Are You Really Writing For Your Blog Audience?

Filed as News on May 4, 2007 8:15 am

In Cultural Colloquiums and Blog Writing, I shared a joke that I had grown up with and thought was very clever and funny that I told to a friend while I was living in the Middle East. While she was fluent in the English language, after I told the joke, I could tell that her laughter wasn’t sincere. She didn’t get the joke.

To understand the joke you had to know about the The Lone Ranger television show of the 1950s, about a blindfolded white man hero who rode a white horse and wore a white hat who rescued folks out in the wild, wild west. You also knew the theme song of the television show, The William Tell Overture by Tchaikovsky, which played as the man and horse raced across the wide open deserts. Without that information, the joke wasn’t funny.

Television didn’t reach the Israelis until the 1970s. If they were born and raised in the Middle East, the Lone Ranger and his song weren’t part of their culture. It was an important part of mine. Was it yours?

Have you stopped to consider the cultural colloquiums and references you make in your blog writing which are country, region, or age specific? I have.

Have you ever tried to explain American baseball to a Russian? Or anyone who has no familiarity with baseball? I did and it was a nightmare, trust me. Americans are unconscious about their use of baseball references in their day-to-day language. How many times have you declared something was a “strike out” and you don’t even like baseball? It’s just part of our language.

“So, did you get to third base last night?” “Nah, I struck out again.” “You know the law. Three strikes, you’re out.” “Hey, take a walk.” “Well, that came out of left field.” “It was a home run, baby!” “It was a line drive I didn’t see coming at me.”

Think about how the trendy, jargon, national, and regional references you use in your blog may be misunderstood or even confuse your blog readers. It’s critical for bloggers to be “understood”, so take time to look at what you write and how your writing may create a disconnect with your readers.

Cardoso shared a story of starting an online tutorial with “OK, let’s do it together, Little Grasshopper…” and a woman responded, outraged, “Are you calling me an insect!” The reference was to an American classic television show, Kung Fu, a show that obviously never reached her.

If you are writing for a very specific audience, then use terms and phrases they will recognize and identify with. Identifiable cultural colloquialisms connect people. When they understand the reference, you hold their attention and can move forward with the subject matter. There is no confusion.

If you are writing as a representative of a culture or region, then definitely allow your written speech to represent the dialect and colloquialisms of your area. It’s essential to create the “sense” of place in your blog writing, inviting the readers into your world.

Still, watch for colloquial phrases and asides that don’t add to your blog writing. We often throw in metaphors and similes that don’t add to the content but stylize it.

While stylization is colorful and adds to the story, not all such references can be easily understood by an international audience. You may end up spending more time in the comments answer questions about why you used a specific reference than the point you intended to make. I can’t tell you how long it took me to explain the Lone Ranger and baseball, but it was way past the point of funny when I finished. And the original point in bringing up the subject was long gone.

Have you had a situation where someone misunderstood what you were blogging about because of a cultural expression or phrase? Do you think about the expressions you use when you write and if they will be recognized by your audience?


Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

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  1. By Jan posted on May 4, 2007 at 1:39 pm
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    Since English is a foreign language for me I don’t fall into this trap myself too often, although I watched enough American television and read enough English and American books to be introduced to a lot of this. Initially you have to look things up and educate yourself a little, but then you get most of it.

    Still references to actual events, celebrities etc may throw me off as I just don’t get what they are hinting at, but you generally get the main points anyway. One thing that gets lost in that process is however, as you point out, the spontaneity and a joke explained is mostly simply not funny just as an insight missed is an insight lost.

    Parallel to the “Cultural Colloquiums” you refer to is using technical terms and other specialized terms that only those into the subject really gets. I must admit that I had to look up “Colloquiums”, although I knew what you meant from the context, as I never heard the word before. Looking it up didn’t really help though is its definition really didn’t seem to have much to do with this topic, but maybe it is what happens when you take it out of the context.

    So keep in mind that when you are blogging are you communicating with the world and not everyone is a native English speaker, thus expanding the problem from culture alone to include language as well.

    Keep up the good work – I always look forward to your posts in particular!

  2. By timethief posted on May 4, 2007 at 2:17 pm
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    I’m a faithful reader of your posts and the broad diversity of subject matters you explore amazes me. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. This article will certainly influence how I write my blog posts in the future.

    Best regards

  3. By Going Like Sixty posted on May 4, 2007 at 2:54 pm
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    If I create a disconnect with a reader, they probably won’t be back.
    So why should I be concerned?
    I wrote about having a lead foot. lead as in led, not leed. So?
    I don’t do it intentionally of course, but everyone has a writing style and if it becomes homogenized (will Mumbai readers know what that means?) then writing becomes bland.
    That’s no fun and reading blogs should be fun.
    BTW? I didn’t “take a walk” was a baseball term. I thought it was like “take a hike.”
    OMG, who won’t understand BTW?
    How would one ever get anything written?
    I appreciate your hard work and will remain a loyal reader.

  4. By Armen : : Blog Advice posted on May 4, 2007 at 10:55 pm
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    Excellent Lorelle!

    When I first started blogging on my personal blog, many of my visitors were just friends and family. As such, it was easy to dialogue in the comments in a manner some others wouldn’t understand. When writing something that is colloquial (and with my Ulster-Scots background, there are thousands), I now explain it in brackets, but generally I try to stay away from doing it.

    When I read this post, I was reminded of a story I heard concerning an Australian who went to America, and one day he went to a mechanic and told him that his battery was “flat”. The mechanic thought he must have drove over it, because Americans would say there batteries are “dead”.

  5. By pelf posted on May 5, 2007 at 9:35 am
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    I’ve never seriously considered this, because I didn’t know my I had international readers. But when I realized I had some, I tried to use simple-and-easy-to-understand English.

    In fact, I have blogger-friends who explain the terms they use in parentheses or footnotes.

  6. By Dave posted on May 5, 2007 at 10:26 pm
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    Wow… you really nailed that one. (idiom alert) Seriously that is some of the best advice on this area ever. Even just to remember the blogosphere is global. I forget that alot. Thanks!

  7. By Leigh posted on May 8, 2007 at 7:49 am
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    American English is only one variety. There’s also British English, Canadian English, Australian English, Kiwi (New Zealand) English. Not to mention the English spoken as a second language by millions in former British colonies like India.

    As an Australian, I’m very aware that an American audience is not likely to understand Aussie slang. I try to write in what I think of as ‘standard international English’ – its a bit bland, but more widely intelligible

    And by the way, Lorelle, I think the Lone Ranger rode to the William Tell overture, not the 1812.

    HiYo Silver!

    cheers,

    Leigh

  8. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on May 8, 2007 at 11:14 am
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    You’re right. We were just listening to the 1812 version by the Swingle Singers the day before I wrote this, so the slip was Freudian. ;-) Good catch.

    When teaching English in another country, I’m told by many students that they want to learn ‘merican English not British or another version. I think that this is sad, but there is a belief that the American version of English is the language of business. I’d really hate to see the loss of the magical twists and turns a language takes when it deviates along the path of migration. And even as an American, I really hate our accent. It sounds horrible, but you can’t hear in it in a blog post. Thankfully. ;-)

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