The restaurant is well-known and highly regarded. Finishing up my entree, I looked over the dessert menu, and the descriptions were so detailed and the prices so high that I double-checked to see if perhaps I were being charged by the word.

My eyes were drawn to one offering in particular: "Lychee and lemongrass-infused shortcake with papaya tartare and olive oil gelato."

Papaya tartare?

Were they serious? I was tempted to ask the waiter if I could perhaps substitute the papaya for some thin slices of watermelon carpaccio. I had gone to the restaurant for a special treat, but reading the description made me feel silly for having splurged. I had been served, with my coffee, a generous helping of pretension.

A few days later, I was listening to the marketing manager of an upscale hotel chain say, straight-faced, that a new breakfast menu would be "curated" by a certain celebrity chef.

Curated? Would diners be served a still life of fruit? An artful platter of preserved vegetables? Scrambled 100-year-old eggs?

I'm beginning to think that, just as some municipalities pay citizens to turn in their guns for the general safety of the community, chapters of the Luxury Council should refund the full cover price of any thesaurus a member hands over. Some marketers are giving luxury a bad name, or worse, opening the door to ridicule.

I write this not as someone for whom luxury is a way of life, but someone who likes to indulge from time to time. It's possible that the truly wealthy see no irony in using "tartare" as a descriptor for a tropical fruit or believe it's quite logical to curate an omelet, but I doubt it.

In fact, historically there's some danger in trying to lure the wealthy with a few extra syllables. The novelist and biographer Nancy Mitford wrote in 1954 that the rich (at least, the rich in London at the time) tended to separate themselves from the lower classes by adopting simplicity in language. They would say, for example, "sofa," "rich" and "jam," while the hoi polloi would affect airs by using "settee," "wealthy" and "preserves."

Even today, the risks of upsetting the nobles with an overambitious display of language can, in England at least, have dire consequences. Britain's Prince William apparently split with his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, because of her middle-class mother's overuse of high-falutin' words.

But some marketers of luxury are getting it right. I recently came across a real estate brochure for a wealthy New England community and read this (abridged) description for a "Berkshire Cottage":

"House some mirth. Live life grandly, and in grand style. Throw a ball, have 100 over for dinner (the dining room can easily accommodate), sunsets on the expansive porch, croquet on the lawn. Let the children play in the tower while you enjoy the on-site spa. ... The good life is calling. $6,900,000."

What's striking about this description is what's absent. It does not tell how many bedrooms this "cottage" has. It does not say whether the kitchen has been updated. It omits how many bathrooms and fractional bathrooms the residence has.

Ultimately, it is selling feeling, not footage. The description is not understated, but it is economical. In a few sentences, it describes not only a property that's for sale but also the life a buyer might envision for himself or herself.

The lessons for marketers of luxury travel are fairly straightforward: Throw away Roget's. Focus on evoking emotion rather than listing specifications. And let the price tag take up more lineage than any single word that comes before it.


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