Why would anyone want to be stuck in a corner office? Some hidey hole with no windows, furthest from the door, the loos and the coffee machine. In the UK, that is. When Americans get a corner office, it means they have status, seniority and a view. It’s a phrase that goes whooshing over most British heads.
Which is why international brand language is hard work. Which the new world of business speak likes to call ‘challenging’.
We’ve been working with a truly global company whose international business language is US English with extra helpings of jargon, buzzwords, legalese and Latin. But their Singaporean team, the French, the Danes and Swedes all prefer British English, with the spelling we use in the UK. (There’s another one for you; in the United States they use full stops for U.S. but not for UK. No idea why.)
The wrong kind of pants
One of the German writers had never realised there was such a difference between the two; he only knew about pavement and sidewalk, and the misunderstandings which can arise over pants. He’d no idea that the British are inclined go bananas when they read about color and flavor.
But these are small details compared with the American genius for inventing new business words, usually by adding syllables. One of our new favourites was ‘relevancy’, where the ‘relevance’ would do quite nicely. All the while, the British are leading the world in shearing off syllables and shelving jargon. Simplificization, you might say.
International good writing
These differences aside, when it came to improving the company’s writing our brand language techniques worked in all nine languages we covered. As their writers told us, when you’re working with bad English it’s a lot easier to translate it straight into a bad version in your own language. Make the original better, and it slides beautifully into another tongue.
So the good news is that you can have good clear writing by following the same helpful guidelines in at least nine languages. You just can’t assume that meanings will stay the same when you translate word for word, especially between American and British. Fanny pack, anyone?