Pet hates: Prestigious

Every editor, sub-editor and writer has a list of words they detest seeing in copy. Words that range from meaning nothing to desperate padding by the author, or just a plain misunderstanding of the context. Words that will induce apoplexy if repeated too far.

My second least favourite word is prestigious.

I was trained in the school of journalism that encourages the striking out of unnecessary words, usually adjectives. Not all adjectives, as you’d end up with a few peculiar sentences, but long words that add nothing to the copy. Unless you’re a very good colour or feature writer, or possibly Russell Brand. I’ll let you off then.

In newspapers, the fewer unnecessary words in your copy, the more space you have to tell the reader what happened, while staying within the word limit. Or having a sub remove bits of your copy because you’ve tried to recreate War and Peace in a report on a council meeting over car parking spaces.

Note: you may also want to be careful of adding the word ‘a’ before the word ‘nosh’.

In radio, tight writing is at a premium, especially if you’re working in commercial news. You have 15, 20 seconds at most to tell the story. Anything that doesn’t inform the listener should be, and often is, struck out.

If you’re writing a press release and the word prestigious appears, then you’re clearly trying too hard to convince the reader that whatever you’re writing about is genuinely honestly interesting, honest. Have faith in the writing and whatever the publicity is, it should sell itself. Ultra-prestigious events don’t need bigging up, and are probably cheapened by doing so. Think Kerry Katona presenting the Nobel Prize here.

Prestigious tells the reader or listener absolutely sod all and should largely be throttled to death with its own superflousness, revived only in times of absolute need.

Any time I see the word prestigious in copy, my heart immediately sinks. Most of the nouns subjected to prestigiousness already locally have have prestige conferred upon them.

The most common is the prestigious award. Awards, by their very nature, confer prestige upon the nominee. Nobody needs to be told that an Oscar is prestigious, and neither should they need to be told this about any other award, just as you wouldn’t need an adjective to describe those who collect the wooden spoon.

Neither should we need to be told how prestigious an event is. Chances are the reader can work this out for themselves with the rest of the copy. It also implies the writer is deciding whether or not the event is prestigious and, by default, deciding other events are less worthy.

This can be applied to anything remotely prestigious. You’re nominated for a prestigious award? What’s the unprestigious alternative? You’re conferring prestige upon this person or event – do we really need to know this? Does the reader or listener really need to know if this is prestigious? Do they care about the prestige, or finding out more about the award or the person nominated?

Yet prestigious still crops up with alarming regularity in places that have enough prestige in their writing to know better; almost as if the writer feels that an award or even is naked without prestige. They can live without it, largely.

If it’s really not clear if something is prestigious then by all means use it. But if you’re debating whether something has prestige, then chances are it doesn’t. Err on the safe side an leave it out. It’ll make me happier.

So, they’ll be nothing prestigious on my watch, thank you very much. Any intros with a whiff of prestigious awards will be subjected to red pen, and if I’ve not printed it out, I’ll email back the word document with red highlights. And don’t even think of trying to sneak it in on the fourth paragraph down. I’m wise to your games. I’m not trying to start class warfare here, just making your copy a better place.


3 Responses to “Pet hates: Prestigious”

  1. 1 Pink Sunshine August 21, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    I know what you are saying about “prestigious” – now that I’ve read your post my skin is crawling with the number of prestigiouses that I have sent out into the world. But sometimes the award that you know not to be that fantastic is hugely important (indeed, prestigious) to your lords and masters… We PRs then have to rely on our friends in journalism who have not sold their souls to the dark side to do the decent thing….

  1. 1 It’s only words, and words are all I have… « Gary Andrews Trackback on October 6, 2008 at 5:26 pm
  2. 2 It's only words, and words are all I have... | Gary AndrewsGary Andrews Trackback on April 22, 2014 at 10:22 pm

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August 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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