This post is about an Examiner.com article by Michelle Kerns on “reviewerspeak” which I came across yesterday through Twitter. It’s a pretty old article, but I’m still going to respond — and I don’t entirely agree with it.
Kerns lists twenty words and phrases which (she says) are overused by reviewers and have simply become stand-ins for any meaningful comment. It’s very easy to use those terms, no doubt — I know I’ve used at least seven in the past, and probably more — and I’ll agree that they can be stifling when deployed in the way they are in Kerns’ sample bad review. None of this, however, stopped me from using one of the terms from the list (“that said”) in the review I was writing at the time.
Why did I deliberately use this term which I’d just seen labelled a cliché? Because it helped me say what I wanted to say. My problem with Kerns’ list is that it treats all those words and expressions as clichés in and of themselves — well, “readable” and “page-turner” maybe, but I’d say that, for the rest, it depends on context. Sometimes a book is gripping; sometimes a scene is poignant — as you long as you make it clear why they are, what’s wrong with saying so?
As for “that said”, I think it’s a perfectly good way to link together two contrasting points, as long as you stand equally by both of them (e.g. in my last review, I wanted to say that I enjoyed the novel, even though I felt disadvantaged by not knowing the back-story). If, on the other hand, it’s used (per Kerns’ example) as a way of watering down a firm opinion, then yes, that’s a bad thing. As I say, it all depends on context.
Question: what do you think of that list? Do you think there are any words or phrases that are so tired, a reviewer just shouldn’t use them?