Saturday, January 26, 2008

Word of the Week: abundant

With the world’s stock markets on a daily -- sometimes hourly -- rollercoaster ride, it might seem surprising that I’ve chosen “abundant” as word of the week. (After all, abundance is probably not what folks think is in store if the economy hits the skids.)

I’ve chosen it because it jumped off the page at me this week as I was reading a law firm’s promotional brochure. Here’s the sentence that caught my eye:

“[Our] Criminal Law Group has abundant years of experience defending criminal and quasi-criminal charges that often involve complicated issues of law, facts and evidence.”

Abundant years of experience? My dictionary (Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.)) defines abundant as: 1 very plentiful; more than sufficient; ample, 2 well supplied; rich.

When a client writes something like “abundant years of experience” and I change it, I often struggle to explain why I’ve done so. In this case, pointing out the dictionary definition should explain it all -- but the frustrating part is trying to explain how you can avoid making such errors. (Clearly the person who wrote it didn’t realize he or she was using the word wrong.)

There is no foolproof way of avoiding improper usage other than to look words up. Of course, if you don’t think you’re confused about the meaning of a word, chances are you’d never even think of looking it up, and it’s not practical to look up every word.

I understand the frustration -- and, the fact is, we’ve all misused words on occasion. But, in this case, the law firm could have avoided the error if they’d have stuck to more ordinary words. My guess is that the firm thought writing something like “we have lots of experience defending …” was too informal (or “not professional”), so they chose “abundant”.

The beauty of using ordinary words is everyone will understand you and you don’t risk seeming illiterate.


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