Monday, October 3, 2011

Don’t abuse the adjective “comfortable”

The adjective comfortable has become a mania word. We writers are often tempted to snatch it and use it instead of more precise language. This is a destructive habit. As George Orwell explained,* sloppy thinking leads to sloppy language, which leads to even sloppier thinking. That is why on this blog I object so strongly to the indiscriminate use of mania words such as comfortable, issues and drive.

A recent example of the abuse of comfortable

Recently I received a direct-response email with the subject line, “One Mindset Trap You Must Overcome.” The ad includes an example of a boss who does not delegate effectively:

“He has employees, but he still insists on doing the small tasks – like running errands – because he’s not comfortable asking the college-aged student to do it.”


This is a good example of a writer using the adjective comfortable because he’s too lazy to be specific. Does he mean that the boss:

Is too timid to ask the employee to do anything?

Fears that the employee will say “whatever” or give him some other nihilistic response?

Fears that the employee will agree to do the task and then neglect to complete it?

Fears that the employee will complete the task, but so poorly that boss will have to do it over?

Or something else?

The Takeaway: Don’t hide behind the adjective comfortable. Say what you mean.

See disclaimer.

*In his famous essay on the English language, George Orwell wrote, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

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