Yesterday, in one of the fits of linguistic pique I’m prone to, I suggested via Twitter that “the use of the word ‘curated’ has really gotten out of hand.” This outburst was prompted by a mention of a table of books at the Strand that a well-known novelist had “curated.” Nothing against the Strand or the novelist, but “curated” struck me as an unnecessarily fancy way to say that she’d picked a bunch of books she likes.
I’m not alone in having noticed the plague of “curated” and “curation.” I got an outpouring of replies to my tweet. A couple of people pointed me to earlier lamentations about it (see here and here). A couple of people made jokes, always a welcome response to abuses of language. (“Time to curate dinner!”) One person reported that a speaker at an academic conference had argued strongly against the overuse of the word, saying it had become so ubiquitous it no longer had any meaning.
So here’s what I suggest. Next time you feel the urge to reach for the word “curated,” stop and think before you deploy it. If you’re using it as a synonym for “chosen” or “selected,” you probably want one of those instead. Don’t give into the urge to fancy things up. It won’t sharpen the idea you’re trying to get across; it will have the opposite effect and iron out real meaning. Leave “curated” to the archivists, the special-collections librarians, the museum specialists. They’ve earned it. You and I probably haven’t.