I'm with him. I too have a few words I'd like everybody, especially copywriters, to give up forever.
The first is "fun," typically used in dull but inoffensive lines such as "Our new blank (toy robot arm, gelatin dessert, hulking SUV, diuretic, etc.) makes blank (learning, eating, driving, peeing, etc.) fun." But one little gem I recently heard -- on America's snootiest public radio station -- went "get your tickets now for the live taping of This American Life. It will be very very fun." My temperature rose to mid-marathon level. Back in 9th grade English we learned that 'very' is an adverb, and adverbs never, never modify nouns (like 'fun'); that's the adjectives' job. But these days adverbs have been freed to modify anything they damn well please. As in, "This headline very very sucks."
Now take word No. 2. When I was a Village hipster, "cool" was used by cats who knew other words, like "groovy" and "far out," and not everything and everybody was cool. Now most of the people who use "cool" aren't, like computer columnists, and "cool" is the only hip word they know. Trouble is, when they describe new software as cool, do they mean imaginative, beautiful, violent, instructive or frozen? Those cool Cuban cigars favored by Ms. Lewinsky -- are they aromatic, flavorful or just easy on sensitive body parts?
But the word you very very gotta give up, the word that has become the crutch of every copywriter who can't be bothered to find le mot juste, is "stuff." Some cases in point:
1. A commercial for Nobody Beats the Wiz shows large-screen TVs, stereo systems, computers, chorus girls and theater seats. The voiceover says, "Buy all this stuff, get more great stuff."
2. A Citibank ad shows a car made out of a bicycle wheel, skateboard, baseball and bat, golf clubs, kayak and other objects. The headline reads, "Now buying sports stuff can get the ball rolling toward a new car." Why not the skateboard skating? Or the club clubbing? As George Carlin might say, this ad has only one ball and it's definitely not rolling.
3. The tagline for Iomega, makers of the Zip drive, reads, "Because it's your stuff." (There, now it's all clear.)
4. A two-page spread for Unisys says the company is working hard to solve the Y2K problem. The copy under a picture of two guys with monitors instead of heads reads, "We eat, sleep and drink this stuff." Maybe if they drank a little less stuff, they might tell us what this stuff is. They might even get their own heads back.
Whatever happened to ads like Stan Freberg's "New Ubiquitous Comestible" radio spots, which not only sold a hell of a lot of Nucoa margarine but also gave people two classy words they could show off with. English has nearly half a million words. Surely, writers can find a few variations on "stuff" without even breaking a sweat.
Once upon a time, I ran off to Paris to write great poems and meet some beautiful, adoring Frenchwoman. After one particularly fruitless day, I returned to my buck-a-night room and flung myself onto the bed, clicking on the radio as I hit the mattress. Instead of French, I heard a cultured British voice reading Keats. It was a poem I recognized but, as they say, never heard before. I lay there riveted, stunned. Until then, I'd never realized how beautiful English was; I just wanted to be a poet. Suddenly I was forced to think about words. It was one of two epiphanies I had in Paris. (The other was realizing that my beautiful Frenchwoman would probably pick that slickly dressed Frenchman sipping Courvoisier at the next table.) I went home and got a job in advertising. But something of epiphany No. 1 stuck with me. Maybe most of my headlines weren't great art, but I still could love and respect the language. And I consider the years I've spent writing ad copy as writing. Now when I see an ad that says "Buy great stuff, get more great stuff," I cringe. Maybe I don't have the right stuff. But to the writers who say, "Why use other words when everybody knows what 'fun,' 'cool' and 'stuff' mean?" I say, "Take your job and stuff it."
Never mind, you already have.
Bernie Libster, formerly a group creative director at Grey Direct, is a regular contributor to Adtalk, the newsletter of the New Jersey Ad Club. When not