I was reading the packaging of my naan bread last night (a copywriter gets her kicks where she can). The naan bread was described as “vibrant”. Vibrant? Well, pretty tasty, but hardly full of the energy, life, colour and pizzazz we expect from such an adjective.
So inspired by this, I set off to look around the kitchen in search of other tasty adjectives. I’ve written some package copy in the past and know that there are few branches of writing where every single word carries such weight. I’m also writing catalogue copy at the moment, a similarly space-tight exercise, and one of the main things I have to do here is watch my use of over-enthusiastic adjectives. Trawling the food cupboards seemed like a helpful thing to do.
Firstly, the spice shelf. I’m not going to name names, but The Same Large Retailer responsible for the naan bread also offered me “potent” cayenne pepper and “earthy” nigella seed (no comment). I agree with their “lively” sumac, but draw the line at the oregano being “pungent”. I don’t see this as a particularly positive word, scent-wise, especially since its recent use in Frozen to describe a man who smells of reindeer.
A trip to the fridge was disappointing, apart from the “ultimate” sausages which brought a certain Top Gear-style intonation to my reading. The freezer was downright dull. Seems that chips are chips.
On to the cupboard. I forgave my coffee beans for being “zesty and buttery”. After all, coffee is one of those things, like wine, that has its own rich lexicon of descriptions; and have a look at Wogan Coffee – I’ve added spoonfuls of adjectives to coffee myself.
Again I accepted the toasty, fruity, spicy etc nature of my wines. I remember watching Food and Drink in the late 1980s, and hearing Jilly Goolden describe a wine as tasting like the felt inside the cutlery drawer of an old sideboard. What? Crazy lady. This was a whole new way of talking about flavours, for most of us plebs anyway. We all laughed as her descriptions got crazier and crazier, but wow, was she right! I can still taste that felt. I loved her vocabulary; and the fact she started out as a freelance writer certainly will have helped…
Apart from a rumbling tummy and a desire for a pre-wine o’clock glass of blackberryish red, what did I get from my trip around the kitchen? Mainly, watch those little describing words. Don’t shove them in for the sake of it. The more foody and fancy, and let’s face it, “middle class” the food was, the more likely it was to be packaged in adjectives. You could argue that if a food is consumed less frequently, it needs more of a description for us ignorant little eaters. However, “potent” doesn’t get me much closer to an understanding of cayenne pepper. Good, honest “hot” does.
I bet you’ll be reading your food packaging this evening. May your meal be zesty, vivid, warming, comforting, intense and lively.