Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher best known for his work The World as Will and Representation, said, succinctly:
“One should use common words to say uncommon things.”
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Using everyday words–clear, concise language–to describe something important. But consider the following sentence:
The amazing things that always happen there I honestly find just really, absolutely, literally incredible.
Let’s analyze it, shall we? 15 easy words. But re-read the sentence and ask yourself the following quintuplet of basic journalism questions:
- WHO is saying this?
- WHAT is actually happening?
- WHERE is this happening?
- WHEN does this happen?
- WHY does it happen?
Suddenly, it becomes clear that the common words not only failed to say something uncommon, but in fact said almost nothing at all. The words filled space, yet failed to convey anything important.
Consider the word ‘amazing.” This word is used– or overused– not only in everyday speech, but also in mission statements, business slogans, advertising, social media. It’s everywhere. And the word ‘amazing,’ means something miraculous, astounding, astonishing. Not something from everyday life.
Or how about ‘things?’ ‘Things’ is a placeholder word, waiting hopefully for the narrator to think of something more descriptive! Consider what could have been substituted here to lend a shade of meaning: Arguments. Bickering. Commentary. Diatribes. And that’s just using the first four letters of the alphabet.
‘Always.’ Similar to ‘amazing,’ in that saying something ‘always’ happens is almost certainly not true… because of something ‘always’ happens, that leaves little room for anything else to occur!
‘Honestly.’ Problem word. Implies everything else before was dishonest, or at least less true.
‘Really.’ Really overused. Yes, that use was intentional. ‘Really,” is meant to be a modifier, but is usually redundant.
And finally, the trio of ‘absolutely, literally incredible…’ kicking off with two more words that used to actually mean something used now as an inaccurate modifier to ‘incredible,’ which is more or less a synonym for ‘amazing,’ used earlier.
Almost every word in the sentence could be dropped, and another, more precise word substituted to more clearly communicate. Those seeking to use common language to say uncommon things would be wise to consider the actual value of the words used, and avoid those that pile up without helping your efforts.
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