May 13 2020

Pablum – baby food and being interesting

PablumPablum is an American brand of baby cereal that dates from 1931. The trademarked name is a contracted form of the Latin word pabulum, which means “foodstuff”.

Just as ‘Spam’ now has a new meaning related to unsolicited email, the word ‘pablum’ now is used to refer to something that is bland, mushy, unappetizing, or infantile.

David Perell is a writer and teacher of writing who publishes a newsletter called ‘Monday Musings’. I recommend it.

This week pablum was his word of the week

A pablum is kind of like a cliche, but it focuses more on ideas and less on phrases. And like a cliche, it refers to an idea that’s overly bland or simplistic.

Whenever you write choose an essay topic, make sure there’s a standard counter-argument to it. For example, too many people build their essays around topics like “students should think critically for themselves” and “working hard will help you succeed.”

Yes, obviously. They’re the kinds of ideas that are repeated in CNBC articles called “10 Things All Successful People Do Before 8am.”

But interesting essay topics challenge the assumptions of your reader’s worldview.

What’s an example?

Topics like “bureaucrats are brilliant” or “travel is a terrible way to learn about the world” will yield much more interesting insights because they both counter the mainstream narrative. Thinking that bureaucrats are lazy or travel is a good way to learn about the world is a pablum.

From the sentence-level to the essay-level, the clearer the counter-argument to your ideas, the more interesting your essay can be.

PS. Thanks for being patient. It’s only been four and a half years since the previous post to WILT.

What I Learnt On 13th May in other years

13th May 2012 500 steps.....500 steps…..

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