Adjectives as Noise

Adjectives are controversial words. Rightly so. About four times out of five, you can actually improve a sentence by cutting one out:

Joe is dating a beautiful supermodel.

Joe is dating a supermodel.

Clearly, the noun “supermodel” does not need to be propped up by an adjective. It’s plenty powerful enough on its own.

Naturally, adjectives exist for a reason. You can’t just take the adjective out of the sentence: “For a supermodel, she wasn’t particularly beautiful.” But especially before a noun, an adjective can come off like a weak attempt to convince your reader of something he should be able to decide for himself.

So adjectives have enough problems of their own. Yet marketers, it seems, are determined to bludgeon them into complete meaninglessness. They do this by using adjectives as mere noise. In marketers’ hands, adjectives are often born just to be ignored.

Take, for example, the Kashi brand cereal flavor in my cupboard right now: Island Vanilla.

Really, Kashi? Is that supposed to mean anything other than “vanilla plus some extra syllables to make it sound like something more than plain-old vanilla”?

Here’s another Kashi flavor I like: Harvest Wheat. Again, what is the modifier telling me about what I can expect when I open the box? Nothing. In all the memory banks of my mind, there’s nothing of substance that conveys the difference between “harvest wheat” and plain-old “wheat.”

Kashi isn’t alone in this practice, not by a long shot.

Ragu has a flavor called Garden Vegetable, as opposed to what? Factory Vegetable?

Luden’s makes Wild Cherry cough drops, which we can only presume are superior to those awful farmed cherries.

And Kettle Chips come in this flavor: Backyard Barbeque. (You can almost taste the chain-link fence and kiddie pool.)

And what might a blind taste test tell us about the difference between chocolate and Dutch chocolate, between vanilla and French vanilla?

Examples of this kind of hot-air blowing are too numerous to count. And while it’s standard marketing procedure, I can’t help but think we should all be wee bit insulted by it. When marketers slap meaningless words onto product names in this fashion, it’s worse than telling people “Don’t think.” It’s telling people: “We know you don’t think and we’re so confident about it that we’re going to rub your noses in it.”

Okay, maybe that’s a little hypersensitive. But it’s still an insult to consumers and an act of violence against adjectives.


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