Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grammar Wall of Shame #4: Word choice

Ah! The power of words!

Especially when a writer picks the wrong one...

Infamous? A good way to drive away potential customers...!
In an otherwise engaging brochure for children's toys, clothing and paraphernalia, this goof jumped out like an elbow in the ribs. (Okay, there were actually quite a few editorial misses in this brochure, stay tuned). New pyjamas - great! But kids would probably rather not wear anything infamous (as in, notorious). Famous would be fine, of course.

Words have connotations, and sometimes writers don't pay enough attention to this slippery, elusive side of language. 

For instance, which would you rather hear?

"You look so slim!"

"You look so thin!"

The two adjectives are similar in meaning, but the first suggests a positive appearance, and the second - well, not so much. Thin has a slightly negative tone.

Back to my example from the brochure: Famous means well-known in a positive way, just the sort of word you would like to use to describe your product.  But infamous suggests that something is famous for the wrong reasons. Its connotations are negative. 

Here's another:

Don't over-excite yourself, kids!
If something is overdone, whether it's meat or make-up, it's usually not a good thing. Neither is it healthy to be overly excited. The connotation, once again, is negative. 

The writer probably meant to say something like "I am really excited..." or "I am so excited...." or just plain "I am excited", which would be fine: adverbs are frequently, horribly, misguidedly overused, especially in marketing materials. (Don't get me started on real estate copy writers!)

Choose your words carefully, writers. If you don't, you may be expressing the exact opposite of what you intended!

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