Are You a Fancy Nancy Writer?

Are You a Fancy Nancy Writer?

Reader Comments (101)

  1. It definately loses it’s effect after too many “fancy” words are use it a post. The reader won’t believe that everything is that splendid or resplendent. The piece will lose it’s authority. There is room for an occasional use though.

  2. I agree completely. My first three years as a copywriter saw me have plain English principles (not literally) drilled into me. It made me a better writer, without doubt.

    I really, really recommend a browse of the Plain English Campaign’s website:

    Great post – thanks.

  3. I like.

    Another way of saying this is, “You need to ‘Twitterize” your word choices.”

    twitter: shanearthur

  4. Great post.

    The way I write is to build from the ground up, so to speak. I write how I talk, which is usually pretty bare-bones, in regards to vocabulary. But if I find myself using the same word(s) over and over, then I’ll look for another.

    When writing my blog, I tend to treat it as if I were speaking directly to my readers. It makes it easier for them to read, but also easier for me to write, since those words are in my head already.

  5. Thanks, Sonia, I need to hear this! Writing descriptions for handspun, handdyed yarn is tricky; I want to convey the hand-crafted, artisan quality without faking it up.

    Also, I had to remark on the way you un-fancily (totally a word) make writing sound delicious (frosting, cookies, chips & salsa).

  6. I do not think it really matters what the answer is to this question. All that matters is that I writing from my readers and visitors. They seem to be happy with the way I am writing so I am not too worried about any of this. This is an effective post if you are trying to get people involved with the comments.

  7. OMG. I’m working for someone like this right this second. This person actually calls all the freelancers “lovelies” (all the time) and uses flowery nonsense words plunked into these LONG lame paragraphs continually. What makes it worse is that this is a blog gig; a blog! Write like you talk for freaks sake. She’s clearly fresh out of the, “I want to write the world’s most overdone eloquent novel” camp. I want to hire a professional cyber hit on her. And that’s the meanest thing I think I’ve ever said online. She is that annoying. Excellent and very timely post. Wish I could email it to this editor.

  8. I earned my degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. One of the most important things I learned slugging through countless papers and short stories – learning to say it in a few simple words is actually harder and more rewarding than saying it fancily.

    That ability to say things in simple language shows a true understanding of the topic. Complicated vocabulary is often a mask for the lack of fundamental understanding.

    I know, because many a paper I submitted used complicated vocabulary in the hopes that my professors would tire and simply say, “well, this sounds smart.”

  9. I think it’s easy to get caught up in trying to SOUND like a writer instead of just, as you pointed out, BEING a writer and being yourself. Often times I find that the most common literary compliment is a reader pointing out the CLARITY of the writing, not the fancy words.

  10. I’m a Nancy and a writer, but I try to stay away from the Fancy Nancy writing. I do write as I speak, and yes, I sometimes have to edit quite a bit. I try to avoid using a lot of adjectives. I also know that I’ve had proper grammar drummed into my head for many years. Therefore, I don’t always speak like my younger peers. Please feel free to check out my writing and let me know what you think. I’m always open to corrective criticisim. I appreciate all the help anyone can give me. Copyblogger has been a big help.

  11. Thanks for this. I have to catch myself all the time. There is that inner critic that says, say this so it sounds like you are intelligent I have learned to literally (really) go back over my blog posts and break up long complicated sentences, get rid of the big words that I wouln’t (usually) say in a conversation. Love the post -Thanks again.

    It just occured to me, I think what I am learning to do is to Twitter all my writing. Keep sentences short. Words simple. Twitter, in my noggin here, has become my audience.

  12. @Tara, you do a great job! You sound like a person and not like a bad marketing department. 🙂

    @Jennifer, LOL. I feel your pain, I truly do. Get someone to mail her a pointer anonymously.

    @MikeTek, that is so true. It’s much harder to write “clean” than it is to lard it up with obfuscation.

    @David, exemplary!

  13. “One or two well-chosen superlatives and fancy descriptors will make your offering sound appealing.”


    I’d add two thoughts (since we’re sharing):

    1) Context is king. Packaging must read differently than web must read differently than collateral etc., ad nauseum. When settling upon the one or two nickel words that must be used to elevate your copy to art, know that they may or may not parse when the setting changes.

    2) Don’t be afraid to let a picture do the talking for you. I’m amazed at how much copy exists on websites that would handled so much more effectively by good photography. “Fuschia felted wool with luxurious crepe rubber soles” ? Or

  14. ” a duchess in blue jeans is always more appealing than a pig in sparkly fuchsia lipstick.”

    ROF- LMAO …Audacious beginnings for the New Year.

    I love Fancy Nancy. But I also like to know what’s what. Could you talk to the art writers and art critiques about this? Rampant refulgency going on there.

  15. It occurs to me that mayhap I have been a oprobrius, gasconading windbag on occasion and here to for I shan’t make that faux paux a-gain.



  16. @Janice, tell me about it, try writing a press release for a gallery some time. “Ummmm, reporters will gag over this, are you sure you want me to put it in?”

  17. Yes! Especially in this time of new media, clean and easily understandable writing is rewarded. It’s rewarded because its appreciated. I just told my son that the faster his teacher can read his writing assignments, the more likely he will get a high grade. — Readers want to get the message and move on. I recently did a video blog on this very subject.

    My points were:

    1. Use the Right Words
    2. Break the Rules
    3. Serve it Up

    Serve it up is what I believe you are saying. Throw the meat on their plate so they can start enjoying it. If they don’t know what it is, if it’s too fancy, they won’t eat it!

    Jeff Korhan

  18. Great post!

    It is said that we should write how we speak, but maybe some of us need to take another step and start to speak how we think, and not how we think we will make a good impression.

    That all being said, I think if you are writing a blog about Scrabble you should go ahead and use as many fancy words as possible.

  19. ‘Art Critiques” LOL C’est SO moi… zipping into some jeans though. James has an Inner Boa? He is so versatile. Have to go read some more art writing. Translator in pocket. 😉

  20. Guilty as charged! Although I do tend to edit much of it out later, I write as I speak…which often errs on the side of formality. See? I can’t stop myself! Ahhhhhh!

    So, in the nature of formality, Fancy Nancy’s and the fact that I just cannot stop myself…I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request. 🙂

  21. I had a boss who wrote like this. It was a terrible disservice to the audience, the employees of our company. Imagine trying to understand a change to your benefits or pension and having to sift through 30-word sentences at the same time. It’s worse than making yourself look bad.

  22. I agree with the article and all comments…but to be a contrarian (sp check didn’t register that…too fancy?) there’s a fine line between plain language and a loss of top-notch literacy. I guess I pine a bit for the age of typography, when people could listen to the complex structure of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (orally!), rather than having to fear if a word has too many syllables in it. Y’all.

  23. Back at dinosaur school, an editor told me to aim for 6th to 7th grade reading level. He believed that about the readers, but my revelation was that the reader has distractions and other things on his mind. If I want to keep the attention, be easy to read, be fun. In conversation, not writing, I used the word “obelisk” and only two people in 25 knew what I said, plus 23 were uncomfortable and not going to add it to their vocab. Scratch that and save the fancy, beautiful words for mantras while in a self-indulging meditate.

  24. I’m getting ready to teach a writing class and I am going to share this with the students (with proper credits, of course!).
    I had a journalism professor that also was an editor for the city’s newspaper. Her mantra was “tight writing” and I still try to keep that in mind for my own work. Knocking out extra words, reducing long phrases into a few short words create more impact and get a message across better. Less is more!

  25. Fancy writing can be good at some point like when you are an essay writer or you write fictional books, but never in copywriting. A flambuoyant way of writing do away with more sales. In my personal point of you, a good salescopy should be truthful, straightforward and informative. Persuasive, ah yes..but not fancy! 🙂

  26. @iriscarter … I hope that Strunk & White will get at least a brief going-over in your class.

    From Simpson’s Quotations:

    AUTHOR: William Strunk Jr
    QUOTATION: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
    ATTRIBUTION: In Elements of Style 3rd ed, revised by E B White, Macmillan 79

    For my money, the single most important directive ever for any writer.

  27. “readers today don’t have time for your flights of fancy.”

    I don’t find fancy copy appealing. It may have its market, but in total – I think it’s less effective. I feel that the best of writers write in a way where their reader has to think the very least to process what’s written. This doesn’t mean the writing is shallow, it may be very deep and thought provoking. It should be in fact. But, I won’t have to sit there for an hour over a paragraph trying to decipher what’s behind it.

  28. I like your advice about being truly who you are.

    I’ve firsthand experienced the pain, confusion and isolation writing like someone you are not causes. Years of obscurity. And no work. 😉 So it pays to be yourself. And it’s awfully easy because it doesn’t take a lot of practice.

    Last year I remember Ms. Snark–a literary agent who ate newbies alive on her blog–and how I watched some copycat her. It was awful. You could tell Ms. Snark was being herself. These other people were the insecure carbon copies.

    Good writing. Keep it up.

  29. I found this out the hard way. When I finally figured out that I had entirely too much fluff in my writing – and cut it out – I started getting better results from my queries and submissions.

  30. I’m guilty sometimes, especially when I recall some of my earlier writings in high school/college.

    I know someone who has that tendency to writes like a Fancy Nancy and it just drives me insane. They’re only communicating their pomposity and elitism, rather than their message.

    Besides, using 8th grade vocabulary is better for SEO anyway…

  31. We used to call this type of writing “Purple Prose,” and I need to caution against it in all my life story writing classes, along with banning the use of a thesaurus. I advise beginning writers to imagine they’re telling their story to a friend. There are always one or two in every class who imagine themselves the next bestselling author, and fill their pages with flowery phrases and extravagant words. Writing simple can be more difficult than it seems.

  32. Bravo!

    When I was a science major in undergraduate school as well as in grad school, professors were frequently more impressed when I used the pompous, academic, obfuscatory jargon in my writing. It was when I became a newspaper staff writer that my editor yelled at me: “We’re not paying you by the size of the words or by the number of them–keep it simple and short!” I learned more about writing when I was with the paper than I did with 8 years of college (including the freshman comp and English lit classes).

    Now, I have clients (I’m an Editor) who complain that they want their writing to appear smart –they think that if they use smaller, more concise, and proper connotations of words that they will appear too simple. Some of my clients want to submit their work to academic journals and they want me to “increase the intelligence” of their writing. Hey–if you can’t express your ideas clearly with small words, using the big fancy ones will only make it more muddy.

    Nice post. I’m going to bookmark it and send the URL to many of my friends, family, clients, and colleagues who could use an excellent post like this to explain better what I’ve been trying to beat into their heads for decades.


  33. I totally agree. When people throw in “big words” just for the sake of doing so, I get very distracted.

    Oh, what’s that word mean again? Let me leave your site and Google it instead of continuing to finish your article/sales letter. That’s just no good.

  34. One thing that is being overlooked here is that language is a beautiful thing and allows us to be very precise when we communicate. There is nothing wrong with having a big vocabulary as long as you use it to clarify your intent and not obscure it.

  35. This is a great post and certainly got my attention because I have those exact sunglasses (payless baby!). Even so I try to avoid the Fancy Nancy when not reading to my 4 year old. Love it.

  36. I read that you have to write in a 7th grade style for the major audience to really get you.

    As I am a personal development author I don’t need to aim so low as my readers are quite literate:)

  37. @mephjeff & @Janine, I was talking about that very thing with my husband last night. Sometimes the perfect word isn’t a common one, and you have to make a decision. I would just urge people to make it consciously.

    @Simona, if you want to give yourself a fun and difficult exercise, try taking a piece of writing to a 7th-grade level without dumbing it down. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

    I think those grade-level suggestions can be a little misleading. It’s not that our readers are unsophisticated or dumb. But editing your writing “down” (the whole vocabulary to describe this is just wrong) actually makes it clearer and stronger and more vigorous. I would imagine that most of what E.B. White wrote would pass the 7th-grader test.

  38. Another fantastic post! When I wrote my ‘great Australian novel’ ten years ago, I used almost every word in the dictionary to try to show off. Now, having learned to self edit, I can barely bring myself to read my turgid old text. Your observations are spot on. Nice work! Best regards, P. 🙂

  39. I have three rules I drill into the college grads who have worked for me that helps get rid of the Fancy Nancy they learned in school:

    1) Use a structure
    2) Make it shorter
    3) Remove all passive verbs

    Did I mention make iit shorter.

  40. Yes! My editors often leave notes for my [newer] writers about leaving the flowery language at the door. The usage of extravagant verbage often results in an unintentionally comic effect. That is why KEEP IT SIMPLE is a prominent entry in my style guide.

    I applaud you. (It must have been fun to write, though!)

  41. Great post, and good reminder. I was just feeling like my writing needed some ‘fancy nancying’ this morning. Now I am thinking again. I think it is easy for those that do no write professionally to sprinkle some excess on top to make themselves feel better. It is annoy and can be spotted from a mile away. I can’t believe I almost fell into the trap.

  42. Oh ya! A few years back I wrote a paper for my English 100 class that was pure fluff. Much to my embarrassment we got to tear it apart for 3 hours to highlight the problems. Lesson learned (I hope).

    Good article.

  43. I’ll never forget an editor in the past who told me that, while a piece was “fantastic” it ran the risk of being “purple.” When I asked what the dickens he meant, he said I’d gotten so wrapped-up in the language that it almost seemed I’d forgotten about my audience.

    Never forget about your audience. They’re not impressed with your vocabulary – they’re impressed with your ability to communicate in a clear, concise fashion that doesn’t waste their time. ALWAYS be time well-spent for your clients and their audience!

  44. Hmmm, glad I popped onto the site today! This is a post that def. hit home for me. I’ll admit, I’m somewhat of a Fancy Nancy – not purposely exactly, but I do find myself using big words when everyday ones will do.

    I blame it on all the reading I’ve done in my life! When you unintentionally develop a big ol’ vocabulary, you tend to start using it, not realizing how pretentious you may come off. Uh oh, wait, is pretentious one of those? Should I just use snobby instead? LoL.

    I think the last commenter makes a good point in saying “Never forget your audience” – and let’s face, the rule of thumb for most copy, web, print or otherwise, is to keep it on a level an 8th grader can easily understand.

    However…sometimes it’s SO much more fun to be a Fancy Nancy! I think it’s just a matter of using it sparingly and in the right situation.

  45. “Pompous chucklehead.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    Also, I find a lot of fancy writing is just about loading up on adjectives.

    As you say, have something solid to say, the details, the research, the story… a well crafted MESSAGE — that’s they key. The words are just the messenger.

  46. I am very glad you wrote this article. “I know how to use thesaurus” type of writing does only one thing – strokes the insecure little ego of the writer. Audience is not dumb, we can smell the insecurity and we choose to take our eyeballs somewhere else.

  47. Great thoughts, this topic definitely comes up in my line of business. And I must say: I’m guilty of it occasionally! If I reflect honestly, my fav blogs are all ones with a simple and direct style. Thanks for the reminder.

  48. Sonia wrote: “One or two well-chosen superlatives and fancy descriptors will make your offering sound appealing. Too many and it just turns into glop.”

    It’s kind of like the old Cold-War rule about words that suggest liberty. If a nation needs to have more than one of the following in its official name: people’s, free, democratic, or republic, then it is most likely none of the above.

  49. Great post.
    Real valuable information here.

    Fancy nancy is definitely what you can say about me. I figured out that I shoud use powerful words like impeccable and astonishing, which I think resulted in people thinking I was a shmock… hmm


  50. Pretty cool post…i liked it a lot like evertything i read in this Blog…

    Thanks a lot Sonia for sharing all your wisdom about the art of copywriting…

  51. This is great – I often get too “flowery” or “wordy”, as I like to say. The hard part is often paring down my emails.

    When I started a new job, a co-worker asked me, “Are you a writer?”

    I told her I was and asked how she knew.

    “Your emails,” she said. “They read like books.”

    It was a compliment, but I also realized I needed to cut down on the fluff and just get to the nitty-gritty; the information that people needed or were looking for.

    It’s not always easy! Yet it’s often worth the editing process you have to go through.

  52. Equally enjoyable as Fancy Nancy’s words are those who must embellish beyond sane reasoning the fonts they use in typing – Showy, flowery and ornate and d*mn near impossible to READ!

  53. I loved the artesian/artisan story.

    People are always mispronouncing words and it an be very funny. Excellent article.

  54. fancy writing losses its affect…it should not be used much…your readers can’t trust you if you write in this style…i like to write as if m talking to my readers directly…its easy for me…n i use hype while writing…it helps in explaining a topic more clearly…

  55. In high school I was sometimes a Fancy Nancy. It can be embarrassing to read what I wrote back then.

    It helps to have your work edited by a friend who’s willing to say, “Take off that dress, Nancy!” or “Pull that thong out of your…”

  56. At least the poor girl was trying. What’s wrong with wanting to use substantial communication (J/K) ? I live in the South and it would be awesome if more people would at least try to sound intelligible. I hate the words “ain’t” and “fixin’ to”. So I say, more power to you Fancy Nancies.

  57. Great post. To the point and brief. The only thing I could add is write like you want to speak. Too many folks today use a mangled vocabulary or assume slang is “OK English” as if they knew what English is. Writing to be understood is what I strive for. It ain’t easy to be brief and to the point. But if it was everybody would be doing it. I love what you said that “fancy writers give the strong impression of a second-grader wearing her mom’s shoes and makeup, ” Wow! Think I’ll steal that one.

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