No Fluffy Words

I’m a big fan of writing well.  I read many books growing up (my mother was a librarian), and I took an Intermediate Composition course as an undergraduate engineering student. One of our textbooks was The Elements of Style, Third Edition, and the focus on concision by authors Strunk & White reinforced my experience writing “tight” code for computers.

Over the past few decades, I’ve read many words — books, magazines, start-up company executive summaries, resumes, blog posts, news articles, and more.  Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve encountered some of the worst writing in…Academia.  [Note: I’m not picking on any individual college or university — I find this phenomenon at every single institution I encounter.]

Something about Academia encourages writers to violate most of the principles championed in Elements.  I find their biggest sin to be the use of what I call “fluffy” words (and phrases): rather than use precise descriptions or specific numbers, these writers reach instead for “world-class”, “predominant”, “vibrant”, …

Here is a short list of fluffy words (listed in the order I harvested them) from a recent “case statement” written to help a university department raise money:

driving force, most important challenges, harnessing, transform, unique, led the way, positioning, first-mover advantage, world-class (4+ uses), thoughtfully, forefront (2+ uses), leverage (3+ uses), strategically, cornerstone, one of the top, best and brightest, very top tier (redundant!), poised, dramatically, impact, trajectory, exciting, new, innovation, high-impact, one of the nation’s leading suppliers, predominant supplier, world-renowned innovation hub, exceptional, leader, cutting-edge, brightest, boldest, put…firmly on the map, powering a variety of fields, thriving innovation community, stellar exemplar, novel, pioneering, national recognition, robust, concerted effort, excitement and impact, ever-increasing, clamoring, talented, most vibrant and innovative in the nation, explosive growth, unabashedly ambitious but attainable, intensify, humanity’s most pressing challenges, skyrocketing, essential, rapidly expanding, cement our place, high-impact collaboration, hallmarks, sophisticated, best and brightest, empower people, thought leader, changing the world (many uses), driving this revolution, dramatically expand, society’s greatest challenges, leading-edge, amazing momentum.

This list is by no means exhaustive: please feel free to add your own fluffy words in the comments section.

Author: benslivka

19 start-ups, software, hardware, biotech, space launch, neurodiversity, learning, free markets, food, wine, cycling, walking, Seattle, Microsoft, Northwestern University, Garfield HS, DreamBox Learning, IBM, Amazon.

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