Why ‘killer’ and ‘war’ are not how founders should talk about startup life

- June 27, 2024 3 MIN READ
AI Image: Adobe Firefly
No, the office stapler is not military hardware and you're not at war. AI Image: Adobe Firefly
We are living in a world where each day delivers depressing news cycles and social media posts of trauma, crime, wars, death, health crises and violence locally and globally.  

The words and narratives we read, speak and write matter more so now than ever.  The impact of constructive language to mobilise, inspire and reimagine is tacit.  Whereas destructive language demoralises and erodes.  It also elevates anxiety subconsciously and consciously.

Language and idioms can be misused, clickbait and shock jock motivated.  I encourage communications and campaigns which are unique, vivid and on topic.   

Here in 2024 we are confronted with relentless traumatising communications which are then often replicated in the business and start up sectors.   In the clamour for visibility, hard hitting influence and sales cut through, the default is often to trauma and military references.  

Words change our brains

The research is clear on why businesses must take heed and not use trauma and military language.

Sue Parker

DARE Group’s Sue Parker

In BRM’s article The Neuroscience Behind Our Words, Dr Maria Richter states that scientific studies show that positive and negative words not only affect us on a deep psychological level, but they have a significant impact on the outcome of our lives. 

In the neuroscience experiment on Science Direct ‘Do Words Hurt: Brain activation during the processing of pain-related words’  scientists monitored subjects’ brain responses to auditory and imagined negative words.

“During this process, they discovered painful or negative words increase Implicit Processing (IMP) within the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sACC). Put frankly, their study proved that negative words release stress and anxiety-inducing hormones in subjects”

There’s also evidence to show that words affect perceptions of circumstances.

In 2022, Dr Debra Wilson on Psych Central reviewed a 2016 study. It was found the context of words matters and people naturally import perceptions of certain words into new situations that are neutral.

Researchers called this “semantic prosody,” where the precise meaning of a word comes from where it occurs in language.

Where it displays

Widespread and apathetic, trauma language and phrases are spoken at conferences, meetings and interviews  They are published in  media clickbait headlines, marketing lead magnets, social media posts, email subject lines and marketing materials to name a few. 

Business suicide, killer pitch, killer profile, he/she is killing it, shooting the competition, career death, killer email, corporate cancer, killing social media, career suicide, gun person, war on talent, company battleground, client battlefield, manufacturing war zone etc is endemic. 

Apart from the immoral and inappropriate use of such phrases, they are indolent and unimaginative.  I’m by no means the captain of the PC squad and detest the current outpouring of outrage and umbrage. 

But appropriate language and critical thinking is sorely needed.   Further, businesses and community need more calming and empowering language to soothe vs inflame further.

But the purpose of marketing and sales language and communication is to inspire and build an emotional and solution connection of relevance.

It’s not about being timid, crouching behind safe weasel words and being scared witless to be different. Ditching trauma and pain language is a call to go far higher and bolder. 

And it’s a call and commitment to reduce the imagery of hurt and trauma in any way possible. Marketing and communications hold such opportunity here.

Stopping the nonsense 

Please make friends with the online Thesaurus. There is a treasure trove of synonyms to find smarter words to impact.

Be creative, congruent and responsible.  Congruent to the topic and responsible in avoiding inappropriate language is key. 

Some words and touchpoints to reflect… if the subject is:

  1. not about health, cancer and mortality – don’t use killer
  2. not about human cancers – don’t use cancer
  3. not about humans taking their own life –  don’t use suicide
  4. not about military activity –  don’t use kill or ‘gun
  5. not about war –  don’t add-on war to other words
  6. not about a war zone –  don’t use battleground or  battlefield
  7. not about murders and domestic violence –  don’t use shooter or killer
  8. not about military combat –  don’t use war or warfare

Whether you give a hoot or not about the moral impact or use of these types of phrases, I’ve no doubt you will care about building a positive reputation, attracting capital, market share and clients. 

In a sea of content and marketing overwhelm, be mindful and focus on building more positive language associations and powerful outcomes. 


  • Sue Parker is the owner of DARE Group Australia, a communications, executive career and profile marketing agency.