Friday, May 12, 2006

Webster's dictionary defines "perfunctory" as...

Surely everyone who ever wrote an essay is familiar with this standard type of opening, though I have to admit, I have never used it myself. (I am more inclined to the "Throughout history, man has struggled with X" variety of bad stock openings.)

I was impressed today by Roger Ebert's clever reworking of the opening in his review of "Poseidon":

An odd and unexpected word kept nudging its way into my mind as I sat watching "Poseidon." That word was perfunctory. I hoped that other words would replace it. I knew I was not enjoying the movie, but I hoped it would improve or, lacking that, discover an interesting way to fail. But no. It was perfunctory, by which I mean, according to the dictionary that came with my computer: cursory, desultory, hurried, rapid, fleeting, token, casual, superficial, careless, halfhearted, sketchy, mechanical, automatic, routine, and offhand.

In general, Ebert's reviews of bad movies are always the best to me. For instance, his review of "Night Watch" starts like this

I confess to a flagging interest in the struggle between the forces of Light and Darkness. It's like Super Sunday in a sport I do not follow, like tetherball. We're told the future of the world hangs in the balance, and then everything comes down to a handful of hung-over and desperate characters surrounded by dubious special effects. I want to hear Gabriel blow that horn.

and just gets better from there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I'm wondering about the potential for combining these two stock openings into one, a la: The Webster's dictionary defines "history" as ... or perhaps an education major could get away with: Throughout history, students struggling to write a term paper have started their essay using certain stock openings, such as citing the Webster's dictionary definition for a word that is highly relevant to the content of the paper.

One of my favorite unique openings was from a paper written by the infamous-among-hundreds Darien Lynx.

The first word of the paper was:


I started my paper for economics of the law with a statement like: "The framers of the US Constitution were not stupid or lazy men." I am still fond of that one.