by Chelsea Clarey.
A lot of art historians will be quick to tell you about the value in originality. The first person to flip over a toilet and call it a fountain was creating quirky, original art; the next three hundred or so who stuck five-hundred-dollar price tags on used LA-Z-Boy recliners and called it art are just. . . not.
The same holds true for writing site copy for a jewelry business. The first person to say “my authentic designs are inspired by nature” was making an informative statement. But when I caught myself writing that phrase a couple months ago, I winced to realize that I was mostly filling space.
In this installment, we’re going to dissect the word “elegant,” which is my worst personal weakness.
On Etsy, there are over fifty thousand uses of this word in the jewelry category alone.
It seems to be used
for the following concepts:
- to suggest that the product is suitable for weddings or formal events
- to characterize a restrained color palette or delicate shape
- to imply that the materials used are of fine quality
- to describe traditional or traditionally feminine motifs
- to urge buyers not to react to things as “cute”.
And there are probably hundreds of usages I can’t characterize.
In fact, the only evocative usage I’m seeing is for contrast, like “industrial elegance” or “elegant punk.” Even these are in excessive supply. “Casual elegance” and “elegantly simple” have become clichés and should be used stingily.
Why do we use this word at all?
Well, for the same reason we use “beautiful.” It’s subjective, but definitely pleasant. Also, it’s fun to say. Try it aloud.
And it can be used for everything, which is exactly why we should stop trying to make it descriptive. Only in mathematics and programming is the definition of this word singular and precise.
A word that can be equally applied to something ornate and sumptuous or something clean and simple is probably meaningless and overused.
Related words with the same problem include “chic,” which a reader has asked me to note for the record is pronounced “sheek”; “perfect,” “lovely,” and “great.”
Don’t abandon it as a tag when appropriate, because it’ll still be searched by people who aren’t quite sure what they want. But don’t expect it to catch a reader’s eye, heart or imagination.
Here are a few examples of
the overuse of this word:
- “All eyes will be on you in my elegant gowns.”Anything, from a traditional tulle princess ballgown to an edgy, startling couture kaftan, can be described as an “elegant gown.” It could also describe fine stitchwork, or rare, high-end fabrics. Anything. There’s no information here.
- “Paint your room in elegant shades.”Again, are we talking about shabby-chic pastels? Modern dark plum? The word “elegant” serves no function except to convey general pleasantness.
- “These elegant beaded curtains make any window beautiful.”What’s elegant here? The beading pattern? The beads themselves? The shape of the curtains, or the cloth? Were they washed in elegant detergent? Sewn by someone with long, elegant fingers?
Happily, as with all frustratingly imprecise concepts, a bit of ingenuity yields new ways to give better information – and get more of the gut response that makes shoppers actually read your prose and click their shopping cart.
Ways to replace “elegant”:
- Instead of “Elegant earrings for wedding wear,”try “Simple formal earrings suitable for the classiest of affairs.” Every shopper wants to know she’s classy, and the word “simple” makes it clear that we’re talking about clean, delicate elegance, not heavily ornamented elegance.
- Instead of “Elegant women’s and girls’ jewelry,”try “Jewelry in flattering pastel and monochrome palettes, delicately shaped so as not to overpower, perfectly accents your beauty and taste.” It’s still rather general, but it gives a lot more information and, not incidentally, flatters your customer.
- Instead of “Elegant pearl necklaces,”try “Unusual handmade necklace designs made with the finest saltwater pearls.” Now it’s clear exactly what each adjective modifies – that is, what aspect of your jewelry each word describes.
- Instead of “Elegant Victorian patterns,”try “Genuine damask patterns taken from Victorian fashion plates.” This confers the sense of history and femininity that the word “elegant” was searching for while being far more specific.
- Instead of “Elegant little birds,”try “Sleek bird silhouettes” or even, if you use a more casual style in your descriptions, “Not too cutesy, these small birds add a touch of refined cheer.” Not that there’s anything wrong with cute jewelry – it’s just that many designers try to avoid getting that reaction!
Other terms to consider:
. . . the list goes on and on, and each has its own unique associations to suit unique jewelry!
Author Chelsea Clarey of TangoPig Jewelry Creations is a jewelry designer who gravitates toward bead and wire jewelry because the simple techniques have infinite artistic applications. She specializes in reusing vintage components in stylish one-of-a-kind designs. When not creating, she thinks much too much about word choice in jewelry descriptions. Be sure to keep up with Chelsea on her TangoPig Jewelry Creations blog.
Elegantly stated, Chelsea! :o)
Thank you! This episode hits on my own second-most overused word. (The top descriptive word I overuse is “lovely” – so you can bet I’ll be taking notes on the next installment to try to overcome my addiction to that word!).
Lots of great food for thought here. Thank you so much for all your research and insights, Chelsea!
the second best investment
by: Lauren, 4 Daughters Creations
After, of course, quality materials, is a thesaurus. I can usually find better descriptives with just a quick glance. What I also found that helps is proper Naming of the piece. When you see the title “Baroness” what image comes to mind? How about “Pixey”? Two very different pictures. With Baroness, you wont need to explain its elegant; thats already implied. Cheers All!
I actually keep a link to thesaurus.com in the title bar of my internet browser. It’s a great help! And good point about the titles!
Oh boy, you see my hand up…..guilty! This is such a great post because it gets right to the heart of how to better your descriptions and in such a simple way. I have lots of editing to do….:) Thanks Chelsea!
Yeah, like I said, I am soooo bad about this one. I’m sure it’s still all over my Etsy shop because I don’t always notice I’m using it. But I get some points back for realizing that, right? :p
Love love love your suggestions! I am getting so bored with my same ol’ same ol’ tagging words. Thanks for helping to motivate me to expand my verbiage horizon! ^_^
Please do “Stunning” and “VIntage” soon!
These two words seem to have EVERY meaning on Etsy and Ebay! I’ve seen things described as “vintage” that were brand-new with the tags still on them. And “stunning” is probably the most over-used adjective on all of Etsy. It’s been applied to things that couldn’t stun anyone if they were holding a ray gun…
Please do an article on substitutes for those two overworked words!
One more suggested word
“Juicy” is a wince-worthy word I’ve seen more than a few times to describe beads or stones used in jewelry. Not sure of the implications here–but I get a mental picture of someone carrying a snack hanging around their neck–reminds me of the Fruit Loop necklaces we made as kids.
Fascinating suggestions …
The series was intended to focus on words that are used correctly, but too often, rather than blatantly incorrect ones like the “vintage” usages you describe — but yes, it drives me absolutely mad when people use it that way too! If I’ve still got writing energy after this series I’ll try to do a Last Word on when it’s okay to use “vintage.”
“Juicy” is a weird one, isn’t it? I wonder where that one began.
I doubt anyone will want to describe their jewelry as “juicy” or wear sweatpants with it on their rear after they read this. In Korea “Juicy Bars” are bars where men buy the scantily dressed female waitresses overpriced “juicy” drinks, and then that waitress will give that man attention until she has drank her “juicy” drink and then asks him to buy her another “juicy.” If he doesn’t she moves on to the next guy. The men are drinking soju (think grain alcohol) and getting knock down drunk while the waitresses are really drinking juice. Overall the stituation is fairly bad. It can move from lap dancer to prostitution and many of the “juicy girls” are essentially slaves in the sex trade. I can’t stand it when I see young girls wear pants with “juicy” on the rear because they have no idea that might as well be wearing pants with “hooker” on the rear.
Three cheers for this wonderful article!
This article smacked me right upside the head. I noticed that I use certain words to extreme such as elegant, beautiful, stunning and stylish, but wondered if others did the same or if there were really any better ways, without being to “wordy”, to get the point across and this article has sparked a little fire under my buns (and in my brain) to be more creative in my word/phrase choices.
I have “elegant” style earring wires in my supplies shop (and used to describe jewelry in my jewelry shop, too) and have no idea what I’m going to change their name to since they’re one of my best sellers, but you got my brain going on this one.
I would also love to see the use of the words, vintage, vintage-style, retro, urban and classic dwindle in their use (I’m guilty of using classic more than once in a description!!)- and I do understand they’re not used the way you mentioned, but still,….. 🙂
Thanks for a great article!
I’m glad you’re finding it useful!
Okay, that’s a lot of requests … how about if I covered “vintage-style” or “vintage-inspired”? I can poke at the “inspired” problem a bit more in that one too.
That’s fascinating, Tina. I’d never heard of that practice! Now I have an excuse to cringe at the word “juicy.”