Words on Words on Words: Rock vs Stone

Words on Words on Words: Rock vs Stone

I had a creative writing teacher in college. He taught poetry. He was tall and bearded and very sad. But, he liked my poems (which were terrible). And, so, here he is.

He talked about word choice, the importance of being concise and precise. He talked about discipline. It could have just as easily been a marketing course about messaging. Except it was actually interesting.

There are times when two words are similar, but shouldn’t be used interchangeably. His example was the word “stone.” In a thesaurus, “stone” and “rock” are synonymous. But, they aren’t, really. When you mean “stone,” you would never say “rock.” Bob Dylan suggests the difference:

“But is your heart made of stone, or is it lime. Or is it just solid rock?”

Sound

How a word sounds matters. Sound effects changes in meaning. Stone starts soft with the “s” and finishes soft with the “n” that lingers. It is smooth and liquid. In contrast, rock starts rougher and ends with the abrupt “ck.” It is jagged.

It matters even in made up words. Esso spent millions of dollars to become Exxon. In part because it sounds stronger, more authoritative.

Culture

Do you associate stones with diamonds? Do you associate rocks with gravel? Stones with Mick Jagger and Rock with Van Halen? Do you get stoned? Do you purchase crack rocks? What are your associations? It is also helpful to ask what secondary meanings someone who thinks very differently from you has.

History

History is similar to culture, but has such breadth it gets its own category. Do you want to associate more with the Rosetta Stone or with Plymouth Rock? Stonehenge or Rock of Gibraltar? Do you hear, “He who is without sin cast the first stone?” Or, “Upon this Rock I will build my church?” It matters.

It is common for designers to talk about shades of colors. And, we humor them. But we don’t often discuss how words have shades of meaning. And, just as some people have a knack for seeing subtlety in color, some people are good with branding language.