How important are words? Very! Don’t ask me, don’t ask writers generally – ask marketers, brand managers – they will tell you how powerful a word can be.
Here’s an example, from history, which illustrates just how important what you call something can turn out to be. The place where I live, Gloucestershire in the UK, used to be apple country – they made cider in these parts and cultivated apples in a seemingly infinite variety. Every country lane you turn down still, to this day, has a cider orchard in it full of ancient trees, their bent backs held up with wooden props like little old men with walking sticks.
Among the many varieties of locally cultivated apples, now sadly all consigned to the pantry of history, was one which was considered particularly tasty and useful – yet you will not find it on the shelves of Asda and Walmart. Why not? you may ask. Well – the name of this sumptuous fruit ladies and gentlemen was the Hen’s Turd.
Mouth watering it may have been but you won’t find it in a hopper next to the Golden Delicious in your local hypermarket. Because, essentially, what the Hen’s Turd had was a branding problem.
It had clearly been named after what it looked like in a ‘say what you see’ kind of way – but when Farmer Giles came up with this label he obviously hadn’t been thinking through the long-term marketing strategy. So, sadly, the Hen’s Turd resides in our fruit bowls no longer.
The truth is that the Hen’s Turd didn’t die out because of how it tasted, which was nice, it died out because of words. Which is why we’ve ended up eating the Golden Delicious, which tastes like wood shavings dipped in citric acid.
And that, my friends, is how important words can be.