Tag Archives: verbosity

Superfluous Words

 

 

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© Judi Birnberg

I’ve taken the following list from Maxwell Nurnberg’s Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About English*

* but were afraid to raise your hand.

It’s good to be concise when we write; see if you can spot the redundancies in these sentences:

  1. If all of us cooperate together, we’ll get somewhere.
  2. It was the general consensus of opinion that war was inevitable.
  3. He shook his fist as he rose up to speak.
  4. He was guilty of a false misstatement.
  5. He told ties, socks, shirts, and etc.
  6. He must now realize the fact that we are no longer able to help him.
  7. In my opinion, I think the situation has grown worse.
  8. He carefully examined each and every entry.
  9. He was miraculously restored back to health.
  10. His score for 18 holes never exceeded more than 75.

(Mr. Nurnberg certainly could have thrown a few examples in using females.—JB)

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There’s a Name for It

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Have you noticed how so many politicians drone on and on and on and on, frequently using the conjunction and, as I just did, to connect clauses, phrases, and complete (and sometimes incomplete) sentences? Trust me, they do it:

“And just let me add, Ms. Reporter, that we are going to have a budget by next week, and some people have said we won’t have one until September, and I know they are skeptical, and I want to reassure you that the American people won’t be willing to wait that long, and you’ll see how efficiently Congress can work.”

Wake up, please, just long enough for me to tell you that using a conjunction repetitively is a figure of speech called polysyndeton.  You will probably forget that Greek word in about 15 seconds, as will I, but we can at least recognize that poly means many, as in many, many ands, ors, buts, fors, and yets.

Sloppy speech and writing result from lazy thinking. It really is a good idea to choose your words carefully before committing them to the screen or the airwaves.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.”

This quotation is variously attributed to Lincoln, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Samuel Johnson, and that most prolific of authors, Anonymous.

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Redundancies: Don’t Say It Again, Sam

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VIN=Vehicle Identification Number, so just use VIN, not VIN number.
Same idea with PIN.
ATM machine? ATM says it all.
HIV virus? The V tells us it’s a virus.
No need to say something is blue in color, square in shape, absolutely complete, a total disaster or a true fact.
Unless it’s by John Phillip Sousa, no need to say the month of March.
Nine a.m. in the morning? Choose a.m. or morning, not both.

This is my final conclusion.

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Welcome Aboard

 

images We were in Florida over Thanksgiving week, visiting our daughter and her family and celebrating our granddaughter’s 16th birthday. Sixteen? How can this be?

I have always been fascinated with “airline speak,” and Delta did not disappoint me on this trip. Airlines take what could be a simple sentence and puff it up, using more and fancier words than necessary to get the same message across.

My theory is that because most people have some degree of fear when flying, airlines believe that by sounding more “professional,” you won’t think so much about being seven miles up, going five-hundred miles an hour in a metal tube, and having zero control over what happens. Turbulence? Almost a given. Another plane in the area? How close is that plane I see out the window, anyway? Did a terrorist get through security? Does the constantly coughing person next to me have tuberculosis? Flying is a joy, right?

Therefore, we hear things like, “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure,” which really means, as George Carlin explained, “Broken plane!” “If your ticket is still in your possession” translates to, “If you have your ticket.” “This is Captain Parker” made Carlin wonder,”Who made this man a captain? Did I sleep through a military swearing in?” “Welcome to Los Angeles, where the local time is 10 p.m.” Of course it’s the local time. I know we didn’t fly to Laos. “Be certain to retrieve all your personal possessions.” “What else would I have with me?” wondered Carlin. “A fountain I stole from the park?”

Bon voyage!

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More Spring Cleaning

© Judi Birnberg Time to Clean

© Judi Birnberg
Time to Clean

Last week I suggested you do some spring cleaning and rid your writing of redundant jargon and clichés. I heard from several of you who added additional suggestions, such as 7 a.m. Monday morning and the month of March. (I used to tell my classes, if it wasn’t by John Phillip Sousa it had to be the month.)

Jeff Wright, a very smart man I was lucky enough to have in one of my seminars, sent me a list he has compiled of his, ahem, favorites. With thanks to Jeff, I present the following:

Completely unique
Ask a question
Emergency situation
Cameo appearance
Filled to capacity
Tough dilemma
Close proximity
Shower activity
Storm system
False pretense
Added bonus
Very critical
Kneel down
Tuna fish
Heat up

I can also add these:

Any qualifier with unique (very, most, really, truly)
True fact
Surrounded on all sides
Exactly identical
New innovation
Disappear from view
Repeat again
Final conclusion
Purple in color
Completely free
Circled around

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Up, Up and Away!

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Are you aware that most “up” phrases clutter (up) your writing? Do you really need to type (up) your report, start (up) the copier, hunt (up) paper clips, fold (up) the newspaper or free (up) your staff?

TIP: When you proofread, look for superfluous words that do no work.

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Grammarphobia Blog and Woe Is I

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You may be familiar with the wonderful blog Grammarphobia (blog@grammarphobia.com). It is written by the author of the extremely, very, enormously wonderful book Woe Is I, Patricia T. O’Conner. Can you tell how much I love this book?

The subtitle is “The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” Not only is the book written in plain English, it is written in clever, entertaining English. O’Connor frequently makes allusions to popular culture, for instance when giving this correct pronunciation:

“Nuclear. Pronounce it NOO-klee-ur (not NOO-kyoo-lur). ‘My business is nuclear energy,’ said Homer.”

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Quotations From William Zinsser on Writing

I wrote about the death of William Zinsser last week and would now like to include a few quotations from his wonderful book, On Writing Well.

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

“Clear thinking becomes clear writing. One can’t exist without the other.”

“Few people realize how badly they write…. The point is that you have to strip down your writing before you can build it back up.”

“Simplify, simplify.”

Zinsser worked for a newspaper, wrote for prominent magazines, taught in the English Department at Yale, and authored many books. As a writer and teacher, he made an indelible mark. I hope he was happy about that fact; he deserved to be. Do I recommend this book? Is the pope…?

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Do You Know These Words?

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These are male ecdysiasts.

I was moseying around the Internet this afternoon and came across lists of very unusual English words. Many I am familiar with, and I bet you are too: Klutz, hootenanny, malarkey, ornery, doozy, brouhaha, filibuster and skedaddle. But how about these?

Widdershins—counterclockwise
Troglodyte—someone who lives in a cave (implying cluelessness because so removed from the world)
Borborygm—the sound of your stomach gurgling
Gastromancy—telling fortunes from the rumbling of stomachs
Codswallop—nonsense
Formication—Wrong! It means the feeling that ants are crawling on you
Fard—Wrong again. It’s face paint or makeup
Furphy—a portable water container
Hemidemisemiquaver—in music, a 1/64 note
Bumbershoot—an umbrella
Oocephalus—an egghead, which is what you will be called if you use many of these words. But they are fun to know.

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Jargon

imagesJargon is a special kind of cliché, specific to a particular profession. Every profession has words understood by members of that group, and I don’t have too much of a problem when that language is confined within the group. At times it may even help colleagues to communicate with each other, although clear, simple English is fully up to the task.

I object, however, when that jargon is used to pollute the rest of the world. It may be largely incomprehensible to many people and is a way to keep outsiders out of the anointed inner circle.

I will pick on lawyers now, just because I am most familiar with the language of their profession. Why is it necessary to use jargon such as the following?

Enclosed herein please find; as per our previous conversation; to wit; aforementioned; the favor of a reply is requested, ad nauseum. It would be no less professional and far more comprehensible to write Here is; as we discussed; specifically; already cited; please respond.

People who use jargon is general conversation or writing think they are being professional. In fact, they come across as pompous, bureaucratic and somewhat foolish. At least that’s my take on this topic.

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How Not to Write

Last week I came across this article (partially reprinted here) in the New York Times. Immediately, I knew I was going to use it as an example of what not to do.

To begin, read the first paragraph and tell me you are not confused. The reporter included so much information that by the time you get to the topic, you forget what you had just read.

The second paragraph clearly tells what happened. With a few simple revisions, that should have been the lead.

 

In Mexico, an Embattled Governor Resigns

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD OCT. 23, 2014

MEXICO CITY — The governor of the southern Mexico state where 43 college students have gone missing in a case that the authorities say has exposed the deep ties among local politicians, the police and organized crime stepped down on Thursday under pressure from his own party.

The governor, Ángel Aguirre of Guerrero State, agreed to leave his post after leaders of his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, publicly said they would otherwise try to push him out in order to quell growing civil unrest in the state.

Here’s what I would have written:

The governor of Guerrero State, Mexico, Ángel Aguirre, agreed to leave his post after leaders of his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, publicly said they would otherwise try to push him out in order to quell growing civil unrest in the state.

Recently, 43 college students have gone missing in a case that the authorities say has exposed the deep ties among local politicians, the police and organized crime.

The article then continues, but I didn’t want to read any more, primarily because of the hodge podge of information the reporter threw at me in the first paragraph.

I have noticed that, particularly in newspapers, you have an idea what an article is going to be about by reading the title; however, until you get to the meat of the article, you have to wade through a great deal of background detail. At times the crucial information is located many paragraphs later on a following page.

Take a lesson from this article when you are writing—whether for pleasure or work. Start with the most important information and then fill in the supporting details. Otherwise, you are seriously risking losing your readers.

 

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Simplistic or Simple?

Recently, I’ve heard people use “simplistic” when they meant “simple.” I searched my blog and found this post from a year ago and think it’s worth repeating.

I have written about the difference between long and lengthy and how the latter has a negative connotation, implying something is going on longer than it needs to. A long speech may be hard to listen to, but a lengthy one may verge on torture.  Most people use lengthy (or God forbid, lengthly) because they think it sounds more professional.  It isn’t.

The same can be said about simplistic.  It is not a fancy-schmancy way to say simple.  It means something that is overly simple, and therefore inadequate.  Roger’s simplistic explanation left the audience with more questions than answers.

Don’t write (or talk) to impress.  Your goal is to be clear and understood.  Isn’t that what you want from others’ communications?

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Cut It Out

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Here are some commonly used (not utilized!) words you can eliminate in almost every case:

Event: A sales event is a sale.

Facilities: Manufacturing facilities are plants or factories.

Conditions: Stormy weather conditions are storms.

Activity: Rainfall activity is rain.

Basis: Working on a volunteer basis is volunteering.

Operation: A cleanup operation is cleaning up.

You can see these words add no meaning, carry no weight. After you finish writing, go to your Find function and put in these clichéd words. Read each sentence where you find them and see if you can’t eliminate the deadwood. In almost every case you’ll be able to cut it out.

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Upholstery Words

Here’s a list of what I call upholstery words; they are padding.  I’ll put clear alternatives in parentheses after them:

In order to     (to–those words “in order” never add any meaning)

The above-referenced location     (this location, that location)

Due to the fact that     (because, since)

Subsequent to     (after)

As per your request     (as you requested)

In lieu of    (instead of)

For the purpose of    (to, for)

In view of the foregoing     (therefore, so)

It may be said that, I just want to let you know that    (just say it)

Needless to say, it goes without saying   (skip it)

Executed on July 6, 2012        (just write the date  or say “signed on”)

 

 

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Cut It Out!

Particularly in business writing, I see people often using more words than necessary, perhaps hoping to sound more “professional” and  intelligent.  However, your readers may likely find this tendency toward verbosity annoying and pompous.  Since you want to win your readers over, it’s a good idea to keep your writing concise and precise.

Here is a list of wordy locutions and their shorter alternatives.  Give the short ones a try; your readers will thank you.

1. At this point in time (now)

2. At that point in time (then)

3. In a timely manner (soon, promptly, shortly)

4. Until such time as (when, until)

5. With regard to (with reference to) (about)

6. In the event that (if)

7. Prior to, in advance of (before)

8. In the month of October (in October)

9. In the amount of (for)

10. Due to the fact that (because)

 

 

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A Phrase That Drives Me Nuts

It’s price point.  Why did this jargon spring up?  What was wrong with price?  Can you think of an instance in which price point says something good old price doesn’t?  Neither can I.

“That HDTV is selling at a lower price point than it did last year.”  See how well price would work in that sentence?  It’s all you need.  Get the point—and then lose it.

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