Peacock Term

By Deane Barker

This is a complimentary or promotional term or phrase without any attribution. For example:

Accomplished actress, Tara Reid…

The word “accomplished” has no attribution, therefore it’s considered “puffery” or “peacocking.”

(Also, with Tara Reid, it’s highly debatable. If the subject was Meryl Strep, would it be as obvious? I’m not sure.)

Some examples from an article about writing:

  • one of the most important
  • one of the best
  • a well-known
  • the indisputable
  • an iconic
  • the legendary
  • immensely
  • one of the greatest
  • outstanding
  • a world-class
  • most respected
  • among the most notable

Wikipedia lists the following as some “words to watch”:

legendary, best, great, acclaimed, iconic, visionary, outstanding, leading, celebrated, popular, award-winning, landmark, cutting-edge, innovative, revolutionary, extraordinary, brilliant, hit, famous, renowned, remarkable, prestigious, world-class, respected, notable, virtuoso, honorable, awesome, unique, pioneering, phenomenal

The phrase “peacock term” might actually be an invention of Wikipedia, which is where I encountered the phrase. It’s mentioned on the internal page linked above. I can’t find when that reference was added, but I did find a template page that was created in October 2008.

This roughly coincides with Google Trends data which shows usage of the word starting earlier in 2008. It’s possible that the phrase started being used by Wikipedia editors to describe a writing style, then became so ingrained that they codified it in a template.

Why I Looked It Up

As noted above, I found it as a flag in a Wikipedia article about Oksana Chusovitina, a Russian gymnast who has competed in eight Olympic games.

By 1990, Chusovitina was a vital [peacock term] member of the Soviet team

If you search for the phrase in quotes you’ll see it in a lot of Wikipedia articles, as reviewers will add it as a flag when they encounter that writing style:

Some other examples (in the original articles, the bracketed phrase was also in super-script):

  • Abdul Rahid responded with a historically realistic response [peacock term]
  • It speaks volumes for the conceptual quality of these codifications that they all, albeit with many amendments, are still in effect today. [peacock term]
  • Interestingly [peacock term], Chambers was a practicing archivist

(Humorously, by searching for the phrase you can also find where people plagiarized Wikipedia, as they simply copied and pasted large sections of text, leaving the “peacock term” flag in place.)

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