How to write badly (3): Accomplish verifiable pretentiousness

We continue our exploration of bad-writing skills, which began with such promise a few weeks ago.

Ingrained pretentiousness makes your bad writing much worse. To achieve true pretentiousness, you have to do some pretending, of course. That means the Potemkin villages of your spotless mind need to find a colorful reflection on your patient screen. If you do this right, it’s very likely that a lot of your pretentious blather will get past the editor, who can stand only so much and is not paid to rewrite your entire production.

If you dress up your poorly written copy just so, it can become truly, horribly awful. Accomplishing this needs practice and perseverance.

Practically, conning the reader into thinking there’s more there than meets the mind is a matter of word choices and some other good habits you should make your own. There are very many ways to go about this. Here are some of the easier ones:

  • Verbum latinum bonissimum. If you can replace a one-syllable noun with a more elaborate noun phrase, especially one with an expression of Latin derivation, you should go for it. You don’t choose, you make a selection. You don’t just catch up on work that your client expected the day before yesterday, you provide retroactive deliverables. Forget about having a drink. Ingest a beverage instead. Get it? This might take some practice and creativity. If you read your draft aloud and find that it’s just not compatible with natural speech, you’re probably onto something.
  • Nobility moves conceptual mountains. Take this a little further and enjoy undisciplined verbosity in a tone that is just a bit elevated above your ordinary speech. The moment is not now, it’s at this time. You don’t ask inside, but inquire within. You disembark instead of getting off the ferry, of course. Naturally, you don’t do things differently just because it’s more efficient or less costly to do so, but also because you ensure strategic alignment in compliance with stakeholder expectations. I think this is the one I excel at, if I may say so.
  • Blandness becomes flavorful. Give your prose the right flavor of determination by sprinkling in mostly meaningless filler terms such as “certainly”, “explicitly”, “decidedly”, “clearly”, “highly”, “extremely”, “definitely”, “unmitigatedly”, and the like.
  • Actions are taken. Use passive voice to obscure who did what and make it sound like more agents and forces were involved than there probably were. Add irrelevant detail to increase the level of reader perplexity. It’s not that the baker made bread. What happened was that, after all the ingredients were procured, they were mixed in the proper proportions, and then loaves were shaped, left to proof, and eventually inserted into the heated oven, where they were transformed by means of elevated temperatures into almost painfully delicious offerings.
  • Obfuscation should be respectful. When you quote people in your article, you introduce them with their full name and title. Nothing pretentious about that. But once you’ve done that, you should refer to them as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms., not just their last name. This is particularly effective if you can cite several persons. Speaking of quotes, it’s nice if they’re pertinent. But in the interest of bad writing, if you can include an additional, confusing or completely irrelevant statement, you’re way ahead. “We doubled our sales volume in the last quarter,” said Mr. Crux-Levander. “More sales team members achieved a new level of sustained effectiveness.”

Now, on to practice! Find a good book, pick a paragraph, and rewrite it poorly, using these bad practices. Put your results in the comments, if you please. Fine if you wish to use an assumed name.

As always, I shall close with the threat: More soon!

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Filed under bad writing, communications, content, marketing

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