This from Ben Macintyre at The Times onLine cited on this blog a year or two back…no longer online:
IN A RECENT ARTICLE, I DESCRIBED A book as magisterial, and
promptly received a text message from my most critical friend. "magisterial"? u mean dull, no? He was right. I had used the word
to indicate that the book was long and scholarly, and to imply that I
had read it all (which I had not). In reviewese, magisterial
means lofty, and dreary.
The book world is rife with such euphemistic terms. The Times
Literary Supplement has a splendid informal list of hackneyed words and
phrases to avoid: rich tapestry, consummate skill, peppered with and I defer to no one . . .
Some words, such as mellifluous and coruscating, are
seldom used outside book reviews; others, such as insightful,
have been used so often that they mean nothing at all.
Here is a sampling of the brief glossary of literary euphemisms Macintyre cites:
Shot through with mordant wit This phrase tends to be used by reviewers to describe books written by other reviewers. It means: Extremely nasty, but I don’t want this bastard to work me over next.
These are minor quibbles (mere cavils) . . . This is a
favourite of the weedier academic reviewers. It usually crops up
towards the end of the review, when the reviewer has suddenly realised
that he may have put the boot in too hard at the start, and feels
Writing reminiscent of Probably plagiarized.
Detailed Has footnotes.
Richly detailed Has lots of footnotes.
Densely detailed Has footnotes, endnotes, acknowledgments,
epigrams, foreword, preface, bibliography, appendices, indices, and
marginalia. Translation: unreadable. qv: panoramic, workmanlike,
painstaking, extensively researched.
Vibrant Usually used to describe a young author that the
reviewer met when drunk at the Martin Amis launch and thinks he might
have fancied. (See also accomplished debut.)