Blog in 04 2011.
My sister turned 18 recently. And my parents (after much persuasion from big sis here) agreed to have a big old shindig at home. It meant cooking lots of food, buying lots of booze, and making lots of noise.
So she decided to drop a little note to our neighbours to let them know there’d be some loud sounds, maybe till the wee hours. She called me up to ask if what she’d written was okay. This is what she had:
123 will be holding a party, where there will be loud music until 2am.
We'd like to apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused.
123 Tokyngton Avenue
I had to get her to rewrite that quick-sharp. But it was interesting to see even my 18-year-old sister distancing herself with such business-like formality. For whatever reason.
After prompting her a few times with ‘what would you say if you were telling them in person?’ and ‘how would you want it to look if you were getting this?’ she gave it another go.
And it ended up sounding like this:
This is just a quick note to let you know I’m having an 18th birthday party this Saturday. We’ll try our best to keep it down, but if it gets a bit too loud, I’d like to apologise in advance.
My excuse is I’m only 18 once!
Aw. A bit warmer, a bit more personal, a bit more like her. And though the party did indeed get loud and late, we had zero complaints. In fact, a few neighbours came by during the week to tell us they really enjoyed the music from the comfort of their own homes. Which I don’t think would’ve happened if we’d gone with the formal, stuffy first draft.
So it’s always worth thinking about your reader – even if it’s just a note to your neighbours.
If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend Gabriel Orozco at Tate Modern. It features a word-heavy installation he’s done, called Obituaries, that I was quite taken by.
It’s basically a collection of newspaper obituary headlines. Bear with me here... Orozco’s reproduced loads of them on massive sheets of paper. Without the name or date or any other information. Just the headlines.
The result is an amusing, intriguing collection of floating stories. There’s something interesting in the choices the obituary writers have made for capturing an entire life in one short, sharp phrase. How fascinating that so many people’s lives can be summed up in a handful of words.
Some of my favourites included ‘Master of light bulbs’ and ‘Effervescent Jazzman’.
Have a watch of this video to see what the man himself has to say about it. And get down to the exhibition to see it for yourself before it ends on April 25.
I CAN is a charity that’s running an Adopt a Word campaign, where £15 gives you custody of a word for a year. You get a certificate and the knowledge that your money is going to help kids who have trouble with speech and language.
I recently adopted ‘darkling’. I think it's lovely and evocative (which is another nice word). I’m in good company – lots of celebs have signed up to the scheme. Stephen Fry adopted ‘wordy’ (which might mean he can sue me for using it in the title of this post). Cherie Blair chose ‘potential’ while Liza Tarbuck went for ‘squit’ (apparently there’s a non-dodgy-tummy meaning). And Graham Norton plumped for ‘frolic’.
This got me thinking about some famous (and fictional) faces of the past. Which word would Henry VIII adopt? ‘Divorce’, ‘dissolution’ or ‘decapitation’? Or how about Count Dracula? Maybe ‘exsanguinate’ or ‘haematophagous’. Perhaps Winston Churchill would want ‘beach’ while Margaret Thatcher would have to have ‘iron’. Or ‘greengrocer’.
And if adopting a word meant no one else could use it, purging it from the English language for a year, what would you go for? Mine would be ‘proactive’. And ‘Monday’.
Tweet us your suggestions.
Do you believe me? Of course not.
When it comes to writing, you can’t tell people something is great. You have to show it. Adjectives make us cynical.
A company who haven’t quite got that is The Mandarin Oriental Hotel chain. Here’s an extract from an email I got from them recently.
We are delighted to share with you news of our fantastic start to 2011. And what a beginning it has been with the incredible success of our newly opened restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal alongside our ever-popular Bar Boulud, London. This sensational addition really makes Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London a leading gastronomic destination.
We invite you to embrace your own Royal experience with our lavish Royal Wedding Tour Package making our historic hotel the only place to be for such a regal affair. We have also organised a fabulous opportunity for our guests to enjoy the benefits of town and country with our special package A Day At Royal Ascot, which includes a stay at our glorious hotel, followed by a day at the Races.
But my favourite bit of all says this. Adding to our excitement, London is emanating a unique euphoria at the imminent arrival of the Royal Wedding.
Are we? I’m not.
We just don’t buy it when people bombard us with adjectives. We want to make up our own minds.
But, useless adjectives pop up all the time. Keep an eye out for them. Sale signs with ‘fantastic’ on them. Websites with the words ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’.
Why not explain exactly what it is that makes your subject so fantastic, creative and innovative? And if you can’t, cut those adjectives out.
Your writing will sound bolder and more believable. And you won’t run the risk of being held up as a bad example of adjectivitis on a blog.