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How 'Keywords' Are Killing The English Language

"I don't want my word choices determined by an algorithm or FOMO."

30/06/2017 12:14 PM AEST | Updated 30/06/2017 12:14 PM AEST
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"Yes, words are transactional, but surely the relationship is human and the approach creative, not numeric."

Now we're slaves to keywords.

Experts tell me if someone will type it into a search engine, it's a word I need to be using. Or else. But I'm a writer. I'm kinda creative. I might like to alert you to the nature of my services with unusual words, like dangerous. But you and nobody else will type that word to search for a writing mentor.

What happens to language and creativity when the search vacuum only picks up detritus? When we get excited just because there are keywords nobody is using yet. Woohoo.

Alarm bells first rang when the word 'content' began circulating; uttered with reverence. Hang on, I thought, you're talking about words and writing here. Indeed, the age of content has seen the commodification of writing. And yes, words are transactional, but surely the relationship is human and the approach creative, not numeric.

I was surprised when a writer friend got a job stuffing search-sexy words onto a website blog each week. It was for a furniture company. Yes, there are plenty of sexy ways to write about lounges. But how many would be search-friendly? I assure you my friend wasn't turned on by the job.

Language is humanity's gift to ourselves and for each other. I want to live in a world where the way words weave continues to enhance civilisation.

Maybe it's a bit funny that we're commonly using the word 'algorithm'. Do we know what it means, let alone its implications? I typed it into search (of course) and am not much wiser. My search engine told me Chaucer used 'augrim', a derivative. I wonder what he'd have to say. Imagine 'Canterbury Tales' using only popular keywords. He might suggest keywords are killing the English language.

To someone who cares about language, the perversion feels like the literary equivalent of an atomic bomb. I mentor people to write in a style I call 'dangerous voice'. On the one hand, I want my students to improve their vocabularies and become eloquent, powerful writers. On the other, I'm at odds with their social media advisers, who tell them which words to use.

If I don't play along with keywords, I may cease to exist online. Perhaps I'll become unsearchable unless I use the SEO endorsed vocabulary. But I don't want my word choices determined by an algorithm or FOMO.

Corporate, bureaucratic and legal-speak have already robbed two generations of their linguistic potential. Now I'm concerned keywords will do over the next. Seemingly-educated people become illiterate beyond specialist professions and workplace jargon. They can write alright. But the words don't add up to mean anything.

I don't plan on becoming a slave to the Google god. My writing will remain wild and free.

Everyone has encountered incomprehensible writing and speech. If it's not hilarious, it's frightening. Like I've suddenly fallen deaf and don't know what anyone is saying. Maybe I'm just biased. I'd prefer to ponder a poetic nuance than translate management lingo.

I met a man who was employed to check the veracity of websites for search engines. He used a long check list, over 80 items; with values such as experience and credibility rating high. This gave me hope. These are the kinds of values I appreciate.

Language is humanity's gift to ourselves and for each other. I want to live in a world where the way words weave continues to enhance civilisation. If it cannot always be inspired and exciting; surely we desire it liberated and infinitely creative. Texts created without keywords mustn't become digital refugees.

As for me, I don't plan on becoming a slave to the Google god. My writing will remain wild and free. If my values don't rank high on their checklists, we may all be in strife. If my enterprise threatens to sink without a digital trace, I will take advice from my social media adviser on ramping up rank (she offered to vet this piece for keywords, I declined). Rank can be bought, yes. It can even be traded. But not at the expense of the independence of my own writing.

Read more at www.katiemac.com.au.

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