Meeting the unmet needs of unnecessary words
Working in a copywriting agency and dealing with words from a variety of sources every day means you soon spot emerging (or fully emerged) trends in vocabulary and word use.
A couple of years ago it was ‘raft’, as in ‘a raft of changes’ or ‘a raft of measures’. You couldn’t turn on the news or open the paper without a politician or some sort of consultant (both are invariably among the prime culprits for this sort of thing) talking about ‘a raft’ of steps being taken, or ‘a raft’ of proposals being considered. What’s the matter with ‘a series’ or ‘a number’ or just ‘various’? And how did ‘a raft’ became a synonym for ‘a series’ anyway?
But that’s not the reason for this post. No. The thing that has had us quietly bristling in the office is another example of one of these verbal trends – ‘unmet needs’. As in, ‘a number of new services are being planned to respond to the unmet needs of local patients’. Or, ‘we are proactively seeking to address the unmet needs of our customers.’
But surely, by definition all needs are unmet? That is precisely what need means. If the needs had been met, they would no longer be needs. There is absolutely no need to qualify the word need with the word unmet. It doesn’t make it sound more serious or more important. On the contrary, it risk masking your message in needless wordfoolery.