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Writers Talk About Writing

Recession-Proof Your Language!

Mim Harrison, author of Spoken Like a Pro: An Insider's Guide to the Language of Professions and Smart Words, has some simple advice in these tough economic times: "Talk like a pro and you could save some dough."

So much for luxury, concierge and the sky's the limit.

These belt-tightening times demand language suitable for a languishing economy. Knowing some lingo of the retail, restaurant and hotel trades could save you some dough — at least enough to buy a couple gallons of gas or that latte you've been denying yourself. Here are 10 terms to add to your linguistic toolbox.

  1. BOGO. "Buy One, Get One" is becoming the familiar refrain at grocery stores and other retailers. The unspoken finish to the phrase is "free." A BOGO is often a two-for-the-price-of-one. Granted, a BOGO offer on your favorite tortilla chips may not be a bargain, as you're likely to eat them twice as fast, but look for it on items such as soap and breakfast cereal.

  2. Fudge. No, not the sticky chunks that cost a chunk of change at specialty shops. This fudge has to do with cookies, and knowing the difference between cookies made with real chocolate — meaning, from the cacao nut — and those that, well, have to fudge it because they contain only chocolate flavorings. You may not want to pay as much for chocolate-fudge cookies as for chocolate ones.

  3. "Eye level is buy level." Grocery stores in particular are masters at placing the products they're pushing the hardest where it's the easiest to reach for them. Try looking above or below the center shelves, as you may find comparable items for a lower price.

  4. Keystone. Have this word in your back pocket when you're haggling over price with the used-car-salesman genre. Place hands on hip, tap foot and demand: "How much are you marking this up — more than keystone?" Keystone is shorthand for a 50 percent markup, meaning you're paying twice as much at retail as the wholesale price. No right-minded retailer is actually going to tell you what the markup is, but at least you've let it be known you're a savvy shopper.

  5. Rack rate. If you prefer to book directly with hotels rather than through a third-party website, know that the rack rates — the prices they print in their rack cards, or promotional literature — are not necessarily the lowest room rates. Ask.

  6. Shoulder season. Vacation destinations have a peak season, an off season and a shoulder season — those months right before and after peak. Go for the shoulder and you won't take it on the chin, pricewise, the way you will in peak.

  7. Stiffs and whales. In restaurants, "stiffs" are the tables that leave a stingy tip (less than 15 percent). "Whales" are the ones that leave a fat one (more than 20 percent). No need to be either. Just be fair.

  8. Gang up. Printers will gang, or group, comparable print jobs when they can as a way to save money in prepping the press. Borrow from the profession that boasts the parsimonious Ben Franklin as its member, and gang up all your car errands to save gas.

  9. OPM. Even if you're clipping coupons, you can at least sound like a venture capitalist. "OPM" is what venture capitalists excel at — using Other People's Money to make more. Nice work if you can get it.

  10. Miser's dream. Magicians are adept at pulling rabbits out of a hat. Another magic trick is producing money from thin air — known as the miser's dream. Well, we can always dream.

Mim Harrison has been a speechwriter, scriptwriter and ghostwriter for numerous professions since 1984. She is also the founding editor of Levenger Press. Her books include Spoken Like a Pro: An Insider's Guide to the Language of Professions and Smart Words. To learn more about her work, please visit her website.


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