Who is Nancy, you might ask. (I’ll get to Lucy later) Nancy is many things – a close friend, a good listener, a great story teller and so entertaining that an evening with her races by. Nancy is also a talented writing coach who writes clearly, effectively and with humour.
So when my feisty mother complained about people who send her insincere emails starting with “I hope you’re well” before getting to what they really want, I asked Nancy for some advice. She didn’t disappoint. In this post from her excellent blog Weltchek Weekly: Your Bulleting for Better Business Writing, she addresses the matter head on.
Similarly, when my 23-year-old son Thomas said to me on the phone,
I’ll reach out to Grandma,
I stayed calm. Blamed his diction on his banking day job. And told Thomas, like the first time I heard him say the f-word, that we don’t say ‘reach out’ at home. Grandma would never recover if he tried to “reach out” to her. Nancy agrees – only Diana Ross is allowed to ‘reach out and touch somebody’s hand.’ Read this blog from Nancy, called “Reaching Out Will Get You Only So Far.”
Now we come to Lucy.
Lucy Kellaway is not a good friend. I have never met her. But I love her frank and funny Listen to Lucy podcasts. The outspoken Financial Times columnist is an ace bullshit detector.
She chastises Speedo for calling their swimming caps ‘a hair management system,” and a sock manufacturer renaming their socks ‘life performance solutions.”
Like Nancy, my mother and me, Lucy detests the term ‘reach out.’ In her annual booby awards podcast, she mentions Michael, the PR man who wrote in an email:
I hope you don’t mind the outreach.
Alas, I do mind, replied Lucy. To reach out has always been hateful but making it a noun and reversing the word order does not help.
Lucy rarely praises. However the Chinese meat magnate won Lucy’s prize for clarity when he uttered,
What I do is kill pigs and sell meat.