Friday, January 9, 2009

Hiding the noun

In the last post, we discussed “the hidden verb,” a trick that politicians* use in order to downplay something stupid, ignorant, incompetent, immoral or criminal that they have done.

Politicians also like to use a trick that I call “the hidden noun.” It is a handy way of making language blander, weaker, more indirect, more generic, or more diffuse. The politician converts a noun to an adjective (which disguises the noun) and then inserts a blander noun.

For example, in a book on sport management, the authors use the bland phrase “liberty and property interests” instead of the simpler and more natural phrase “liberty and property.”

The authors assert that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States protect these “interests.” But if you look up those two Amendments, you will see that both mention “liberty” and both mention “property,” but neither mentions “interests” even once.

Similarly, we often see blandified phrases such as “crisis situation” instead of “crisis,” “market forces” instead of “the market,” and even “cold gazpacho soup” instead of “gazpacho.”

The Takeaway: If you are not a politician, don’t write like one. Don’t try to hide your nouns by converting them to adjectives. When intelligent readers see your blandified phrases, they will suspect you are covering up something, even if you are not. And they will guess on the high side: they will assume a large – not small – extent of stupidity, ignorance, incompetence, immorality or crime.

*I mean politicians not in the narrow sense of people who run for office or “work” for the government, but in the wider sense of all professional deceivers, including shyster lawyers, corrupt professors, and corrupt journalists.

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