I’m sorry. Talking Shrimp is wrong about this one.

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Laura Belgray, AKA Talking Shrimp, is maybe the most famous copywriter out there. She writes for Marie Forleo of B-School fame, and wrote “I earn $950 an hour writing from my couch — here are my best tips for people who want to work for themselves” for Business Insider.

Hey, no player hatred here. Good for her. And I love her copy, too.

But semi-recently she wrote a blog post about how much she hates it when people “check in” as in:

Hi there, I’m just checking in to see how you’re doing / if you got my invoice / if you had a chance to read the draft I sent you.

She rightly describes this as trying to say “I need an answer BITCH!” but in a nicer way.

HOWEVER, she suggests we start off communications like this with:

At the risk of being a noodge/ nag/ pest [CHOOSE ONE], I’m floating this back to the top of your inbox.

I felt a big fat NO rise to the top of my lungs as I read this. I can feel that same NO as I write about it here. NO!

There are 2 reasons why I hate this “I hate to be a nag” script.

#1: It’s an especially bad idea for women (and everyone who’s not squarely on the male end of the gender spectrum)

For years women have been bombarded with advice on how to succeed in the workplace. Apparently we need this advice because we’re not assertive enough. We ask for raises the wrong way. We lack confidence and conviction. We apologize too much. Etc. and ad nauseam.

Please note: this well-intentioned advice only speaks to (a certain type of) white woman.

For example, white female leaders are punished for being assertive, but black female leaders are expected to be assertive according to this study. However, as Maura Cheeks writes in the Harvard Business Review, the workplace experience of black women before they become leaders is greatly affected by the “angry black woman” stereotype. In my experience most work-advice-for-women articles do not account nor offer advice for women of color specifically.

Regardless, all of this advice indicates a rising tide of female empowerment...and then Laura tells her readers to characterize themselves as being a “a noodge/ nag/ pest” when engaging in an important, routine activity: getting an answer so we can do our jobs!

The last thing a woman should do is suggest she is a nag, damnit. We don’t need to resurrect the stereotype. I’d encourage everyone regardless of gender to dispense with this self-effacing language.

There is nothing wrong with asking for the information we need to do our jobs.

#2: Why should we change our communication style to appease Laura Belgray (or anyone else, for that matter) AKA “tasty handkerchief pocketbook” words

This is the one more closely related to copywriting.

I have words and phrases that I loathe. Some because they’re inaccurate, misused, offensive, or fall into the realm of business jargon. Like every self-respecting copywriter, I believe business jargon is a damning signal that “The Emperor has no clothes!” and yes, I encourage people to avoid those things.

But some of these hated phrases and words are just personal peccadillos. 

In elementary school, Liz Dunn’s mom hated the words “tasty” “handkerchief” and “pocketbook.” We all thought this was hilarious. We would find a way to say “there’s a tasty handkerchief in my pocketbook!” just to make her mom nuts.

A guy I used to know hated business emails that ended with “please advise.” He found it passive aggressive to the max.

I hate the (so-called) word “impactful” and I’ll never use it my copy.

However, these are all “tasty handkerchief pocketbook” words. There’s no real sin here. Just preferences.

“Checking in” is clearly Laura’s tasty handkerchief in her pocketbook. But just because she hates it doesn’t mean any of us have to abandon the phrase.

And if you prefer to use her formula when following up - please, by all means. Nag / nooge / pest are clearly tasty handkerchiefs in my pocketbook. And you know what I have to say about that.

Jenn Whinnem