What's in a magazine name? More readers, if it's bossy.
If you've felt compelled lately to take action after reading a newspaper or magazine, here's why: The media are getting bossy.
It used to be that print outlets were all about being descriptive. Now they are using more commanding language in their display type a 21st-century way to keep people engaged.
Want to know about the latest trends in home design? Consult a two-year-old magazine called Dwell. Looking for the hip happenings in Bean Town? The Boston Globe newspaper offers a column called Go! Got kids who like to get their hands dirty in the garden? Give them a copy of Grow! (a magazine whose title, one assumes, refers to the plants and not the children).
Once such language was the domain of advertising, but now it can be found in publications like Wired magazine, where new headings inside include "Start," "Test," and "Play."
"If you hold up a magazine from 1975, that is not the style," says linguist John McWhorter, author of the recent book "The Power of Babel." "This is a new phenomenon."
Contemporary reading habits may have something to do with the change. After all, this is an era where Rolling Stone is planning to offer more concise stories to appeal to people with MTV-type attention spans, and booklets are being published for partygoers who can't spare the hours to read "Harry Potter" and "Angela's Ashes," but can squeeze in a CliffsNotes-style alternative.
Those examples support Professor McWhorter's view that, as a society, we are less literate. He suggests that we are more about oral communication with our cellphones and talk shows and thanks to the Internet, where everything is short and sweet, we don't read as much.
Whatever the reason, today many magazine titles not only describe what the publication is about, they also ask you to do something, notes magazine guru Samir Husni.
He ticks off several magazines, besides Grow!, that launched in 2001: Play, for video games; Stamp It, for hobbyists who make scrap books and use rubber stamps; Wine & Dine; and Strive, a Los-Angeles-based women's magazine.
Cultural observers say that one-syllable titles aren't anything new think about publications like Life, Time, and Look. But words that make you feel more included and part of something are.
Shifting for a moment to advertising, consider the Nike ad campaign "Just Do It." That command leaves little room for doubt as to what your next move is, says Jim Heimann, editor of All American Ads, a series of books looking at advertising from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.
It's saying, "Don't think about this, just go and do it," he says.
Now, advertisers have less time but more outlets to reach out as they did back half a century ago, when all people had to do was sit down and read the ads in the Saturday Evening Post. "They've got to get you right away or they've lost you. So everything has become kind of terse and short. And with that kind of language, you manipulate people into action," Mr. Heimann says.
For advertisers and those creating editorialcontent, quick, impressionistic communication is key.
When the Dwell staff were thinking of a title, they didn't exactly have ordering people around in mind. "I never really thought of it as a command so much as it encompassed everything we wanted to encompass in the magazine," says Lara Hedberg Deam, founder and publisher of Dwell.
Dwell won out over other titles like Box and Modern House. "We felt, in keeping with the mission to reach the novice, that Dwell would be a more accessible word," says Ms. Deam.
The only thing missing is the exclamation point.