Bob Harris at the New York Times criticizes book reviewers of literary overindulgence. He points out "seven deadly words" that book reviewers are guilty of mis/overusing. How do you fare?
- poignant: Something you read may affect you, or move you. That doesn’t mean it’s poignant. Something is poignant when it’s keenly, even painfully, affecting. When Bambi’s mom dies an adult may think it poignant. A child probably finds it terrifying.
- compelling: Many things in life, and in books, are compelling. The problem is that too often in book reviews far too many things are found to be such. A book may be a page turner, but that doesn’t necessarily make it compelling. Overuse has weakened a word that implies an overwhelming force. Reviewers often combine these first two words. Like Chekhov’s gun. If there is a poignant in a review’s third paragraph, a compelling will most likely follow. Frequently reviewers forestall the suspense and link the words right away, as in “this poignant and compelling novel…”
- intriguing: It doesn’t mean merely interesting or fascinating although it’s almost always used in place of one of those words. When it is, the sense of something illicit and mysterious is lost.
- eschew: No one actually says this word in real life. It appears almost exclusively in writing when the perp is stretching for a flashy synonym for avoid or reject or shun.
- craft (used as a verb): In “The Careful Writer,” Theodore M. Bernstein reminds us that “the advertising fraternity has decided craft is a verb.” Undeterred, reviewers use it when they are needlessly afraid of using plain old write. They also try to make pen a verb, as in “he penned a tome.”
- muse (used as a verb): Few things in this world are mused. They are much more often simply written, thought or said. “War is hell,” he mused. Not much dreamy rumination there. Stretching for the fanciful — writing “he crafts or pens” instead of “he writes”; writing “he muses” instead of “he says or thinks” — is a sure tip-off of weak writing.
- lyrical: Reviewers use this adjective when they want to say something is well written. But using the word loosely misses the sense of expressing emotion in an imaginative and beautiful way. Save lyrical for your next review of Wordsworth. (For the complete article)