Opinions, best practices and research into B2B marketing strategy and practices

Words to watch out for – if English isn’t your native business language

Woman using Binoculars

cylindr’s home market is Scandinavia. And, while the Scandis (thanks to one of my colleagues last week for proving to me that the word “Scandi” has become mainstream these days) are known for being well-versed in the English language, there are still a few common errors that squeeze through the cracks in the world of business.

Here are a few that we encounter on a regular basis: 

“Exiting”

There’s nothing wrong with the word “exiting”. Not, that is, if it’s used in the right context. But as recently as yesterday, we saw the word used by the CEO of a major building market chain like this: “It’s a very exiting time for us”. Now, that’s a fairly unlucky way to phrase things – because instead of “exciting”, the CEO’s message seems to say that things are going rather badly. The learning? Remember the difference between “exiting” (the act of removing oneself from something) and “exciting” (when it’s pretty cool to be part of something).

“Competency”

Getting this one right isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably best to call in an expert. But it does matter – and when Scandinavian companies write something like “we have all the necessary competences”, it sticks out a mile. But let’s try and explain how it works. The problem is the word “kompetence” in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. It’s very close in meaning to the English word “competence”. But where one can write “kompetencer” as a plural form, you’ll need to write “competencies” in English. And that’s where things start to get hairy!

“Fun/funny”

Somehow, this is a hard one for Scandinavians, who tend to lean toward “funny” when they mean fun – and that sounds rather strange to us native English-speakers. So let’s get it right: “Funny” is used to describe things that are likely to make you laugh or things/situations that are surprising or weird. “Fun” is when you’re having a smiling good time. Maybe two examples will help…

“I’ve never seen something so funny.”

“The party was fun.”

Who cares?

Of course, in spoken conversations, this stuff doesn’t really matter – mostly, native English-speakers are delighted you can speak their language and they don’t care about minor errors. But in written contexts (like your company website, brochures or articles), they’ll come down hard on spelling and grammar errors, seeing these as an indication of your company’s attitude to quality in general.

There is, however, one exception – and it’s new on the scene: Social media contexts, such as LinkedIn comments, Facebook and the like. Here, people are much more forgiving – you’re not expected to get it right, whether you’re from Sweden or the USA. Just relax!

Interested in learning about how we can help with your copywriting?

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Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, partner at cylindr BBN and a B2B marketing enthusiast. I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson. My mission? To help B2B companies make the most of the value they create for the world. My hobby: Nutritional science, particularly sports nutrition.