Whenever editing or proofreading marketing copy that promotes construction products, the phrase “designed to stand the test of time” would jar with me. As a technical editor who favours objectivity and facts over exaggeration and hyperbole, it didn’t sit right.
I think of a stone building or monument standing the test of time, for 100 or 500 years. However, if you want to use the phrase with integrity, it does depends on the context.
Dictionary definitions of ‘stand the test of time’
Cambridge, Oxford and Macmillan all define it in a similar way: to remain popular, strong, effective, successful, etc, after a long time.
The thing that bothers me about this phrase, is that in a construction context, time itself doesn’t actually wear a product. Instead, it is affected by weathering (rain, wind, sea-water, sand, freeze-thaw), people using it, animals or things bumping into it. These things will have a different effect on the product depending on the application.
How to prove products ‘stand the test of time’?
When writing for product directories, one of the most popular case studies I ever developed for a client was a ’14-years on’ piece. Here, an engineering company revisited one of their projects to see how it had performed over time. The a spun-galvanised cast iron viewing platform had been installed on a seafront, so resistance to corrosion was important.
An of objective analysis like this is the sort of thing that helps architects make the decision on a product that will need to last a long time. How has the finish lasted? Are the welds sound? What about the fixings, if they are a different material?
‘Stand the test of time’ usage in construction marketing
Here are some examples of usage of the phrase ‘stand the test of time’ in construction marketing. (I have altered them – I’m not looking to criticise specific companies)
The Souplesse enclosure can be supplied with or without a shower tray to be fitted directly onto a tiled floor. With its 10mm safety glass and an innovative non-slip hinge design, the Souplesse will stand the test of time.
In my opinion the usage of ‘test of time’ is completely inappropriate in this instance. The thickness of the glass and design of the hinge will provide durability but a domestic shower enclosure is hardly going to be subject to heavy weathering or usage.
Full Moon fibre-bonded carpets are designed for applications subject to heavy wear and tear. They are a highly cost effective solution that meet the relevant performance tests and have been proven to stand the test of time.
The word ‘test’ is suitable here, as commercial carpets are subject to specific testing to British Standards. These establish their durability in contract applications.
Although they need to withstand wear, it isn’t ‘time’ that tests their durability. It is the number of people that walk over them, and the application. A carpet might be tested to withstand daily use in an office corridor, but in the entrance atrium of a secondary school of 1500 pupils, it will wear it out much more quickly. Let’s say the building is used for sport at weekends, and rugby teams are passing through the area – this would drastically shorten the life of that carpet.
A bronze plaque
Historical events are traditionally commemorated with a plaque and the material should be able to stand the test of time. Cast bronze is favoured, due to its long-lasting properties and its classic look.
I can almost forgive the use of the phrase ‘stand the test of time’ here. Plaques convey a feeling that is associated with the importance of the event that is to be remembered, so more emotive language feels appropriate. On the other hand though, the text above communicates this idea in plainer terms – long-lasting properties. This is sufficient to convey the concept of longevity to an audience like architects. In fact, they’d probably prefer specific details on how many years it could be expected to last, and how the finish might age in different atmospheric conditions.
In theory, there is nothing wrong with using the phrase ‘stand the test of time’ if your construction products do last for a long time. As always, though, I advocate a fairly objective approach and let the facts speak for themselves in order to gain the trust of architects and other specifiers.
It may sound boring (that’s the aim) but be more literal about things. How much time do your products last?
To be pedantic about things, though, weather and everyday use aren’t a ‘test’ – they are just things that happen as part of normal everyday life and the passing of time.
Related post: Marketing words to avoid: ‘timeless’
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