Structured/Crafted

The ancient verbs “arrange,” “shape,” “organize,” “put together,” and “prepare” are out, chucked aside among the dowdy detritus of the cool, corporate New Age. Today, everything with any structure at all is STRUCTURED, and anything that reflects the least craft must therefore be CRAFTED.

The former word, at which The Oxford English Dictionary sniffs “not common until the 20th c.,” is now so common that no writer who purports to be serious or sophisticated in the 21st c. can do without it. The word has passed the 1990s’ ultimate test of chic: There is a brand of underwear called STRUCTURE, and as a standard of celebrity for high-fashion words, that is the equivalent of marrying royalty. The verb TO CRAFT-to which the OED’s British editors give the ultimate brush-off “chiefly U.S.”-has indeed all but overrun American usage, in every context from art to brewing (where “craft brewed” is now a euphemism for “has some detectable flavor”).

Yet if CRAFT is “chiefly U.S.,” it earns no official welcome on these shores, either. The authority on U.S. English, the generally lenient American Heritage Dictionary, has no patience with the word’s most common meaning: to put something together cleverly or write effectively. The AHD delicately brands that sense of the word as a “usage problem,” on the grounds that it portrays thinking and writing as, in the AHD’s phrase, “a kind of handicraft,” like stitching potholders or making angels out of toilet-paper rolls.

A craft, in the most common sense, is a manual skill that can be taught and mastered by any reasonably coordinated person. In the fancier and more pretentious modern uses of CRAFT, that is the opposite of what’s intended. Used in the fashionable way, the word defeats its own purpose. (An even older definition, “to deal evasively or deceptively,” slips an unintentional self-revelation past modern writers who insist on “crafting” things.)

But the real problem with both these words has nothing to do with nuances of meaning. The problem is that they’re everywhere, like overexposed sports celebrities with too many endorsement contracts. They have that starved look of the desperately publicity-hungry, a “hey-look-at-me” quality that has rubbed the shine off whatever glamour they once possessed. Anyone looking for a refreshing way to describe something that is nicely put together or carefully prepared would do well to try two genuinely unusual expressions sure to provoke surprise and admiration in any reader: “nicely put together” and “carefully prepared.”

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