EPIC: “An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), from ἔπος (epos) “word, story, poem”) is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation.” – from the Wikipedia entry for epic poetry.

My oldest child is eleven, and like most Americans his age, his panoply of modifiers is limited to epic, awesome, ultimate and boss. I had no intention of covering middle school slang, but then I saw this poster: From the Noah Movie Facebook page Okay, not this poster, but one like it. Anyhow, there in bold letters is a single word excerpt from Peter Travers’ mostly positive review: EPIC. Considering Rolling Stone’s core audience, I’m sure Paramount Pictures assumed Travers meant the movie was AWESOME and BOSS, but I had different suspicions. Here is the lead sentence from the review, which confirms my cynicism:

Pick your gospel: the Scriptures or rock & roll. Both figure into director Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a biblical epic that follows no rules except its creator’s teeming imagination.

Epic” in this case only describes the genre, not the quality. I’d seen this before, when I staffed a video store* as a summer job. “A ROMANTIC COMEDY!” proclaimed the box, hoping to attract an inattentive renter looking for just that (a romantic comedy, I mean). But never you mind. Any bored 13-year-old will see the poster and assume “Noah” is indeed EPIC.

So the poster fails twice – first, for resorting to teen slang, second for misrepresenting the comment in the first place**  Of course, the movie has made more than $300 million, which proves my definition of “fail” is an epic fail itself.

Otto E. Mezzo

*A “video store” was a retail outlet where one rented “VHS tapes,” an old magnetic media on which was recorded a movie – the forerunner to DVDs. Rather than Redboxes, these locations were staffed by “employees,” who would make recommendations and help you distinguish between “The Seventh Seal” and “The Seventh Sign” – if you didn’t annoy them, in which case, they would recommend the Bergman film.  

**Which may explain why I can’t find the poster in Google images anywhere. I also searched for news of Travers protesting the use of his “review,” but to my surprise (not) I find nothing – media companies are very good about covering each others’ misdeeds. Then again, repentance is a good thing when the judgment of God is on screen.

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_poetry http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/noah-20140327#ixzz30CWxoxNn

From The Telegraph: “Be short, be simple and be human.”

The Complete Plain WordsWhat he hated above all was jargon – partly because it was impossible to understand, and partly because it demeaned people by making them feel stupid. The more monolithic bureaucracies became, Gowers felt, the more they reinforced their remoteness by using impenetrable language. He suggested three golden rules that everyone in government and business should abide by: “Be short, be simple and be human.”

If a better maxim exists for institutional writers, I haven’t heard it. A recent Telegraph (UK) feature profiled Sir Ernest Gowers, who sounded the alarm against corporatese in 1948 by publishing Plain Words. Now his great-granddaughter is taking up the fight and updating The Complete Plain Words for the 21st century.

This article is well worth the read, if only to be reminded how long jargon and glittery language has plagued us. I was also struck by this nugget of wisdom by the great Sir Winston Churchill:

“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best,” Churchill said, “and the old ones when short are the best of all.”