelty: Offer Something New
6. Sound and Texture Matter
7. Speak Aspirationally
8. Visualize
9. Ask a Question
10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Words have such power. They force you to organize your thoughts if you want to connect with other people. When my daughter was in preschool, she was told to "use your words" when she and another child had an angry, emotional disagreement. This strategy worked. It works for grownups, too.

Fortunately, you don't have to share Luntz's politics to benefit from his book. I had to overlook his glee when describing the successful Contract with America in 1994, or how changing "drilling for oil" to the gentler phrase "energy exploration" frustrated "the entire environmental community." He describes Barack Obama's speeches as looking like they were "designed by Benetton." Learning how a wordsmith like Luntz helped usher in policies I disagree with is instructive and valuable.

Here's the chapter list:

1. The Ten Rules of Effective Language
2. Preventing Message Mistakes
3. Old Words, New Meaning
4. How "Words That Work" Are Created
5. Be the Message
6. Words We Remember
7. Corporate Cast Studies
8. Political Case Studies
9. Myths and Realities About Language and People
10. What We REALLY Care About
11. Personal Language for Personal Scenarios
12. Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-First Century
13. Conclusion
The Memos
Appendices:
The 2003 California Gubernatorial Recall
The 21 Political Words and Phrases You Should Never Say Again... Plus a Few More
The Clinton Impeachment Language
77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Do Luntz's Words Work for You? Sept. 7 2008
By John M. Ford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author resents accusations that his language hides and distorts meaning. "I do not believe there is something dishonorable about presenting a passionately held proposition in the most favorable light, while avoiding the self-sabotage of clumsy phrasing and dubious delivery." He then outlines his ten rules for effective language (Simplicity, Brevity, Credibility, Consistency, Novelty, Sound, Aspiration, Visualization, Asking Questions and Context / Relevance) and spends the rest of the book illustrating their use. Frank Luntz's book makes a good case that these rules are effective.

Several topics are worth reading closely. Luntz describes the "dial session" focus group methods he has devised to elicit and test snippets of effective language. He lays out the linguistic techniques he used to make the Republican "Contract with America" so appealing to voters. Chapter 9 debunks language-related myths the author's research has uncovered. These myths include that Americans are well educated, read a lot, and are generally happy. The truth corresponding to each myth has implications for choosing effective political and advertising language.

Frank Luntz's in-your-face style comes through in his stories--particularly the ones that end with him being thrown out of yet another client meeting. For readers who may be uncomfortable with this style, I'll suggest a brief test. The political and business arenas that contribute the bulk of his examples are far from most readers' experience. But Chapter 11, "Personal Language for Personal Scenarios," is different. It recommends the best language for apologizing, requesting a raise, avoiding a traffic ticket, and other everyday situations. This ten-page chapter is a quick read. You can easily finish it while sitting in one of those comfortable chairs at Borders. If you find value in this chapter, consider reading the rest of the book. If it puts you off, leave the book there on the floor next to the chair.

Readers troubled by Luntz's conservative perspective may want to counterbalance with George Lakoff's book (Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think) on the different metaphors that underlie conservative and progressive thinking. ("Progressive" is Lakoff's own Luntzian rehabilitation of the word "liberal.") Like Luntz, Lakoff uses examples and principles from his professional experience and political beliefs. Both authors are worth reading for what they say about effective use of language. We can learn from them whether we agree with their politics or not.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Deserves More Recognition Nov. 16 2008
By Burt Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There are a few reviewers who say that this book is a waste of time because of the author's political views, and emphatically say people should buy some other book. This is an asinine statement. This book is intelligently written, with ample real-world examples from the fields of business, politics, and personal life, and touch upon the current American mind-set and culture. The author's political view should in no way make this book "unreadable." Those who say such things have either not read the book or have absolutely no ability to gain understanding and wisdom from the other perspectives.

Nevertheless, Mr. Luntz has done a considerably good job in articulating words and phrases that influence the American people. Moreover, WHY these words and phrases are influential is also discussed, although at times in-depth analysis is lacking.

Influencing people or making coherent, likable arguments is an incredibly complex task. It's not merely about stage presence. It's not just about the tone and tenor of voice. It's not only about the type of suit the speaker wears. It's not just about the persona. It's all of these elements, and more. Good politicians are separated from GREAT politicians by how they manipulate and transform not only themselves but also their audiences.

Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan...all of these individuals have some sort of compelling attribute about them that has drawn Americans to vote them into office or bestow upon them hero-status. Mr. Luntz talks about how these people (and others) were able to gain public employment, and become important leaders in the most powerful nation on earth. Certainly is this interesting reading by itself.

But those who wish to understand the nature of persuasion and argument should read this book as a guide. Under no circumstances will this book, by itself, provide all the information necessary to become a good orator or politician. However, it is certainly a good piece of work that highlights some of the best techniques used by successful leaders, and some of the worst as well.

Read this book with an open mind. Do not be dissuaded by Mr. Luntz's political stance, which is irrelevant to the actual content.

More in-depth analysis of why people vote or act in certain ways would have been nice. The print is also smaller than in most books. The writing is sometimes contrived and some sections seem endless. But, overall, it's a worth-while read that deserves 4-stars.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Helped me think differently about my language Oct. 1 2008
By M Gemmill-Toyama - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book has many strong points, although the examples were off-putting at times. I learned quite a bit about my own language and why it has been ineffective at times. I realized that certain words I have been using and imagery that I have been invoking in the minds of my listeners can make them feel/think the opposite of what I intend.

I found the most helpful chapters to be:
Chapter 1 - Dr. Luntz clearly lays out the ten rules of effective communication with examples and explanations
Chapter 6 - he covers words we remember, referring frequently back to the words that work. This helped me further see his reasoning for the words that work
Chapter 9 - this chapter on the typical American was interesting and surprising!

However, I felt that the author could have said many of the same things in a lot less words (breaking one of his own rules). I also found myself becoming upset over his subtle and not-so-subtle promotion of the Republican platform. I picked up this book to learn more about communication, not to know the authors' own political opinions. I think he could have discussed the examples in a more balanced manner. For instance, he used the Swift Boat example as if the allegations made against John Kerry were known to be true (i.e. without presenting both sides of the story or at least mentioning the other side).

Overall, I found the book to be a useful read. I found that I got more out of it if I analyzed his examples without letting my own opinions override the analysis.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Highly Recommended--For Business or Pleasure Sept. 16 2008
By Dianna Booher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Luntz gives a fascinating analysis of past and current political races and how words have shaped and continue to shape voter thinking on both popular and unpopular issues. If you're older than forty, you'll find yourself reading along and recalling the shifting opinions as the words of our politicians and media changed in talking about the oil crisis and the environment, the social security system and retirement, illegal immigration and terrorism.

Another great section is Luntz's discussion about advertising--words that work in slogans and ads. He tells why some ads became classics and why some faded into oblivion almost immediately.

Any student of advertising or marketing, any PR specialist, or corporate communication director will find this book a treasure. Others will read it just for sheer fun.


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