Empty Adjectives

The website of the Philadelphia Inquire had an interesting article by Erika Ettin, a woman who makes a living by writing dating profiles for those who are sexy, witty, and funny, but not good writers.  She will also help them select the proper photo, one that hides the huge mole with a thick, black hair growing out of it.

Her article is about empty adjectives—words such as “sexy,” “witty,” and “funny”—whose meaning depends more on the reader than the writer.  People hilariously funny to some are intolerably sophomoric to others.  Remember how much the French loved Jerry  Lewis?  Empty adjectives in a dating profile only have meaning if you already know the person.

None of us (I suspect) are struggling to write a dating profile, but many of us tend to use empty adjectives in other ways.  I know a woman who describes a restaurant she likes as “good” (she has never been to a restaurant she did not like), and one she really likes as “excellent.”  The difference is known only to herself.  And what is an “excellent” restaurant?  Are your preferences the same as hers?  Do you like spicy foods, as she does?  Do you like seafood? Food she finds excellent may be garbage to you.  I don’t care how well anyone prepares stewed jelly fish, I’m not going to like it.

Now that I am now aware of empty adjectives, I see them everywhere, particularly in recommendations of movies, shows, books, and restaurants.  Effin’s solution is to be more specific—in her world of dating, giving actual examples where you show wit and humor if that is what you claim.  But this can takes more words, perhaps exceeding a skimming reader’s attention span.  A balance is needed.

She also thinks saying you are sexy in a dating profile is unnecessary because that is obvious from your photo.  I cut her some slack on this one because she is young.  We, of course, know sexiness is only obliquely related to looks.  Many of us are very sexy, but no one would guess it from our photo.

Now if I can only correct my own use of empty adjectives.  But I am witty; I can do it. I kid you not.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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