Saturday, 26 December 2009

The War on "Interesting"

My New Year's Blog Resolution - no more calling things "interesting".

While writing, I sometimes find myself searching for an adjective to attach to something I've just mentioned, words to explain why I think it's relevant. It's... no... it's kind of... hmm... It's interesting, is what it is! Phew. Now I can move on. Anything can be "interesting" - a book, a blog post, an article, an event, an idea, a movement, a prediction, an argument.

Calling something interesting is effortless; easy; it's a one-size-fits-all term. If you can't think of anything else to say, you can at least say that. Which is why people do. I know I'm not alone in this.

But "interesting" is a cop-out. It adds nothing. If you're taking the trouble of writing about something, it should be taken as read that you think it's interesting. The whole point is to explain why - to tell people what's special about it. Does it present new evidence? If so, is it reliable? Does it introduce a new distinction, a new vocabulary, a new way of thinking? If so, why is it a good one?

Sadly it's easier to just call something interesting than to explain why it is. Partly this is because "interesting" (or "fascinating", "thought-provoking", "intriguing", "notable" etc.) is just one word, and it's easier to write one word than a sentence. More important is the fact that you probably don't know why you're interested by something until you do some thinking about it.

Don't duck out of doing that thinking. It's intellectual laziness. Even more so is to say that you're not sure if something is true, but it sure is interesting. "It's not necessarily true, but it's a fascinating thought" - is it? why?

Are you interested by the possibility that it's true, so if you learned that it was definitely false, it would become boring? Or is it one of those ideas that's interesting "in itself"? If so, why? Because it's an influential idea in a political or historical sense? Because it sheds light on the minds of the people who believe it? Are you sure that your interest isn't a kind of repressed belief? Are you really "only interested", or do you see something you like? If so, why not say so?

So, I'm quitting the habit, cold turkey, as of now. No more will I reach for the "interesting" button whenever I'm stuck for words. With any luck, this will make my writing a little bit more interes... hmm.

14 comments:

Miguel said...

Very interesting post :)

Anonymous said...

What an interesting thought!

Davis Diva SS said...

I think its interesting to know someone out wants to start giving more refined answers and comments. I love your anti-"interesting" campaign.

moftasa said...

Hmm, what about compelling?

Neuroskeptic said...

Thanks all.

moftasa - That's better because it means something - it means you're convinced by the argument, or at least see a lot of worth in it. You're actively endorsing something if you call it compelling. Whereas in calling something "interesting" you're not; Nazism is interesting: it started WW2, that grabs anyone's attention. But it wasn't compelling.

dearieme said...

Don't say "relevant" without telling us what it is relevant to.

Don't say "significant" unless you tell us what it signifies.

I encourage you to say "intriguing" whenever it is apt.

NiroZ said...

I think you're being a bit harsh on yourself. If I'd wanted to do something similar, I'd insist that every instance of interesting, fascinating and others are all followed by because, thus forcing you to explain why. To be perfectly honest, I love the word interesting for that very reason, gotten me out of a lot of sticky social situations, because saying something is interesting is similar to Dr Who's magic card that shows you what you expect, and excellent to do a bit of cold reading in order to dance around sensitive topics.

Chris said...

This post is clearly biased against Vulcans. I advise you to find your inner Spock.

Neuroskeptic said...

NiroZ: That's the problem - it's too easy :P In conversation, it's indispensable, but if you're taking the time to write something, I reckon you should try and think things through so that you don't need to use it. that's my plan, anyway. we'll see how it goes...

dearieme said...

In a scientific paper a couple of years ago, I wrote that a point was "noteworthy". A referee told me to delete the remark on the grounds that "everything in this paper is noteworthy". Did I detect a note of sarcasm?

jim said...

"Interesting" can be a negative label: If you want to find out how things work you need to stay on topic, to incorporate relevant data into your model. Interesting facts - or factoids - might be interesting, but are they relevant to the matter at hand, or no matter? "Interesting" is like saying that you've got an intuition that factoid X is relevant, but I don't know what the hell it's actually relevant to. Intuition is a slippery eel: your intuition that X is interesting only proves itself when X advances some thinking, otherwise, it's just a failure of that mental capacity vital for our modern connected life, the junk filter. We might expand the word "interesting" to the term "interesting, but useless."

Lindsay said...

This is a good idea. I think I will also try to stop using these empty adjectives.

I might stop short of an actual ban on "interesting," "intriguing," "thought-provoking" et al., but instead make sure to include what thoughts a particular development provokes.

Collin Van Uden said...

A quick thought on using 'compelling' - Compelling in what way? Presumably it has compelled you to write a post about it, but what makes it so? Kind of falls into the same box in my view.

I'm thinking from hereon in I'll be replacing 'interesting' et al with:

"My synapses hurt, so this must be worthy of my attention"

;)

Nickolas said...

So, I don't actually believe this will have effect.
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