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This Diamond Jubilee you’ll most likely be celebrating with some British classics like Victoria Sponge. But when you’re whipping up some spongy goodness, spare a thought for tone of voice.

The world of celebrity chefs is a great example of tone of voice in action, where personalities have become brands, carving out their own niche. From Jamie’s ‘pukka tukka’ to Ramsey’s ‘*%$!ing food’, their recipes are an extension of their personality.

Here we take a look at how the language used in two Victoria Sponge recipes, one from the Grandmother of cooking, Mrs. Beeton, and the other from the saucy Nigella Lawson, defines their personalities and reinforces their brand.

Domestic empress

Although ‘brand’ as we understand it today didn’t exist back in Mrs. Beeton’s day, she and her publisher husband, Sam Beeton, were certainly trying to create and project a personality – one of authoritative knowledge about the household, and everything to do with running it.

For example, in her introduction to the recipe, and the cake making section in general, titled “A few hints respecting the making and baking of cakes,” she says:

“Good butter should always be used in the manufacture of cakes, and if beaten to a cream it saves much time and labour to warm, but not melt, it before beating.”

Mrs. Beeton’s style, and her 1861 Book of Household Management in general, is commanding and unapologetic. To create the impression of authority, she takes herself out of the equation and uses formal-sounding, passive language. This has the effect of making her instructions sound like edicts:

“Care must be taken that it is put into the oven immediately, or it will not be light. The flavouring of this cake may be varied by adding a few drops of essence of almonds instead of the grated lemon-rind.”

And perhaps most importantly, you won’t find a single personal anecdote in Mrs. Beeton’s book. Her recipes are written almost like a telegram, using mostly short sentences made of terse-sounding instructions.

Domestic goddess

Fast forward to the present day and Nigella’s own more indulgent, suggestive style in How To Be A Domestic Goddess:

“Pour over the waiting cake, letting it drip down the sides – I just drizzle it back and forth across the top, and let it run where it will.”

And in the following example she's not afraid to add personal anecdote to the mix:

“One variation, which I think I make more often now than the original, is my lemon mascarpone sandwich cake. I had an early encouraging success with this at my daughter’s first school fête.”

Her language is about being decadent, spontaneous and personal, so the tone of her recipes is very conversational and sometimes surprising. And in line with her TV demonstrations, she’s not afraid to emphasise the sheer hedonism of baking. She uses the first person pronoun throughout, because the Nigella brand is very much about her.

Evolving styles

These two cooks are separated by over 100 years, so it’s only to be expected that their styles would be very different. But even in the past ten years there’s been a shift in the language of chefs / brands towards more personal, intimate and immediate.

Cookbooks are no longer functional instructions for making food. When we buy a book nowadays we’re buying into the personality of the chef. So it’s little wonder that their language is crafted to reflect who they are, their style and even their way of speaking.

If you would like to find out more about tone of voice and how to carve out your niche, contact us on 01225 731373 or drop us a line at info@inkcopywriters.com.

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Spellcheck. The little word-processing tool that guides us through the rights and wrongs of our writing.

There are times when those red and green zigzags under words are a blessing, highlighting typos and picking up inadvertent errors. But when it comes to language, can we really trust technology to know what’s right?

At Ink, we come across instances every day where the spellchecker gets it wrong. Here are three common slip-ups to watch out for:

Proper nouns

While most spellcheckers now recognise popular names, what about that unusual surname, obscure town or unique brand? Until you manually add them to your spellchecker’s dictionary, these words will automatically show up as incorrect.

Homophones

Affect, effect. Compliment, complement. To, too, two. Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently. And mixing them up is one of the most prevalent errors in writing. But because you can spell these words correctly and still use them in the wrong way, spellcheck won’t always pick up when you’ve got it wrong.

Apostrophe abuse

It’s or its? Their or they’re? Your or you’re? Confuse your contractions and possessives, and grammar checkers might not help you out. They have even been known to try to change correct apostrophe use. That’s why a proper understanding of how to use apostrophes is the only sure-fire way to guarantee clear, accurate writing.

So, while spellcheckers can be useful for identifying some of the most obvious errors, it just goes to show that their humble opinion is still no match for the eagle eye of a good proofreader – and that giving your copy that last once-over is still a vital part of the writing process.