Red Pen Diaries: Emphatically Yours

Why should YOU cook?

That's the piquant tagline our client Lisa Feinstein whipped up to promote her catering business, Provisions.

The reason this tagline is so delicious is Lisa's emphasis on the word "you." The distinction between the emphasized "you" and the unemphasized "you" is subtle yet important, particularly in furthering the Provisions brand.

The question "Why should you cook?" (unemphasized "you") falls flat; it has no point of view. Moreover, the unemphasized-you version doesn't make sense as a slogan for a catering business. Rather, it suggests a treatise on the benefits of making dinner from scratch vs. microwaving packaged foods. It addresses the "you" that in common parlance has come to substitute for "one," as in, "Why should one cook?"

"Why should YOU cook?" (emphasized "you"), on the other hand, is something else entirely; it addresses the actual "you." The question "Why should YOU cook?" speaks to your sneaking suspicion that you, personally, should not have to cook — at all, let alone for a group. For me, the question "Why should YOU cook?" can only be answered with: "No earthly reason."

"Why should YOU cook?" with its emphasis on "you" evoking a certain Jewish brogue, embodies the fundamental branding maxim "Be who you are."

"Why should YOU cook?" is good branding because it makes you feel that Lisa understands you; she realizes that you're simply too busy or too culinarily challenged or ... hmm ... What's the quality of being too much a princess? ... to cook. By making you feel understood, Lisa has made a connection with you, that special engagement that inspires you to call Provisions about the dinner party you committed to after a few glasses of Torrontes (and attendant burst of good will to all) but are now dreading with a vengeance.

"Why should YOU cook?" is also good branding because it reflects one of Lisa Feinstein's unique selling propositions: Among other things, she's a nice Jewish girl. She grasps the power of a little Yiddish rhythm to cut through the din, to "call out" not just to her fellow Semites but to a culture increasingly steeped in Yiddishkeit.

In fact, most of Provisions' burgeoning clientele is not Jewish. But Lisa has earned raves for her sexy little hors-d'oeuvre interpretations of Jewish soul food: borscht shooters, brisket on toast, mini kugels, smoked-salmon bites and paté (my people call it chopped liver).

So "Why should YOU cook?" with its emphasis on "you" evoking a certain Jewish brogue, embodies the fundamental branding maxim "Be who you are" and is thus delectably effective.

Lisa tends to speak emphatically, so it's not surprising that she'd write emphatically. I talk that way, too, punching a word here, a phrase there (it's why I'm frequently told I sound like Sandras Bernhard and Tsing Loh). And, as you've likely noticed, I pepper my prose with italics and all caps, salt my sentences with colons and dashes. Used with restraint, lexicographical emphasis sharpens your writing, makes it more precise, more rhythmically interesting and, just as important, more you.

(Nowadays, you can get your emphasis on by simply putting whatever you're emphasizing in all caps. I will nonetheless admit that I'm sorry italics are losing their status as the dominant means of stressing a selection of text, having fallen prey to a digital domain that often requires HTML to render that sly slant. There IS a distinction, a matter of degrees, between emphasis via ital and emphasis via all caps. I still feel a little like I'm shouting when I write, however briefly, in the latter. But I'm sure I'll get over it, as I've gotten over separating sentences by two spaces. Sigh.)

Writing with emphasis is sometimes non-negotiable. The highlighted "you" in "Why should YOU cook?" is the air in Lisa's soufflé; if she doesn't beat those egg whites, all she's got is ... egg whites. More often, writing with emphasis has a more delicate impact — like the crème fraîche and orange zest Lisa uses to finish those borscht shooters (or the nuanced contrast I effected above with "Lisa tends to speak emphatically, so it's not surprising that she'd write emphatically").

Either way, you're imparting flavor. And what would writing or cooking (or living) be without THAT?

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