Overused and abused

Every year since 1975, Lake Superior State University has put out a list of words that should be banished for misuse, overuse or general uselessness. The school accepts nominations through its Web site and a committee selects the final list in December.

The winner (or loser?) for 2007: perfect storm. “Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence,” says Lynn Allen of Warren, Michigan. Also on the list: post 9/11, surge, and decimate. My favorite (or least favorite?) candidate for elimination is an adjective that turns up far too often in news stories: emotional. I’m in complete agreement with Brendan Kennedy of Quesnel, British Columbia:

Reporters, short on vocabulary, often describe a scene as ’emotional.’ Well sure, but which emotion? For a radio reporter to gravely announce, ‘There was an emotional send off to Joe Blow’ tells me nothing, other than the reporter perceived that the participants acted in an emotional way. For instance: I had an emotional day today. I started out feeling tired and a bit grumpy until I had my coffee. I was distraught over a cat killing a bird on the other side of the street. I was bemused by my reaction to the way nature works. I was intrigued this evening to add a word or two to your suggestions. I was happy to see the words that others had posted. Gosh, this has been an emotional day for me.

Why not make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to banish worthless adjectives like “emotional,” “devastating” or “surprising” from your stories?  Stop telling your audience how they’re supposed to feel.  Replace shopworn adjectives with telling details, instead, and give the audience a chance to actually feel something.

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