How my two least favorite words actually tell your story the best

I learned the word “curator” as a kid in elementary school while reading a fictional story about an art heist at a museum. The museum’s curator wasn’t happy about that. The word “curate” has since been used in many – too many – other ways. I thought it was an overdone example of storytelling words when better and simpler ones were available.

“Curate” dredges up a hipster, highbrow way of managing, well, anything: designs, ideas, food, wine. An art/design website I recently pulled up breathlessly proclaims, “It’s high time we indulged our curiosity a little more, let our brains wander through a space curated specifically for the mind of the design-obsessed.”

In 2009 the New York Times published a commentary on “curating”:

The word “curate,” lofty and once rarely spoken outside exhibition corridors or British parishes, has become a fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded … But now, among designers, disc jockeys, club promoters, bloggers and thrift-store owners, curate is code for “I have a discerning eye and great taste.”

When I tell a client’s story I want to avoid high-minded jargon, academic prose or corporate-speak. It so often just doesn’t resonate with my audience. Whenever I would see or hear something being curated, I tuned out.

And yet, curating is spot on. I have gained a newfound respect for the word. Why? Curating, at its heart, is about taking massive amounts of information and plucking out only those bits which you know will resonate with your audience. And you know this because of your skills and experience in your field.

This is what real estate agents do every day. This is why, despite breathtaking changes in technology, the real estate agent remains at the center of the transaction. After all, who wants to spend all that time going through reams of ideas and options that are not a fit? Want to do it without an agent and save money? Go right ahead, but it’ll cost you time and stress – and this is time I would rather spend doing something that adds more value to my life.

Curating also is what teachers, news reporters, web designers, and so many more do every day. Without curation by someone who is an expert in a field that I am not, it is harder for me to figure out which options and choices are best. I would be stuck with yet another corporate cliché, “drinking from a firehose.” And no one wants that.

Apparently “bespoke” does not mean “was spoken”

So I was happily curating things when I stumbled on the word “bespoke”, and I cringed again. It’s not that I fear unusual, complex words (other than, for example, “inchoate”. I can’t even pronounce it much less use it in a sentence). I just don’t want to let words get in the way of ideas. We have precious little time to get the attention of our audience, whether a potential customer, an advocate, or our teenage kids. Like, about three seconds.

And yet, what is “bespoke”? It is “dealing in or producing custom-made articles: a bespoke tailor”. Another word that precise says what we do, how we do it and why. If I develop a web project for client and start with a commercial theme, I almost always tailor it and even recode parts of it to fit my client’s precise needs that a third-party developer could not anticipate.

Bespoke and curate. These words are your friends and your ticket to usable, reliable ideas that can make a difference with your audience and your reason for being.

David Kissinger consults with companies, trade associations, non-profits and entrepreneurs on external affairs, public relations, marketing, advocacy, IT strategy, web development and content.

1 Comment

  1. Douglas Thompson
    April 3, 2019

    I do agree that there is a perfect time and place for any of these ‘highbrow’ words, but they should be used sparingly or not at all when writing for general consumption. Thank you for elucidating the meaning of ‘bespoke’ but the fact remains that the vast majority of readers will still think it means “was spoken” and be confused with the context. Curate is perfectly OK, most people would get the drift even if applied in a non-museum context. As for ‘inchoate’, that should be relegated to dusty academic papers and never used in general discussion of anything.


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