“Bad writing is when you have to do your best acting.” Adam Brody
We all use inefficient words. I call them inefficient because they create more problems than they solve. One of worst is “robust.”
For years “robust” referred to someone’s health or a food’s rich flavor or smell. The other morning on the news, I heard a member of the local zoo say, “We have a very robust program for our animals,” meaning it’s healthy or it smells (since it’s a zoo, it probably smells but it’s a healthy smell).
During my time working in the pharmaceutical industry, you couldn’t get away from “robust.” Every antibiotic or antifungal had a “robust mode of action,” suggesting the microorganisms hopped around like mad ticks.
Last week, three Republican House Representatives used ‘robust” to describe new legislation. If the latest imigration bill is any indication, “robust” seems to imply you don’t have to read the whole thing.
Humans tend to use terms liberally to get out of explaining things.
There’s a laziness to inefficient words. We use them because they’re handy. It’s probably why we joined “nevertheless” together. What’s the point of having a handy word if it’s so hard to say? The same could be said of “Wassup?” Why have a singular noun when you can make it a full sentence?
Humans tend to use terms liberally to get out of explaining things. One time, President Trump tried to describe Andrew Jackson’s ideas for ending the Civil War. Jackson died sixteen years before the war started. Trump got around that by saying “Andrew Jackson had some great ideas. Really great ideas. He was a very intelligent man.”
Well, you can’t be that intelligent if you’re dead, can you? Trump figured he had enough adjectives to hold off any historical scrutiny. It must have seemed efficient at the time, but it came back to haunt him.
Within hours, he was quoted on every newscast and, like all inefficient words, his statements had the hollow charm of an empty beehive.
Each “great” and “very” drew more naysayers as they checked to see if Andrew Jackson came back from the dead or Trump meant Samuel Jackson, referring to a movie, which or may not have starred Samuel Jackson.
Then there’s “full” as in “We’re giving it our full support.” This saves the speaker from giving exact details. If you’re “fully committed,” you can’t very well give any more, so reporters should shut their pie holes.
Since reporters aren’t paid to shut their pie holes, all Trump can do was call them “petty” and “ fake,” which opened their pie holes even further.
News by its definition is always “breaking,” and who’s “startled” anymore when 289 people are shot in the U.S. each day?
When they’re not opening their pie holes, newscasters like Wolf Blitzer have their own assortment of inefficient words like “startling” and “breaking.” News by its definition is always “breaking,” and who’s “startled” anymore when 289 people are shot in the U.S. each day?
Still, we can’t get away from inefficient words. They’re too easy to use. In one episode of Survivor, contestants used “awesome” twelve times. Either they’re chosen for their primal vocabulary or too starved to think of another word.
Even Pope Francis uses inefficient words. In his address to the joint meeting of the American Congress two years ago, he said he was “most grateful” for the invitation. How grateful does a pope have to be?
At least he was accurate calling this the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. That was news to Trump. He thought Lincoln was alive or at least ambulatory.
We’ve also thrown around “good” and “bad” like it defines someone or something. During the 2016 presidential elections, voters supported Trump because he was a “good negotiator.” Once he was elected, he referred to all his appointments as “good people” until he fired officials like FBI director James Comey and Sally Yates, calling them “bad at their jobs.”
At least Trump has added new terms like “fake news,” something we all suspected, but it’s good to hear it from someone with a flattened beehive.
Inefficient words make it too easy. They fit into texts and short Twitter copy (which is good for Trump). They keep us from rambling (even better for Trump). They confine us to mundane truths.
At least Trump has added new terms like “fake news,” something we all suspected, but it’s good to hear it from someone with a flattened beehive. He’ll contend these are words voters understand, which may be true.
We do understand inefficient words. More importantly, through Trump’s administration, and what he calls “fake news,” we’re also understanding how empty and unreliable inefficient words can be.
Maybe that will be Trump’s legacy. We’ll improve our English.
Unfortunately, he won’t.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.