Superfluous Verbosity

Last weekend, I had the pure delight of watching Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo. It’s the story about an orphan who creates a life for himself at Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. The film is simultaneously the story of turn-of-the-century French filmmaker Georges Méliès. The two stories are brilliantly and poignantly woven together against a backdrop of the clockworks of this legendary train station that was built in 1840 – literally, what makes everything tick.

Sometimes, it’s fascinting to see the inner workings of things. Think about how much fun it is to watch the making of feature on your favorite DVD or to go on a behind-the-scenes tour. But sometimes, you don’t want to see the inner workings. Really, you don’t.

The other day, for example, I was faxed a seven page document explaining, in detail, how to use a newly-trademarked word. Seven pages to explain how to properly use this word, including Proper Use, Improper Use, Guidelines, General Guidelines, Special Guidelines, Additional Guidelines, and a Summary of Guidelines. I’m sure it’s necessary, to some degree – especially since no one any where ever again is allowed to use this word as a noun because it is now trademarked as an adjective – but I couldn’t help but wonder how these seven pages came to be.

There must have been, somewhere, behind the scenes, a committee or a “task force” that sat and discussed and deliberated for hours (and hours) to develop all of this content. There were conspirators and writers and proofreaders and typesetters and designers who devoted time and energy to creating all of these paragraphs and bullet points and sub-bullet points and charts! Can you imagine?

And this is not uncommon. Just yesterday, I received a letter from an organization that included a lengthy elaboration on why my membership dues will increase by 2.876% next year. They had spent considerable time debating this, they explained, and then went on to detail the whole thought process and raison d’etre – a summary of no-doubt hours of meetings and discussions – with parenthetical and italicized phrases for emphasis.

Is all of that really necessary? Do we need to explore and discuss and explain every wheel and cog and spring? MUST we take ourselves so seriously?

Even Hugo, at some point, leaves the inner workings of the clocks to eat fresh croissants, and watch fabulous movies flickering on a screen!

• • •

This exercise in superfluous verbosity is ©2012, Jen Payne

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