Adjectives add a smattering of sparkly zest to ordinary words. I’d like to use more of them.
Adjectives are descriptors that are employed to tissy up nouns. Ordinary copy becomes extraordinary with the expert use of adjectives. Award-winning screenwriter Robert Pirosh knew the power of adjectives and used them to land his dream job. It was a genius stroke. It reminds me how much I like words, especially adjectives.
Adjectives and legal copy: are they mutually exclusive?
I’m a legal copywriter and a former lawyer. My words are conservative because that’s what my industry demands. And it’s perfectly understandable. I mean, the law is a serious business with serious consequences if things are incorrect.
There’s not much call for adjectives in legal writing. Precision usually dictates that adjectives are kept to a minimum. No florid descriptors. No waffly case summaries. Just straight-as-an-arrow plain English to produce accessible content for readers from all backgrounds.
I doubt my clients would appreciate copy that describes the South Australian Fences Act as an effulgent piece of legislation. However, they may be happy with didactic. I’d probably never get work again if I described a High Court judgment as feckless, boorish or preposterous. One must be respectful, after all.
But still, I miss the adjective. I’d love to use more. Imagine how much fun real estate copywriters have, describing houses as sprawling, views as serene, and swimming pools as sparkling.
Is scrumptious an adjective? Annabel will know
I do admire how others use adjectives. I could read Annabel Crabb’s creative eloquence all day. Even her recipes are impressive works of wordsmithery. For example, from her delightful cookbook Special Guest (co-written with Wendy Sharpe), comes this gem in the preamble to the recipe for Tumeric Fried Fish with Noodles (page 82):
I love the freshness of [Vietnamese food], and the way the Vietnamese sometimes just king-hit you with a totally left-field combination of ingredients. Dill and turmeric, for example. Where the hell did that come from? And yet it’s the dill and turmeric that make this fried fish so wonderful – complemented by the salty, sweet, sour, spiky and eminently quaffable national sauce that is nuoc cham.
Maybe her creative eloquence comes with a side of sledgehammer. But don’t you want to rush out and create the dish that inspired such a string of tasty, irresistible adjectives?
Letters of Note and the most fabulous job application of all time
Pirosh was a copywriter working in an advertising agency on Madison Avenue, New York City. Possibly he was one of the original Madmen. After deciding to forge a new career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, he wrote this letter. Pirosh sent it off far and wide to directors, producers and studio executives. It worked. He got his start as a junior writer at MGM studios.
Pirosh also won an Academy Award for the 1949 film Battleground in the category of best writing, story and screenplay. I know what you’re thinking. A deadset legend, right?
Anyway, if there were an Academy Award for letter writing, surely he’d be in the running. Please read it. Read it aloud. Let those adjectives (and occasional adverbs) roll around on your tongue for a bit.
Because I like words, especially adjectives. And if you do too, I’m sure you’ll like these.
I like words. I like fat, buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
You know who – or what – else also likes words? Websites. Websites like words. They need words, and plenty of them. If your website needs some words, get in touch and let’s chat. A warm, musical chat. Pithy and bright. Or laughably formal and stiff. Easy and pleasant? Maybe. Or perhaps a little serious, confidential, or officious. Perhaps you’d prefer some straight-talking. Short, cheery but not severe.
Whatever floats your boat.
By Kate Crocker
Have you come across an example of brilliantly adjectivised copy? Please share by leaving a comment below.