You pick up a bunch of books at random. The blurbs claim that they are ‘A hilariously trenchant romp’, ‘Breathtakingly original, written in rhapsodic prose’, and ‘Lyrical, charming and heartbreaking’. Do you wonder if you have stumbled across a cache of literature representing the pinnacle of human artistic endeavour, or do you think, ‘These all look pretty average’?
Some books are indeed breathtakingly original, brilliantly written, wonderfully charming, or even life-changing. Let’s face it, most aren’t. But publishers still have to put some sort of something on the back to make people spend money. ‘Pretty good, will pass the time pleasantly’, while honest and perfectly respectable, isn’t going to get past Marketing. And thus we end up with ever-increasing blurb inflation, where the starting point for a mildly amusing book is ‘hilarious’ and trying to convey that it’s actually, really funny requires a specialist thesaurus.
So, here’s a (not entirely serious) translation guide to blurb-speak.(Please note, this doesn’t mean that these words below aren’t sometimes used with soul-deep sincerity. Just that, even when the book is merely okay, mediocre or full-on bad, some poor schlub still has to find something to say.)