Moist and other words we love to hate (in life and property copy)

by Michelle Singer | 4 October 2023 | Copywriting

What a delight it was to recently learn the New York Times food desk has a banned word list.

Not to be confused with a style guide, this unofficial list is not documented anywhere nor is the contents rigidly enforced.

Writers and contributors just know.

Words NYT food desk try to avoid include:

  • Launch because launching is for rockets. Not restaurants or websites.
  • Concept as a restaurant. When a restaurant opens (as opposed to launches) it ceases to be a concept and becomes a very real thing.
  • Luxe is banned for reasons unknown but as slang for luxurious it’s unlikely to be in keeping with the New York Time’s tone.
  • Foodie, common, casual and overused.
  • And finally, moist, a word universally disliked for its inferred ick, despite its relevance when describing, say the most perfect carrot cake crumb.

It’s an entertaining and enlightening list.

We all probably have an unofficial subjective words-to-be-avoided-at-all-costs list. For me it’s a work in progress, a list built over 20 years as erstwhile editors attempt to drum out bad habits as I produced thousands of words for property press releases, website copy and news stories.

My own personal lazy writing habits still prevail and ‘luxe touches’ will sneak in as I fallback on the comfort of common phrases like my favourite pair of slippers when deadline pressure looms large. But I am human.

Still, it pays to persist and take note of the impact words have. More than being irritating, the use of vague and imprecise words particularly when writing or describing properties, projects and real estate trends, can at best be unhelpful and at worst misleading.

Real estate agents tell me there’s been plenty a reader of The Weekend Australian Magazine’s Home Hunt column who has inquired about a property. To think they’ve been motivated enough to make contact and arrange an inspection after reading about a property they’ve seen in print. Some, I’ve been reliably informed, have even purchased the property, such is the power of print.

There is a real sense of pride that comes from knowing a mere 80-word property description can be enough of a teaser for some to find their dream home as they peruse the glossy lifestyle pages over their weekend latte.

A list of the most overused property words

Overused words in property listing copy varies, but here’s a list of some commonly used words I *try* and avoid because they’re not grammatically correct or they’re safe and dull.

  • Entertaining – Oft in reference to an outdoor area or room. But it’s not the room that’s doing the entertaining, it’s a space, should you be so lucky, for the sole purpose of entertainment. Ergo, an entertainment room.
  • Stunning – Views, interiors or just about anything. It’s an adjective apropos of nothing.
  • Spacious – Vague and overused applicable to a Potts Point studio apartment measuring 50sqm in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to the new standard for lot sizes of a southeast Queensland subdivision.
  • Luxe – Slang of luxurious.
  • Unique or rare – In its pure form, unique refers to the only one of its kind, senior subeditor for The Age newspaper Joanne Anderson writes in her new book Writely or Wrongly: An unstuffy guide to language stuff. Something, someone, or a house – is either unique or it’s not.
  • Character – A generic term that could mean any one of half a dozen architectural phases throughout the last century. Time to give that character a name.
  • Breathtaking – Hyperbolic.
  • Dream – Sometimes I enjoy using the keyword search box of a certain property portal to find out how many listings include certain buzz words. On last check there were 4554 ‘dream’ houses listed for sale in NSW.
  • Best – Right up there with ‘unique’ in being the most excellent, outstanding or desirable property available.
  • Moist – If you’re reading this in a property description, then I dare say language is the least of its problems.

What’s the big deal if I have the ‘best’ view or a ‘unique’ house?

Nothing. The style police won’t be beating down your breath taking door. But space – no pun intended – is valuable, even in a digital world, and time is money. Wasting either on unhelpful language does you, your vendor and their property a disservice and potentially alienates or loses your target audience (aka buyer).

Good copywriting (what is good you ask?) should be:

  • Free of clichés and misleading terms
  • Specific and engaging
  • Accurate with the power to attract your target audience (whether that’s buyers, sellers, investors or tenants)

Got your own list of words and phrases that annoy you when reading about a property listing or description? Let us know what they are or get in touch if you’re lost for words when it comes to defining your properties or project. We might just be able to help.

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