Discover more from Timeless & Timely
Very important stuff™
One of the imperatives of leadership communication is clarity. When you add specificity, it’s a powerful combination.
If you can’t communicate your ideas clearly and specifically, you may as well be mashing your hands against the keyboard in repetition.
“Off the Clock” is part of the Timeless & Timely family of publications. Join our community to receive stories about leadership and communication.
Richard B. Gehman noted in 1949 that Americans have a conversational peculiarity — the habit of referring vaguely to specific persons or things.
Something he called the “Vague Specific.”
As in “Do you remember when we were at that place with the thing?”
In George Ade’s Forty Modern Fables, he told the story of a vapid young gentleman who was able to pass himself off as more intelligent by memorizing stock phrases which he uniformly used in all social interactions about art, literature, and music. Or, more colorfully put:
“He knew the kind of conversational parsley that is needed to garnish a full-blown intellectual vacuum.”
The moral of this fable is “For parlor use, the vague generality is a life-saver.”
However, such is not the case for a leader who is trying to convey concepts in speaking or writing.
Vague Words — and Alternatives
Instead, try a number or a range of numbers (“Between 500 and 1,000 people”)
Sort of / Kind of / About
These are all squishy words or phrases that make us sound less than certain. Instead of beating around the bush, name specifically what it is that you’re trying to describe.
Very is a filler word; if you must use an adverb of this type, try something stronger, such as exceedingly, astonishingly, exceptionally, or unequivocally.
Very is part of a group of filler words that includes rather, really, quite, pretty, and in fact. Benjamin Dreyer recommends trying to avoid writing these words for a week.
And when it comes to words that are more than filler words — nonsense words, or gobbledygook — omit them altogether.
The image above is a memo to the Smaller War Plants Corporation in 1944, in which Maury Maverick used the term gobbledygook to describe obscure language.
It seems to be something of a corporate anthem these days. Which reminds me to leave you with this Weird Al hit in which he has a vaguely specific idea of what nonsense some corporate writing is.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.