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What the Photon! The Power of Nerd Cursing in Practitioner Marketing

September 19, 2017 - Content Marketing, influencer content marketing - , , , , ,
By: Yolanda Fintschenko

Who would advocate something as silly as nerd cursing in practitioner marketing?

I humbly take that bow. Content marketing is not just messaging. Content marketing is a tool used to create a relationship with your customer. Practitioner marketing deploys content created by a practitioner, using the influence of a practitioner’s subject matter expertise and closeness to the customer to persuade skeptical markets like developers, engineers, and scientists of the value of your brand by association.

Even with this closeness of the practitioner to the customer, it can be hard to connect with your customers remotely through blogs, newsletters, videos, and other electronically available marketing collateral. Two ingredients are missing. One is a real-time interaction. The second is the bond created by informality begotten through shared experiences.

How do you get that informality bond? Introducing nerd cursing.

What is nerd cursing?

It’s not cursing nerds via voodoo or eye of newt-type methods. Defined here, it is merely a literary device. Definitions vary—from simply replacing normal swear words with “sounds like” swear words that take the place of foul language—to the kind of cursing associated with so-called “nerd activities,” such as Shakespearean insults, or using Klingon to deliver your insult.

Within the realm of practitioner marketing to technical audiences, nerd cursing is closer to the first example. By replacing a swear word with a sounds-like word that only a professional “in the know” would recognize, writing is transformed from bland to titillating in an instant.

Why use nerd cursing?

One of the best ways to signal to your audience that you are one of them is to use words that reveal a specialized knowledge which can only be forged by toiling to solve similar problems in similar conditions. And it reveals frustration while still staying professional! How great is that for workplace humor?

However, not everything in your writing can be a “what the photon” moment. Nerd cursing can’t replace thoughtful, technically sound content that is useful to other practitioners. Used as an accent, it is funny and builds camaraderie with your audience. Used gratuitously, it is cloying, irritating, childish, even distracting—almost as bad as using a long list of adjectives.

When is nerd cursing effective?

Tone is everything. If the rest of your content sounds serious, didactic, and is necessarily formal, then the effect of suddenly humorous phrases is jarring to the reader. However, if your writing tone is conversational, light-hearted, and personal, the occasional quotable nerd curse can make the rest of your writing more memorable – and shareable.

It is also effective as part of a larger storyline that reveals a situation the reader can identify with in their professional life. For example, not every laser customer uses a laser for the same types of problems. However, every laser user has almost certainly had to align a laser. Choosing a story arc that incorporates a widely shared professional experience among your audience will likely result in a laugh when the nerd curse asserts itself.

Used as a way to relieve the dramatic tension in your story, the nerd curse connects you to your reader, and at the same time, shows empathy for your reader. The tension release is important to keep a reader with you.

Additionally, no one likes a character that has no weaknesses. The nerd curse creates empathy for your character. Most likely, if you are writing as a practitioner, or editing the writing of a practitioner, then either you or the practitioner is the character in a true story. Make sure that practitioner gets the love. Give ‘em a line with a nerd curse.

Some nerd curses and their target audience

    • What the photon! Any scientist, engineer, or maker who has ever had to do anything with light, or knows about the speed of light.


  • Holy penguin! Linux and open source geeks, in reference to Tux the Penguin.
  • Accept the One True Way ™. A cheeky reference to the Free Software Foundation’s efforts to spread its gospel of software freedom.


The takeaway

There are many writing devices that can improve the connection between authors and readers—and in the case of content marketing, the reader, the audience, and also the customer. Creating a connection with informal but acceptable language is an important part of delivering a memorable message, and nerd cursing can play that role. In its own unique way, nerd cursing builds community.

Yolanda is a scientist, writer, marketer, coach and avid runner who lives and works in Livermore, CA.  She founded Common SciSense, a marketing company for technical products, and co-founded founderTRACTION, lean marketing services for startups. 

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