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Advertisements: We’re Number O– … Er, We’re Adequate!

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 23, 2009

We are a generation of superlatives — the best, the brightest, the generation kept in reserve for the last days. We are in pursuit of excellence, we look for Shakespeares and Miltons of our own. Thus on to eternal perfection, the honest and faithful will go!

But in the middle of the last century, we were modest enough for “adequate” to be a satisfactory descriptor.

From 1943:

From 1950:

What do you suppose they really meant by that? And can I please order at those prices?



24 Comments »

  1. Ardis, what an, umm, okay post. This post is just so average, it makes me feel like I can go out there today and be kinda competent. Maybe.

    Weren’t the 1950’s the peak of our Mormon cultural blandness? Naugahyde kitchen chairs, men wearing hats and ties all the time?

    This bears further examination.

    Top selling Business Management book of the 50’s: “The Pursuit of Adequacy”
    Top Grossing Comedy: “Bill and Ted’s Modestly Adequate Adventure”
    Tony Robbins in the 50’s: “How to Make Hundreds in Real Estate”
    Campaign Slogan: “Ike: He’s Adequate”

    Ardis, I think you’ve hit on something very, well, ordinary.

    Comment by kevinf — September 23, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  2. I like the idea of being an “Adequate Mormon.” Make it to Church only ten minutes late, if and only if, meetings begin after 10:00. Attend church meetings two to three times per month. Pay somewhere between 5 and 8% tithing. Donate a fast offering at Christmas and Easter time. Home/visit teach once a quarter. Sleep through Priesthood/Relief Society. Talk about going to the temply regularly, but only talk. I really think I could be a very good, if not excellent “Adequate Mormon.” :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — September 23, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  3. What the heck?

    After looking at some online definitions for the word “adequate,” I’m convinced that these ad writers intended that meaning of the word that conveys a sense of “meeting a need,” as opposed to being barely satisfactory.

    Right??

    Comment by Hunter — September 23, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  4. Kevinf–What about Covey’s Seven Habits of mostly Adequate People?

    Comment by Steve C. — September 23, 2009 @ 9:10 am

  5. I think you’re all on to something — except Hunter. He still wants us to meet a need, instead of lounging around like slugs all day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  6. I’d rather read Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Adequate Barbering.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 23, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  7. lol, kevinf,

    your reply to this post is underwhelming.

    Comment by ellen — September 23, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  8. The continual (but futile) quest for mere adequacy is one of the founding principles of George Wythe University.

    Comment by Steve Evans — September 23, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  9. I like how I don’t have a right to an opinion about the “Mormon Story” if I haven’t read all the history books Deseret Books will sell me. :-)

    Comment by Mike — September 23, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  10. In the tradition of former vice presidents making a documentary, Dick Cheney’s new film, “An Inadequate Truth”, premiers later this year.

    Comment by kevinf — September 23, 2009 @ 11:08 am

  11. That’s me. Cracking the whip!

    Actually, I do find it comical that the ad speaks in terms of obtaining an “adequate” concept of the Church, and then recommends books with such soul-stretching topics as “On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life” and “Progress of Man.”

    If all we need of such topics is an “adequate” concept, perhaps we should re-work these books a little? “Meandering Down the Road to the Telestial Kingdom,” anyone?

    Comment by Hunter — September 23, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  12. That’s what they say, Hunter, that the joy is in the journey, not the destination. “The Telestial Kingdom: Home to Just Men Made Adequate.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  13. Perhaps what we note is that we live well into the age of superlatives. But our sense of self-esteem has not suffered.

    Comment by S. Taylor — September 23, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  14. Just men? No women? :-)

    Mediocrity just wouldn’t be the same without some adequate female companionship.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 23, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  15. Hey Mark,

    Good one on Covey’s Adequate Barbering. I didn’t catch that until the second reading, further exhibiting the mediocre nature of my critical thinking. However, I doubt that there are seven habits involved in that. One, maybe two is all.

    Comment by kevinf — September 23, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  16. Makes you wonder if the word “adequate” had a different connotation then. Anyone have an OED subscription?

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — September 23, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  17. I think Hunter’s explanation in #3 explains what makes this ad so odd to our eyes: We’re selectively using the most familiar (to us) meaning of adequate, whereas he found an alternate meaning that was probably in the minds of the copywriters. (I *wish* I had access to the OED! That would be wonderful.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 23, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  18. That could be the intent of the copywriters–i.e. to meet a need. But I still like the idea of being “adaquate Mormons” instead. Just mediocre. Don’t put more effort into it than is necessary.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 23, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  19. The word “adequate” always reminds me of the Simpsons episode in which Lisa is trying to teach Groudskeeper Willie to be a gentleman (I think) where they sing a song “Wouldn’t that be adequate?”

    Also, I looked at the OED, and the one possibly useful bit of information I got from it was that the first usage of the word they have is from 1628, but the first usage of the negative sense

    “In slightly derogatory sense: hardly sufficient or acceptable; barely reaching a minimum standard.”

    is from 1900. So perhaps 50-60 years ago, the transition from the more positive definitions to the more negative definition being dominant was still going on. (Just to clarify, my impression is that the more negative definition is what we typically think of now, which is why these ads sound so weird.)

    Comment by Ziff — September 23, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  20. #8 Steve very ouch man…;)

    I am not adequate I guess because I am missing some of these valuably moderate additions to my collection.

    Comment by JonW — September 23, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  21. I know there’s a tendency for ad writers to put random words in quotes, but I wonder if the quoted material at the beginning of the first ad refers to some then well-known quotation by a church leader.

    Comment by Left Field — September 24, 2009 @ 6:16 am

  22. Good point, Left Field. I can remember Howard W. Hunter telling members of the church to be “normal.” So, too, I can imagine some talk out there by, say, J. Reuben Clark telling folks that they don’t need to know everything, but they do need to obtain an “adequate” knowledge of the history and doctrines of the Church. Hmm . . .

    Calling all Justins . . .

    Comment by Hunter — September 24, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  23. My favorite descriptor is still St. Peter’s “peculiar.”

    Still, if reading the entire 7 volume DHC by Joseph Smit, the 6 volume CHC by B.H. Roberts, and half a dozen other works only gives me an “adequate concept of church history” I’m way off base. I think today, missionaries read “Our Heritage” and call themselves the best and brightest. As #13 noted, at least the modern approach doesn’t damage my self-esteem.

    Comment by Clark — September 24, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  24. I saw that and immediately thought of both connotations. I have been blessed with the opportunity and ability to read many books new and old. In some the positive connotation is used as in “He was supplied with adequate food and water for his 3 weeks’ journey.” meaning that he had enough even if something went wrong and he was delayed a couple of days.
    When thinking about this, I also realized that the negative has a “newer” feel to it than the positive. Of course, that could be just subliminal indoctrination from having just read all of your comments…

    Comment by Robin — November 29, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

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