Pitch Or Perish

Hugh MacLeod has produced some doodles for his friends at Cravens Advertising in Newcastle, England. While snooping around their site, these etymological gems surfaced.

I’ve been reading “Which Lie Did I Tell” by William Goldman (the guy who wrote Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid). A fantastic book about his experiences as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
He also gives some tips and observations about the screenwriter’s art. (Essential reading for all copywriters).
One thing he talks about is pitching movie ideas. The stress and heartache of selling an idea you care passionately about.
Goldman says that to understand the pain of the pitch you have to consider its origin.
Back to a time of medieval religious persecution and the actions of one of its chief inquisitors.
Pitch: This originated during the Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada, one of its leaders would tell imprisoned playwrights that if they could interest him in an idea, he would let them live long enough to write it. If not, they were dropped into a large vat (or pitch) of boiling tar, hence the term ‘pitch’
This also got me thinking about the origin of ‘deadline’, another everyday agency word
Deadline: Originating during the American Civil War: prisoners in that war were seldom held in purpose-built jails. More often, they were herded at gunpoint inside a makeshift boundary. The boundary had two lines, and a prisoner who stepped outside the inner boundary was ordered back, but one who over-stepped the outer boundary was shot. Thus it was called the deadline.
Tough job this agency gig.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.