Vo­cab

Friday - - Mind Games -

Let’s cut to the chase Brevity is one car­di­nal prin­ci­ple stressed upon by Strunk and White in their re­mark­able lit­tle writ­ing guide, The El­e­ments of Style. To quote the rel­e­vant pas­sage ver­ba­tim, “Vig­or­ous writ­ing is con­cise. A sen­tence should con­tain no un­nec­es­sary words, a para­graph no un­nec­es­sary sen­tences, for the same rea­son that a draw­ing should have no un­nec­es­sary lines and a ma­chine no un­nec­es­sary parts.

“This re­quires not that the writer make all his sen­tences short, or that he avoid all de­tail and treat his sub­jects only in out­line, but that he make ev­ery word tell.”

Sep­a­rate the grain from the chaff. Pare, pare, pare. And if there is noth­ing left at the end of it, it means you had noth­ing to say in the first place.

In­evitably this means no tau­tol­ogy. Why bother say­ing ‘two equal halves’ when halves are al­ways two, and equal? That goes for ‘very be­gin­ning’, ‘hon­est truth’, ‘past ex­pe­ri­ence’, ‘close prox­im­ity’, and ‘joint col­lab­o­ra­tion’ – where the ad­jec­tive is re­dun­dant in ev­ery in­stance.

It also means no clichés! These are trite phrases or say­ings that were fresh when first in­no­vated but are now overused ad nau­seam and ex­ist as plain ir­ri­tants.

Ge­orge Or­well pointed out that (these days) prose con­sists less and less of words cho­sen for their mean­ing, and more of phrases tacked to­gether like the sec­tions of a pre­fab­ri­cated hen house – and that stale phrases me­chan­i­cally re­peated have dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal ef­fects.

Most sim­i­les and proverbs are now trite, as are ev­ery­day ut­ter­ances such as “What a pleas­ant sur­prise!” or “Have a nice day!” Even the mut­tered sar­cas­tic come­back “To coin a phrase” would qual­ify. “Back to the draw­ing board”, “the thing is”, “put your best foot for­ward”, “it’s all Greek to me” – take your pick.

Since there was no get­ting away from them, people as far back as a century ago de­cided to have fun mod­i­fy­ing them: “fa­mil­iar­ity breeds at­tempt”, or just plain “breeds”; “where there’s a will there’s a rel­a­tive”; “an onion a day keeps ev­ery­one away”.

In 21st-Century lingo a cliché would mer­ci­fully be an ab­bre­vi­a­tion: asap, gtg, ttyl, brb, lol or omg!

Let’s leave you with the line that holds the record for be­ing the most used in the movies (heard at least once in 84 per cent of them since the 1930s): “Let’s get outta here!”.

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