Too many adjectives

Too many adjectives - image for article by Greg Alder

A new apartment building boasts ‘quality Miele appliances’. I guess that’s to differentiate them from the other sort of Miele appliances.

A news headline announces, ‘Astronomers set to make groundbreaking black hole announcement’. Is groundbreaking physically possible in a black hole?

The Skoda Superb (itself an adjective) features ‘practical safety features’. I am happy they chose to leave out the impractical safety features. Or unsafe practical features.

‘A near neighbour has described her shock when the bomb squad stormed her normally quiet street.’ Presumably ‘near’ to differentiate this neighbour from people who claim to be neighbours but don’t even live in the same street. And ‘normally quiet’ to indicate that bomb squads are a rare presence on this street.

If you haven’t noticed, we live in a world with too many adjectives.

Adjectives are inserted into sentences by people who think they add gravitas to sentences that would be bland without them. Or they get inserted to add drama.

‘An out-of-control car slammed into the popular café.’ How much more exciting this is because we’ve been informed that the car was out of control and the café is popular.

What are the most overused adjectives? You can guess many of them. New. Best. Good. Important. Great. First. Big.

Because these adjectives are overused, people substitute other more impressive adjectives. Groundbreaking. Critical. Unbeatable. Premier.

Sometimes people are hobbled by their limited vocabularies.

‘It was a great meeting. A tremendous meeting. A really great meeting. We made tremendous progress. Really tremendous progress. Tremendously great progress.’ Remind you of anyone?

What really happens when we are bombarded by these superfluous adjectives? We tune out. We stop hearing them. They lose their value and their impact.

Business has always been infested by adjectival plagues. A word comes into vogue. Suddenly everyone is using it.

Ever been guilty of using the following?

Paradigm shift? (To distinguish it from other shifts, such as morning or gear.)

Core competency. (More essential than peripheral or frivolous competencies.)

Best practice. (Does anybody ever claim worst practice?)

Innovative. (Innovative is no longer novel. It has lost its showroom shine. And its potency.)

Bleeding edge. (Used in place of innovative. If you cut yourself shaving, fine. Otherwise no.)

Hard stop. (Does this mean a difficult stop? As in when the brakes fail? Or does it mean a concrete wall?)

Agile. (It used to be an adjective. Now it’s used as a noun. By people who forget that we already have a perfectly serviceable noun in agility.)

Price point. (Price works just fine as a noun. Adding point is pointless.)

Next time you’re writing, don’t open a thesaurus for a clever alternative to a cliché. Press the delete button. Rewrite the sentence with fewer adjectives. Challenge yourself to remove as many as possible.

There’s less chance your readers’ eyes will glaze over.

Your writing will be more succinct. And better for it.

Photo by Notavandal via Unsplash

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