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That is, like, so totally inappropriate

British actress Emma Thompson kicked out at slang used by school pupils last month. She suggested that use of street talk gives an impression of stupidity, and that words such as ‘innit’ and ‘like’ should be avoided at all costs.

To some extent we agree, but it’s important to remember that appropriacy is vital. There’s no reason why children, teenagers and adults alike shouldn’t use abbreviations or ‘non-words’ within their own social circles. As so many people have pointed out, this is a great means of identification/belonging to a group. And after all, these are the trends that give the English language its labels of diversity and richness. However, in a professional setting there are clearly some words and phrases that should be avoided.

It’s not just school pupils that need to acknowledge appropriacy. The language a company uses on its corporate website will need to resonate with a number of audiences, whereas in an internal meeting, jargon (which is almost a form of slang in itself) is inevitable and also generally accepted by the audience.

There are three things that must be identified in order to ensure appropriacy:

Who are they? Age, lifestyle and other such demographics.
Why are they reading? Leisurely? In order to make a purchase? In order to become knowledgeable about a subject?
What do you want them to do with the information they have gained? Share it on an authoritative level? Chat about it socially? Give you their opinion?

And these are just the minimum. The better you get to know your audience, the more appropriate and effective your copy, or speech, will be.

The concern should not lie simply with the use of slang, full stop. But rather, with ensuring that school pupils, young adults and older professionals are aware of the best ways to connect with their audience through the appropriate use of language.

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