You see them everywhere. “6 Best Places to Eat in New York.” “8 Clever Gifts for Teens.” “18 Worst Cars Ever Made.” In print media. On the Web. Even on television. I hate ordered lists. They absolutely drive me insane. Here are 7 reasons why:
- They’re pretentious • The author wants you to believe that he or she is not just an authority, but the authority on a given subject. Knowledgeable people know a lot of things. But know-it-alls who publish ordered lists know that there are exactly 7 things about a subject worth knowing.
- They’re pretentious, Part II • Any commoner can come up with five things that are best. Or ten. Those are nice, round, respectable numbers. But pretentious list-makers are convinced that their lists are perfect, finite, not subject to argument. There are exactly 8 ways to amuse your child on a car ride. Not 7. Not 9. Exactly 8, just like the list says. 5 or 10? Psht.
- They suck you in like a Dyson on steroids • We all pass cars pulled over on the highway. Maybe the driver is lost. Or out of gas. Who cares. But notice one or two scrunched-up cars in the aftermath of a fender-bender? Hit the brakes, crane your neck, gotta see what happened! That’s how numbered lists grab your attention—they have numbers! Numbers are important! Gotta read!
- They’re grammatically incorrect • Anyone versed in the proper use of the English language will tell you that numbers from one to nine are spelled out, and only those 10 or above are written as numerals. And one never, ever begins a sentence or title with a numeral. So why do list-spewers use numerals? Because they stand out. They grab your attention. Even clods who can’t read without moving their lips recognize the number 4 on a page.
- They’re almost never seen walking alone • One ordered list is annoying. But a pageful of unrelated, numbered lists is positively scream-inducing. “Look! I have a list of 9 lists of unrelated stuff for you! See how clever I am?” No, you’re not clever. You’re desperately looking for a way to Dyson in readers who landed on your flypaper of a page.
- Their quality goes down as the numbers go up • Ordered lists start with good intentions: how can I inform my readers? Then numerical hubris takes over, and desperation-induced silliness invariably rears its ugly head. “18 Top Cooking Tips: #1 Use high-quality copper-clad heat-distributing cookware… #18 Turn the oven off when you’re done.”
I promised myself a long time ago that I would not succumb to the temptation of cheap eyeballs on a page by creating banal ordered lists. (Please ignore my very excellent post on Seven Steps to a Better Paint Job that will give you professional-looking results and increase the value of your home 9-fold.) The skin rash I got from using numerals in this post will hopefully go away in 2 or 3 days. I’ve made my point(s). This horse won’t get any deader.
And I’m not finishing this goofy list, only because 7 reasons sounds so much more auspicious than 6.