Writers are weird.
We avoid the sun, we jack ourselves up with caffeine, and we are nitpickers when it comes to words. Being cautious with your language may sound like a good thing, but here’s a recent conversation I had with my girlfriend:
Me: I hate hipster buns.
Girlfriend: Is that a type of artisanal bread I don’t know about?
Me: Don’t say ‘artisanal’.
Girlfriend: Fine, whatever. So what is it?
Me: It’s when hipsters tie their hair into a tight little knot.
Girlfriend: Oh, what’s wrong with that?
Me: I just hate it. It’s a pet peeve of mine.
Girlfriend: Everything rubs you the wrong way.
Me: That’s not true. And don’t say ‘rubs you the wrong way’.
And that is when I realised that there are expressions in the English language that, for some reason, rub me the wrong way (urgh). And it’s not just me. Ask any writer and they’ll fire out a list of words they avoid like the bubonic plague, too.
Here are a few of my personal ‘favourites’:
You can tuck something in (your shirt), or tuck something out (also your shirt). The problem is when writers and bloggers (not the same thing) overuse the word, specifically when it comes to cafés. Here’s the six-letter fiend in action:
“Tucked away in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood is this quaint little café that boasts the best cup of coff–”
You know what, forget about the rest of that sentence, because starting it with ‘tucked away’ is off-putting as it is. Why are cafés the only F&B establishments that are ‘tucked’ anywhere? You never hear of a 7-Eleven being tucked away in the neighbourhood, especially not a quaint neighbourhood. And speaking of cafés, why are they always described as being ‘unassuming’ and ‘unpretentious’?
A muffin that feels ‘moist’ does not sound like a good muffin to me no matter what the cookbook says. The Oxford English Dictionary defines moist as ‘slightly wet’, but even the word ‘wet’ is enough to solicit a violent physical reaction when used in conjunction with confectioneries.
Again, the problem with this word is that it’s overused. Technically, as long as something is made in a traditional or non-mechanised way, it’s artisanal. There was a time when ‘handmade’ was a good-enough word, but then hipsters started using ‘artisanal’ to describe just about everything under the sun. Maybe it’s because it has the word ‘art’ in it.
You can’t run away from ‘hub’ when writing corporate articles. It doesn’t matter if it’s IT or the healthcare industry; everybody wants to be a hub of something these days. It’s not enough that your institution is the ‘centre of population studies’. Instead, it has to be a hub. Oh, and don’t get me started on the word ‘epicentre’. Unless you are describing seismic activities, avoid ‘epicentre’ too.
We use ‘value-add’ so often that we hardly know what it means anymore. It’s the same as the word ‘delicious’ — what does it mean? Describing a dish as being ‘delicious’ just means that it ‘tastes good’, but in what way, really? ‘Value-add’ is one of those expressions that express nothing. People say it because, for whatever reason, joining two words with a dash is supposed to sound more sophisticated. It’s like that friend of yours in high school called Mary-Anne. Remember Mary-Anne? We rest our case.
We’ve only just met, so I’m not sure if I want to ‘touch base’ with you. I’m more than happy to ‘stay in touch’ though!
What I’ve learnt: Every writer has their pet peeves — and that’s fine! Being saddled with these quirks just means we are forced to come up with different ways to describe the same concept, and that can be a good thing. What’s another word to describe a café if not ‘unpretentious’? How about ‘modest’? That’s a perfectly good word, yes?
And that’s the beauty of the craft (some people hate the word ‘craft’). At the end of the day, it’s what makes writing so rewarding. You don’t always have to fall back on the same words to tell the same story. Instead, it’s about being creative and, most importantly, having fun.