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.
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Filed under: Words Worth Defending