The worst press release ever

TypingYesterday, I ran my first Articulate Seminar. It was tremendous fun and I found that talking about writing with people from different industries illuminated old problems in new ways for me. Andrew Yeomans came along from Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein and afterwards he sent me his delightful deconstruction of press release hype:

“This amazing, prestigious and sophisticated product is a quantum leap forward and performance is a greater order of magnitude, and will decimate the competition. The enormity of this tremendous advance indicates our commitment to servicing our customers in a forensically sound manner.”

Various dictionaries give:

  • amazing 1. Causing distraction, consternation, confusion, dismay; stupefying, terrifying, dreadful.
  • prestigious 1. Practising juggling or legerdemain; of the nature of or characterized by juggling or magic; cheating, deluding, deceitful; deceptive, illusory.
  • sophisticated 1. Mixed with some foreign substance; adulterated; not pure or genuine. 2. a. Altered from, deprived of, primitive simplicity or naturalness. Of a literary text: altered in the course of being copied or printed. 3. a. Falsified in a greater or less degree; not plain, honest, or straightforward.
  • quantum 5. Physics. A minimum amount of a physical quantity which can exist and by multiples of which changes in the quantity occur.
  • magnitude 3. A class in a system of classification determined by size. a. Each of the classes into which the fixed stars have been arranged according to their degree of brilliancy. Now regarded as a number on a continuous scale representing the negative logarithm of the brightness, such that a decrease of five magnitudes represents a hundred-fold increase in brightness and a decrease of one magnitude an increase of 2·512 times.
  • decimate 4. transf. a. To kill, destroy, or remove one in every ten of.
  • enormity (-nôrmt) n., pl. e·nor·mi·ties. 1. The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness. 2. A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage.
  • tremendous \Tre*men”dous\, a. [L. tremendus that is to be trembled at, fearful, fr. tremere to tremble.] Fitted to excite fear or terror; such as may astonish or terrify by its magnitude, force, or violence; terrible; dreadful; as, a tremendous wind; a tremendous shower; a tremendous shock or fall.
  • advance \Ad*vance”\, v. t. 7. To furnish, as money or other value, before it becomes due, or in aid of an enterprise; to supply beforehand
  • commitment \Com*mit”ment\, n. 4. A doing, or perpetration, in a bad sense, as of a crime or blunder; commission.
  • service \Serv”ice\, n. 11. Copulation with a female; the act of mating by male animals
  • forensic Relating to, used in, or appropriate for courts of law or for public discussion or argumentation.
  • sound a. Meaningless noise. b. Thorough; complete: a sound flogging.

So the translation is:

“This confusing, dreadful, deceitful, illusory, adulterated, dishonest product is the smallest possible small step forward and provides less than half the performance, and will kill very few of our competitors. The monstrous evil of our releasing this dreadful product before it it ready demonstrates our crimes in screwing over our clients, see you in court where we will speak complete nonsense.”

9 Responses to The worst press release ever

  1. Roger Ash April 2, 2009 at 7:37 pm #

    You seem to have made the common mistake of thinking that because a quantum is very small, thus a quantum leap is a very small leap. This is not the case – a quantum leap is an abrupt change.

  2. Content Writers Group November 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    I agree. That is a rather strange press release. It’s more of an article, but it wouldn’t even qualify as that because it just breaks guideline policies left & right. He would be better off calling it an excerpt from a sales page more than anything else.

  3. Stephen February 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    At the risk of stating the obvious, these definitions, while correct, aren’t the only meanings of these words, and are not currently the most commonly implied meanings. The language isn’t driven by dictionaries. It’s driven by common usage. The result is, of course, histerical. The real crime for this press release is how utterly devoid it is of meaning. This is also common usage for advertising. One expects the phrase “unsurpased quality” to be synonymous with “no worse than similar products (or services)”.

    As an American, i’ve been asked if it’s really true that Americans have a 40,000 word vocabulary. This is the average. And it’s a larger vocabulary than many other languages, such as Spanish. That doesn’t mean Americans are somehow smarter, or are more articulate. But i’ve been asked specificially if i have a 40,000 word vocabulary. My answer is “no”. I’m highly educated. The exercise is to get a dictionary that brags about how many words it defines. Get a sheet of paper. And do this about 30 times: open the dictionary to a random page, jam your finger into the left column, and move up until you get to a defined word. Read the entry and decide if you really know the word. Can you pronounce it? Can you use it in a sentence? If yes, add one to the column on your paper for ones you got, otherwise, mark it in the column for those you didn’t get. When you’re done, do the math. The number you got, divided by 30 (the number of trials), times the number of words the dictionary says it has, and that’s an approximation to the size of your vocabulary. For me, it was some 450,000. What does that mean? I dunno. I’m an engineer. I don’t know English. Right?

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