Places, sounds, smells. Music, books, clothes. Voices, textures, colours. They all trigger our memories – but can individual words and phrases do it too?
More than that, are there words and phrases that are part of our common experience, that in a syllable or two can conjure up memories of our earlier lives?
If there were, they’d brilliant for creating a connection with your reader.
And that would make them pure gold to a copywriter.
Bringing it all back…
5 years old. Underinflated space hoppers, hopscotch squares, crawling headfirst down the stairs, the grind-scratch-grind of the pencil sharpener with a clamp like an eye. Saliva-dabbed tissues cleaning your face, miniature bottles and the cloying flavour of warm milk. “Am!”, “I’m telling”, “Miss!”, “Poo!”, “Hail Mary”, “This is Pat the Dog”.
11 years old. Oversized school uniform, squeak of gym shoes on varnished wooden floors, textbooks with pencilled obscenities, Otterbury Incident. Wrinkled meniscus of school custard, decades of boredom poured slow-motion into 40 clock-stopping minutes… “Bogs”, “Bell End”, “Wicked!”, “You Joey!”, “Pleb”, “Wedgie”, “Gonads”.
18 years old. Swirl of cheap vermouth, vomit on mown grass, patchouli scented guitars, cheesy chips. Oscar Wilde, What the Butler Saw, Thomas Bloody Hardy. “Dooby”, “Postulate”, “Structuralism”, “In this essay”, “Blobs”, “I love you”, “Can I come in?”.
Fill in your own gaps
I bet some of the words I’ve just jotted down sparked some memories.
“Wicked!”, “Wedgie”, “I’m telling”. Those three would set millions of British people of a certain age on an instant nostalgia trip.
But the most precious memories are the personal ones that these flashes of common experience rekindle.
I think a good copywriter can use single words to make you feel you’re sharing those moments with someone else – without you ever having to confide them to another person.
And that’s pretty magical.