I bought a coffee cake. (keep reading, the righteous indignation is coming)
I was at the grocery store looking for a dessert to enjoy that evening with friends who were coming to dinner. I spotted a nice looking cake. It said Coffee Cake on the packaging. So I thought "Mmmm, I like cake and I know we all like coffee so a coffee cake would hit the spot just right". I was already salivating at the thought of bitting into that first moist and tender piece and have that delicious java flavour explode on my palate.
Well, on the fateful evening, I bit into a forkfull of cake only to discover that...it tasted nothing like coffee. When I mentioned this to my friends, they all chuckled (as I am sure you are doing now) at my innocence. "Coffee cake doesn't have any coffee in it. It is to be eaten with coffee!" I was told. Well, perhaps it is because I am a francophone and had never had coffee cake but this made no sence to me. None at all!
So, for the record, I wish to state my case to the world: In the title of a cake, the first ingredient mentioned is supposed to be the main ingredient of the cake. Cheese cake is not a cake made to eat with cheese! Chocolate cake is not a vanilla cake made to eat with chocolate! Coffee cake is supposed to be a cake with coffee in it!!! These are basic rules of grammar we are dealing with here, rules without witch our society will descent into chaos and crumble! (crumble cake is ok though, because crumble is not an ingredient).
To support my point, I am including a long but not exhaustive list of cakes:
Caramel cake, Chocolate cake, cheesecake, strawberry shortcake (no shorts in there though), butter cake, fruitcake, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Rum cake, Three Milk cake, etc.
Exceptions to this rule:
- Birthday cake (and all other "event" cakes like wedding cake, etc.)
- Mooncakes (same deal)
- Sponge cakes/pound cakes (which refer to the texture and consistency rather than to the ingredients)
- Pancakes (which are not really cakes but a form of flatbread)
- Angel cakes (I wouldn't expect them to be made with real angels, although that would be cool!)
Whew, that felt good!
But seriously, this whole thing reminded me that assumptions are dangerous things in the communications business.
You know the old saying (or do you???) : When You Assume, you make an “Ass” out of “U” and “Me”.
Whenever you are trying to communicate something, whether it is to market your brand, to promote yourself, or simply to inform or entertain your audience, don't assume that they understand your cliches, your sayings, your word plays, etc. This is especially true if you are adressing an international audience with a different cultural background or for whom the language you are writing in is not your audience's native language. On the web, this is increasingly likely.
So, what do you do? Write plain boring text that is painfully to the point? No, of course not. The fact is that expressions can add colour and emotion to a text and you don't want to eliminate those, but do use them sparingly. They will have greater effect this way.
Also, know your audience. This is much easyer if you are targeting a niche market or a specific group. Even then, try to ensure that your message is clear and can be understood even if someone doesn't understand your inside joke or the bon mot you just thought up. What's great about the Web is that is allows for built-in context so you can offer your readers a way to clarify specific content it if they need to (just as I did with the link above for "bon mot").
Communications, and especially persuasive communications, requires that your audience understands what you were trying to convey. This is true wether you are writing copy for a million dollar add or a simple blog post.
Well, I'm off. We're having Spotted dick pudding for dessert tonight. God I hope that's another exception...