writerguy
sandy henderson, london-based copywriter
the curse of nominalisation

Nominalisation is just grandiloquence for the utilisation of abstract nouns instead of verbs.

But that’s the trouble: it’s not just a big word, it’s a kind of killer creeper that wraps itself around sentences and sucks the life out of them. Processes become products. Actives become passives. Dynamic verbs become stative verbs. The words have a meaning but no context or definition.

Nominalisation is used to make ordinary ideas sound more impressive, and more vague. It may have some kerb appeal but, a couple of steps up the garden path, the magic tends to fade.

So let’s pick some ingredients from the garden to make abstract noun soup. Remember, if you can’t put it in a wheel barrow, it’s an abstract noun.

Use this table – created by the Canadian Defence Department – to build your own inscrutable phrase:

  1. integrated management options
  2. overall organisational flexibility
  3. sytematised monitored capability
  4. parallel reciprocal mobility
  5. functional digital programming
  6. responsive logistical concept
  7. optimal transitional time-phase
  8. synchronised incremental projection
  9. compatible third-generation hardware
  10. balanced policy contingency

The authors claim that the random selection of three-legged phrases comprising a selection from each column gives users instant authority on any matter – founded, of course, on glorious imprecision.

Or how about something a little closer to home:

Writerguy offers excellence in the delivery of conceptual roadmaps around the critical path to your strategic milestones. Its creative approach will provide a step change in your holistic vision and cause a paradigm shift in your value proposition.

Naturally, you can also depend on writerguy’s optimal logistical capability and balanced management concept. I thought it too obvious to mention.

Nominalisations disguise actions as results, often removing both the subject and the object of the sentence. They detach the sentence from its context: the realities of when and how, by who, to whom and in what mood the thing was done. Unfortunately, the resulting vagueness of meaning is a big part of their popularity. It looks like communication but it doesn’t communicate like communication.

We are beguiled by modish language such as this because it suggests that it is in the latest fashion and we are behind the times.

It is probably fair to say that anyone who admires language such as this is all fur coat and no knickers. Perhaps this is why it has become a favourite ‘voice’ for marketeers. Gratitude for the existence of exceptions is unnecessary!