Monday, July 15, 2013

Giddiness is usually a bad sign

You’re in the middle of writing something, and for a few minutes you’ve been stalled. You’re searching for the right word to make a point. Eventually you think of it. You double-check it in the dictionary. Yes, it’s precisely the right word.

When this happens, you normally feel a quiet little satisfaction, as when you balance your checkbook on the first try.

But sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it’s like this:

You’re in the middle of writing something, and you need a word. Within seconds, it comes to you, strong. You don’t check it in the dictionary. You feel that you don’t have to. The word just seems wonderfully right somehow. Here’s an example.

When this happens, you normally feel giddy. Giddiness is usually a sign that you have lunged at the first fad word (massively overused cliche) that came to you. For example, proactive.

We lunge at fad words because we want to conform. We want to conform more than we want to find the right words to make ourselves clear. We want to conform because the cave-man part of our brain is always afraid that the other members of our tribe will throw us out of the cave and leave us to die if we appear to be different from them in any way. So when see an opportunity to publicly display our mindless conformity, we lunge at that opportunity.* We feel giddy because we believe we have escaped death for a little while longer.

Fortunately we are no longer cave men. We don’t need to mindlessly conform any more. We can search for the right words and make ourselves clear. We can be grown-ups. We can be writers.

The Takeaway: Giddiness is usually a sign that you are about to do something embarrassing. If you ever notice that you are feeling giddy because you have suddenly thought of an especially wonderful word to make a point, STOP. Immediately Google the word with “cliche.” Example: “proactive cliche.” You will probably find that the word is a massively overused cliche (also called a fad word or mantra). Look up the word in a dictionary; it is possible that the word does not help make your point at all. It may even undermine your point. Delete it and find the right word.

*For an example of a public display of mindless conformity, see this post. For an example of a sales representative whose cliche revealed his ignorance and risked blowing a big sale, see this post.

See disclaimer.

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