Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Fancier the House, the Fancier the Words to Describe It

One of the areas of greatest interest to me in teaching ESL is vocabulary.  English is an incredibly rich language with the largest lexicon of any language in the world, and everyday people everywhere are affected by words, especially printed words.

Last year Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a brief article about a study on the language used by real estate agents to describe property.  One of the interesting findings was that the more expensive the house, the greater the number of characters were spent on describing the property.  Another way to look at it is that the fancier the house, the longer are the words (or the more words) used to describe it.  Just look at any real estate section of the newspaper!

Read some descriptions of mansions or luxury homes in San Diego and compare a $1,000,000 home with a $400,000 house. You can use the Word Count Tool to see if you can observe the pattern highlighted in WSJ. My observation just now is that I experienced a negative reaction when I compared a million dollar home with one for less than half that price because the description of the two houses, in this case, did not differ at all in number of characters. In fact, I had the feeling described below.

If there isn't a lot written about the million dollar home, a prospective buyer might suspect that it has a major drawback or shortcoming. In fact, Mark Liberman (Linguistics professor at University of Pennsylvania) is quoted in the article saying, "Given that all the descriptions of better properties are full of these empty-enthusiasm words, it might be interpreted by readers as an indication of problems if they're absent."  

We are definitely influenced by words, so it's good to be aware of all the power - indeed, 'empty-enthusiasm' words - wielded by marketers in every realm of sales.

Luxury apartments for monkeys at San Diego Zoo

Here are some popular high-end words for million dollar homes or to make a less costly house sound like a wonderful buy: exquisite finishes, luxuries/luxurious, expansive, gleaming hardwood floors, sea-view terraces, remodeled/updated to perfection, stunning.  If you want to grow your vocabulary of rich language, it's all around you. You can even find it by checking out real estate listings!  

No comments: