"Pause, Postpone and Delay"
The pandemic has given us one disappointment after another as professional sports games and events, summer festivals, community events, weddings and other gatherings have either been cancelled or postponed. There have been so many plans changed that we're almost getting used to it.
There also has been a tricky move played by a growing number of organizations that seem to be trying to lessen the impact of their announcements. They don't want to use the word "cancel" to describe what has happened to their event.
I have no problem with creativity, but I like the truth better.
Last week I read a headline in Twitter and my immediate reaction was to utter a few words that I shouldn’t repeat in this blog. A spokesperson for the City of Edmonton announced, the City had decided to “pause” the removal of homeless camps on public land during the pandemic, claiming it was a safety issue.
I have no real problem with the enforcement strategy. What I was reacting to was the spokesperson’s use of the word “pause” to describe what was happening. I think the word they were looking for was “stop”, as in the City plans to stop the removal of homeless camps during the pandemic. Another perfectly good word to use would have been ‘halt”, which also would have more clearly depicted what was happening.
I’m not saying using the word pause isn’t correct. It’s a kinder, gentler way of getting your point across. It’s new, it’s cute and it makes the decision sound less harsh and permanent.
I shouldn’t blame the poor City spokesperson (since I used to be one). After all, the National Hockey League started this on March 12, when it announced it had decided to “press pause” on the NHL season. It didn’t “suspend” the season, or “postpone games”. It pressed pause. As we found out, it means they won’t be playing games during the pandemic.
Maybe when games start again, the NHL will announce it “pressed pause again” because that’s the way to restart a video after you press pause the first time right?
Postpone and Delay
Although I may sound like an old man who’s yelling “get off my lawn” at the neighbourhood kids, this practice is a slippery slope.
The Festival of Trees, which has been a great fundraiser in Edmonton for the last two generations, found a clever way to announce it has decided to “delay” this year’s event until the same time in 2021.
That’s not a delay. That’s a cancellation. The 2020 event has been cancelled. I’ve seen other groups do this in their announcements. Another word they use to describe a cancellation is that the event has been “postponed.” They’re describing an event that won’t be held this year, but will be back in its same time slot next year.
That’s not a postponement – that’s a cancellation.
If you look at the website of the Edmonton International Jazz Festival you’ll also see the announcement that the 2020 event has been “postponed.”
No it hasn’t. It’s been cancelled.
There’s nothing wrong with using the word “cancel.” It’s a perfectly good word that describes what’s happening all over the world for the past two months.
When I was a kid and it got really cold in the winter, there would be an announcement on the radio that all outdoor hockey games were cancelled until further notice. We knew exactly what that meant. The game scheduled for that night at the local outdoor rink wouldn’t be taking place. It was clear. Clarity was a good thing back in the 60’s. It’s still good today.
Look up the word “cancel” on Dictionary.com and you’ll find this, “To make void, revoke, annul and to decide or announce that a planned event will not take place, call off.”
When you look for the definition of “postpone” you’ll find “To put off to a later time, defer.”
The difference is clear.
Words Have Meaning
I know there are much, much more important things going on in the world these days. You may ask what’s the big deal if an event wants to say it has decided to “delay” or “postpone” what was planned for this year.
I guess I like truth. I like people and the organizations they work for to use plain, simple words that correctly describe the situation. I get angry when I see a sports team announce their coach has been “relieved of his duties.” I sometimes reply on Twitter with something like “I think the word you’re looking for is fired, or I’m sure he was relieved to be fired.”
What’s to gain by playing with words? We know the coach has been fired. We know the event has been cancelled.
If it really was postponed then what’s the new date for it to be held? I would even be okay with a group saying “Our event has been postponed to a date later this year, which should be announced shortly.”
I challenge the news media not to let PR wordsmiths get away with using words that don’t accurately depict what’s happening. Call them out and don’t use their inaccurate words. Use the words that fit the announcement.
Now get off my lawn!
Media Training (With no Cancellations)
I offer virtual media training for groups, along with one-on-one online coaching. I just uploaded a video that describes the virtual training I do. Check it out and let me know if you have any questions.