Smashing Standards: Standardized Tests, Twitter-talk, and the Art of Expanding Your Vocabulary

Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)

 

Scrabble letter tiles
Source: Pixabay, via pexels

It’s that time. Students all around the country are either in the process of cramming for or breathing a sigh of relief after taking their standardized tests. Whether it’s the SATs, ACTs, LSATs, or GREs, standardized testing is a terrifying part of the academic year for most students, and the vocabulary and reading comprehension sections can be particularly daunting.

Since the explosion of social media, there’s been no shortage of criticism leveled at sites like Twitter for diluting the English language, particularly among young people. We’ve written before about how character limits and short attention spans have helped proliferate a loose relationship with grammar, not to mention the widespread use of emojis, memes, and acronyms (#ICYMI, here’s another post we wrote about social media and language, FTW). And while mastering these modern disciplines might boost your follower count, it’s unlikely to win over examiners.

On the one hand, this changing landscape of language is fascinating to watch. But it also makes us worry that future generations of copywriters won’t share our fondness for winsome words, superior syntax, and grandiloquent grammar.

You see, we copywriters are always searching for that perfect word. (Did we do well on the language portion of our own exams back in the day? Well, we don’t want to brag…) We are ever the perfectionists when it comes to wordsmithing; that is, searching for the word that crystallizes the exact meaning and feeling of what our clients want to convey. At MarketSmiths we love language, in all its nuanced, multisyllabic, synonym-rich glory.

So, in an effort to preserve and enhance the nation’s vocabulary, we present to you six of the most overly used words on social media (and in real life) and explain how, with an expanded use of vocabulary, the essence of meaning could be so much richer.

“Great”

Great is a great word, no doubt about it. But, oozing with hyperbole, it can quickly lose its effect. You know what else is a great word? Prodigious. As in, “J.K. Rowling has prodigious talent when it comes to writing books.” And why don’t people consider herculean more often? You get a strong visual when you use this word–imagine the herculean effort of moving a boulder up a hill, or getting people to try insects as a source of protein.

“Big”

Kissing cousin of great is big. We even throw them together sometimes and say “great big” when we really want to emphasize something. But why settle there? Going back to our Greek roots, there’s the word colossal. You know something is really big when it’s colossal. And you don’t need to be a classics major for effective vocab.

ice cream
Source: Igor Ovsyannykov, via Unsplash.

Homespun words and phrases can hit the mark, like the deliciously descriptive chock-full, from the Middle English chokkeful (literally crammed from cheek to cheek). It’s fun to say and read. Like, don’t you love that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is chock-full of mix-ins!

If you must use big, at least stay far away from its illiterate brother, bigly. Unless you’re five. Or a major world leader, apparently.

“Truth”

The hard truth is, there are only a few substitutions that really work for this word. There’s a certain gravitas to the word veracity that can make a sentence more powerful. People will try to employ the word axiom–which is a true statement–but it can be confusing and make you go off on a tangent thinking about geometry. To inject a little variation into your vocabulary, you may be better off going with something a little simpler but nonetheless elegant: certainty.

“Sad”

Sadly, a certain someone has contributed to the offensive overuse of this word in recent years. It doesn’t get much easier than to type three letters (which is important if your hands are tiny and struggle to reach all the keys). While it might be a useful go-to in the character-controlled realm of Twitter, in the real world we can do so much better when expressing sorrow, regret, or scornful disapproval. How about trying lugubrious on for size? Think: a lugubrious mood set over the beach when the fog rolled in. You’re more likely to see it in literature than business writing, but its fun to say to baffle and impress your friends. Dismal, on the other hand, is perfect for those time when you want to say something with a little drama but without needing to pull out a dictionary; as in, the sales forecast is dismal.  You know that’s bad news.

“Love”

What’s not to love about love–except that it’s a tad overused? Ardor really speaks to the passion and heat of emotion. On the other end of the intensity spectrum, we have a hankering for beloved. There are so many people, places, and things that have a lasting impact in our lives; these are beloved.

“Amazing”

We don’t know how amazing came to be used more than astonish–frankly, it astonishes us. Astonish really gives you that image of surprise and delight, while amazing has become amazingly underwhelming and cheesy (think lame infomercial product). And for the child in all of us, nothing captures the magic of something quite like the word wondrous. It harks back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia, and all those books that kept our imaginations blooming.

Winning the war on bland

Will all the wondrous words mentioned above work for your business? Probably not. Sometimes, the simplest sentence can convey the most meaning. But our point stands: a rich, expansive vocabulary is an effective tool to have at your disposal, making life (and your copy or standardized test papers) all the more exciting. Reading, crossword puzzles, and the old faithful thesaurus are all fantastic ways to gradually build your vocabulary to wordsmith-worthy levels. Or you can hire a copywriting team to do the heavy wordsmithing for you.

dictionary words
Source: Pixabay, via Pexels

Not every wordsmith can be a MarketSmith, but every ‘Smith is a wordsmith with a prodigious talent for using just the right word. Our writers are tested and tested again to make sure we have only the top of the class. We avoid the hackneyed, the overused, and the trite. We make our trade in writing with impact, in creating images using words, and being extraordinarily clear with our phrasing.

If you’re weary of bland copy and ready to move into a more persuasive realm, contact us. Our copywriting will electrify you.

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Michele Graham

Clients warm up to Michele immediately and so do those who read her writing. As MarketSmiths' Senior Director of Strategy, Michele makes even the most complex B2B concepts inviting and knows how to add just the right touch of personality. Michele's experienced in three-word taglines and 30-page websites and everything in-between—white papers, press releases, e-communications, brochures, social media, and video scripts. She's worked at award winning agencies and in strategy at HBO and Tri-Star Pictures. She loves (and we mean loves) anything that gets the wind in her hair—boating, biking, skiing. Michele earned her business acumen with an MBA in Finance from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in marketing, summa cum laude, from Boston University.

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