Tool #17 Riff on the Lanuage of Others

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

"Make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language." - Roy Peter Clark

If you found last week's post to be useful--and not cliche--then you will find today's just as appealing. In his book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark give us a tool that goes beyond smart thinking. He tells us to create words and images for the reader utilizing a technique he likens to when jazz musicians play music. For example, the bass player will start playing a chord, and then the guitarist will play off of that chord. The keyboardist will chime in another riff, and a song is born out of a freestyle-jam session. Writers can do this with words and phrases just as well as musicians. Read on to learn how.

Creating Riffs on Language 

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend, and by the end of it, you are both laughing hysterically because you just coined a word or phrase about someone you both can't stand? Doesn't it feel so good to come up with a "code word" for that specific somebody? You get to snicker a little bit. The person in question has the faintest clue what you just did. But you know that you made them a bit more tolerable with your word coinage. Without really knowing it, you and your friend just created a riff on language. 

Creative Advertisement Use Riffs in Language

Riffs in language come in all different shapes and sizes. For example, one of my favorite riffs in language is the term "Hangry." Whoever came up with this handy word deserves an award. Is there a better term to explain those feelings edginess when you've gone entirely too long without eating? Someone says the wrong thing at that moment, and you explode on them. That's hangry. And the most excellent news is, you can say to someone, "Sorry for what I said when I was hangry."

Think of those famous Snickers commercials. They took their brand to a whole new height with the phrase: "You're not you when you're hungry." This marketing technique gave Snickers the upper hand to on other amazing candy bars, based solely on their creative genius.

Shakespeare was the Master of Creating Riffs in Language

If music be the fruit of love, play on. - William Shakespeare 

Shakespeare coined an abundance of phrases and words in his day; he indeed was the master of riffs in language. Just be careful: I am not telling you this so you can reuse these phrases and come across as cliche — quite the contrary. Use these examples to help you formulate your very own riffs in language: 

Instead of saying, "the game is up," the phrase has evolved into "Game Over" by video gamess. This is a riff on language.

Do me a favor: take one of the above phrases, post it in the comments and create a riff on language! I can't wait to see the results. Word play is so fun!

Keywords and Riffs in Language

There is so much that goes on in the world of SEO that it isn't a bad idea to get creative and think outside the office for better keywords and phrases. It is a fact that your SEO is better when you aren't stuffing overused words into your content, which makes it harder for you to get found on Google. Instead, your original terms may get you noticed faster. Hopefully, more users will hang out on your page because you've invested interest in them.

Now it's time for me to get busy creating my own riffs in language for my clients. In the meantime, please share you ideas. I look forward to writing some riffs with you! Need help with your content. Schedule a FREE consultation with me today!


Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.

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