Sometimes words need defending not because they're obscure, like pervious in a previous post, but because they're misused. Here's a pair of "words worth defending" that are tied together in my mind by being part of the same story: "incredible" and "masterful."
Early in this century, I worked as a copyeditor for Goss Communications in Kenilworth, Ill. We had a very small staff, so I sometimes wound up editing stories and reviews written by my bosses, and occasionally by the graphics staff.
On one occasion, graphic designer Max Herman wrote a review of an event he attended -- I think it was a play. He wrote that someone had given "an incredible performance." Trouble was, I couldn't tell from the context what the quality of the performance was. It just seemed that it was incredible to Max -- in other words, he hadn't believed it.
Even back then, I wanted to defend the word. When Max and I met to talk over the story, I told him that "incredible" needed changing, since it meant "unbelievable."
"We could use 'incredibly,' Max," I remember saying, "but was it incredibly good or incredibly bad? I can't tell."
(This wasn't stalling. I really couldn't.)
Well, he didn't like the word "incredibly" at all.
"OK, Max," I said. "Without using any form of the word 'incredible,' tell me -- how was the performance?"
He thought for about ten seconds.
"Masterful," he said.
"Great!" I said. "We'll use that," and we did.
A few weeks later, Max sent me another review for the paper -- and wrote that another performance was masterful. As usual when the writers were out of the office, I e-mailed him a note to tell him I got the story. I added a note saying how glad I was that he'd seen another masterful performance.
"Masterful" doesn't get out much, like my other words worth defending, but I'll always enjoy using it. Thanks, Max.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Words Worth Defending