by Lisa Sisley on February 20, 2012

My mom and daughter and I used to play the HGTV Drinking Game. Whenever somebody on one of those shows used the phrase “warm and inviting” or “bringing the outdoors in,” we took a drink. (Well, not really. Mom wasn’t much of a drinker, and Anne was 12 or 13, but we’d all yell “Glug, glug!” in unison, and it was fun. Are any of you Baby Boomers flashing back to “Hi, Bob!”?)

These days, I often think I should be playing the Antiques Roadshow Drinking Game. (Don’t hate on me for watching AR. There’s some cool stuff on that show!) Every time somebody says “purchased” instead of “bought,” I’d take a drink. I’d be soused well before 8:00.

And if I gave myself an extra chug for passive construction — “This piece of Newcomb College pottery was purchased by an elderly neighbor of mine, and I was given it by him when I was helping him sort things out before he moved to a retirement community” — I’d be toasted before the usual first-half-hour field trip to some museum or oddity.

Why do we do this? Why do we think we need to get all fancy when someone’s looking at us?

There are times when more-formal language is certainly appropriate, but “bought” is a perfectly fine word. And passive construction can also be the right call, when the action of a sentence is more significant than the entity that’s carrying out the action. I submit that neither is usually the case on AR.

I think people who get to discuss their goodies with the experts are nervous, and they don’t want to look stupid. So they put on their company manners and mimic what feels like good English, but is, in fact, bad English because it’s verbose and convoluted. We hear “important” people using passive construction and “fancy” words to obscure their meaning all the time. This is how they get away with not really answering questions or stating anything that can be challenged. And we begin to think that’s how we should talk on “important” occasions or when a camera is pointed our way.

So if you and your heirloom find yourselves one-on-one with the Keno brothers, here’s my advice: Just tell your story, in “regular” words. Start at the beginning, and end at the end. Look right at Leigh and Leslie (and you’ll know you’re about to score BIG if you get to talk to both of them!), smile and enjoy the moment. You’ll be charming, memorable and engaging. And just fancy enough.