"Interesting" is a Boring, Overused, and Lifeless Word

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - 18:51

I love poetry. There is something extremely satisfying about creating unique snapshots of the human experience while using the fewest number of words possible. And a single word change, usually discovered after a thesaurus exploration, can completely alter the meaning and mood of a piece. So it’s not unlike a game of chess, where a person must place each piece into position with precision in order to prevail!

But the game of wordplay loses its fun when a significant portion of the words that make up our language become so misused, abused, and malformed that individuals like myself have need to reach for a dictionary (preferably the Oxford English Dictionary, which arguably one of the best) just so we can rediscover a words true origin, meaning, and intent.

Interestingly Enough…

The most recent victim of overuse and misuse (take your pick) is the word interesting. It’s overused because its become a go-to filler word when we become too lazy to use something more precise. It’s misused because we often hide behind it instead of saying what we truly think and feel. During a short story writing class I took in college, our instructor would rail on us if our only feedback to another student was that something about their writing was interesting. His point was that this statement was essentially useless because it didn’t provided the author with something tangible they could use to respond to and improve their work.

Interesting has become so overused in the spoken word that it essentially has zero impact, even when used correctly and in the proper context.

The Problem is Precision

Try to count how many times a day your hear the following types of phrases:

  • She’s an interesting person.
  • That video was very interesting.
  • That’s an interesting idea.
  • Wouldn’t that be interesting?
  • Check out this link. It’s so interesting!

It’s not that there is anything grammatically wrong (I hope) with the examples above. The issue is their vagueness. By using a swiss-army-knife style word, it forces the reader/listener to ask followup questions (e.g. how or why is that interesting) in order to obtain the full context and meaning of each statement. And if a reader/listener doesn’t ask a clarifying question, they must then resort to guessing or some form of deduction by analyzing other verbal cues and clues.

Why must we make it so hard for others to receive a very clear message? Now let’s try that list again:

  • She’s an odd person.
  • That video was really entertaining.
  • That’s a novel idea.
  • Wouldn’t that be enjoyable?
  • Check out this link. It’s so inspiring!

Were these differences earth shattering? Not at all. But even a single word change already reduced the number of follow questions and clarifications necessary to understand what the statement is trying to convey. And if you expanded even further with additional words or clauses, each statement can become crystal clear and complete.

Orwell’s Timeless Advice

If you found this useful or thought provoking, I would highly recommend the reading Politics and the English Language by George Orwell. It will forever change the way you write (for the better).

But my advice is simple: the next time you catch yourself writing or saying the word interesting, think long and hard about what you REALLY want to say and convey. Use that instead! The reward is that your ability to communicate will continue to improve noticeably over time, resulting in fewer misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Not to mention, you’ll be a much more interesting person!

And most importantly, the word itself will finally get the breathing room it needs in order to regain its original meaning in our language.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.