Here’s an interesting thought for language buffs.

The other day I saw a tweet by the brilliant business copywriter Clare Lynch.

She said:

Both “under” and “way” are in the dictionary. “Underway”, however, is not. #BizwritingTip

Now, ‘underway’ is a word I’ve always used. I quite like it. I didn’t want to lose it.

So I looked it up in the dictionary we use at our copywriting agencyThe Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

It was in there. But for some reason it wasn’t in Clare’s Concise Oxford Dictionary.

We both have perfectly good reasons for choosing to use the word or not.

But what interested me was the idea behind our decisions.

Should copywriters use words that aren’t in the dictionary?

On reflection, I think we should – as long as they mean something to our readers.

And by the same measure, we certainly shouldn’t use words just because they are in the dictionary.

As David Ogilvy once pointed out:

“I once used the word OBSOLETE in a headline, only to discover that 43 per cent of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline, I used the word INEFFABLE, only to discover that I didn’t know what it meant myself.”

What do you think? Let’s get the commenting underway…