Words: More is not bet­ter

Hawke's Bay Today - - Digest - Wyn Drab­ble is a teacher of English, a writer, mu­si­cian and pub­lic speaker. WynDrab­ble

Wasted words: Added bonus, close c prox­im­ity, in ac­tual fact, pe­riod of time, vis­i­ble to the eye . . .

Last week, pos­si­bly even while you were read­ing about the ex­am­ple of ver­bosity I of­fered, I was re­minded of some­thing which is the very op­po­site. You don’t have to agree with the sen­ti­ment in this Og­den Nash “poem” but you must surely ad­mire its sim­plic­ity and di­rect­ness. Pars­ley is ghars­ley.

Ob­vi­ously writ­ten dur­ing what I’m go­ing to call his “kitchen garden” pe­riod, it dis­plays suc­cinct­ness matched by very few writ­ten oeu­vres. A noun, a verb and an ad­jec­tive was all it took.

If only Tol­stoy could have matched that in War and Peace, he would have cut a long story short.

War and Peace, by the way, is not the long­est book in the world. That “hon­our”, I be­lieve, goes to A La

Recherche Du Temps Perdu by Mar­cel Proust and is a book which should not be ap­proached with­out am­ple med­i­ca­tion. I would have ex­hausted my­self just get­ting the pages all num­bered.

Here now is an un­nec­es­sary but pos­si­bly interesting tan­gent: I ap­pear to be us­ing an aw­ful lot of “in­verted com­mas” this week and, for that, I can only “apol­o­gise”.

At least it’s not as bad as some peo­ple’s overuse of ex­cla­ma­tion marks!!!!!!!! One does the job ad­mirably but I have seen up to 13 in rep­utable pub­li­ca­tions! Now that the tan­gent is over and done with, I can fo­cus on my real theme for to­day which is con­cise­ness. All my teach­ing life I have tried to con­vince pupils that the best writ­ers are those who say the most us­ing the fewest pos­si­ble words or, at least, elim­i­nat­ing those which are un­nec­es­sary or even stupid.

Our world is full of silly su­per­flu­ous words. Con­sider the wasted words in the fol­low­ing: Added bonus, close prox­im­ity, fewer in num­ber, in ac­tual fact, large in size, on a daily ba­sis, pe­riod of time, re­vert back, to tell you the hon­est truth, vis­i­ble to the eye and 7am in the morn­ing. I did con­sider putting each of those in “in­verted com­mas” but chose “not to”!!!!!

In writ­ing, as in decor, it’s a mat­ter of culling the clut­ter. To pick on just one ex­am­ple, why don’t peo­ple just con­clude in­stead of say­ing/writ­ing “in con­clu­sion” or, even worse, “fi­nally, in con­clu­sion”. This habit was beau­ti­fully sent up in Fred Dagg’s 21st speech which, near the end, of­fered: “Suf­fice it to say . . . ah . . . in con­clu­sion and fi­nally . . . ah. that I should con­clude by . . . um . . . ac­tu­ally fi­nally point­ing out that Trev's . . . ah . . . gone from strength to strength . . . ah . . . strength to strength is . . . ah . . . more or less what Trev's gone . . . ah . . . from and to and . . . ah . . . suf­fice it to say at the present point in time . . . ah . . . that the very best of luck, Trev.” If you want to prac­tise culling the clut­ter, that pas­sage is a good place to start. Get it down to three words (“Good luck, Trev,”) and you’re well on the road to suc­cess. US pres­i­dents and pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls have con­trib­uted some no­table bloop­ers:

“Our na­tion must come to­gether to unite.” (Ge­orge WBush)

“It’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say the un­de­cid­eds could go one way or an­other.” (Ge­orge H WBush)

“If we do not suc­ceed, we run the risk of fail­ure.” (Dan Quayle)

If it’s a song you’re writ­ing, the same guide­lines ap­ply. And don’t fall into the trap of over­do­ing the rep­e­ti­tion; here I’m think­ing of “na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na”.

And fi­nally, by way of con­clud­ing and fi­nally fin­ish­ing I would like to re­veal that I have a plan for turn­ing the Og­den Nash “poem” into a fea­ture film. It won’t be a Hol­ly­wood block­buster, of course. That would be silly. You don’t make epic movies about fo­liage. I can al­ready hear the crit­ics de­scrib­ing my oeu­vre with ex­em­plary con­cise­ness as “a short film”.

Wasted words: Added bonus, close prox­im­ity, in ac­tual fact, pe­riod of time, vis­i­ble to the eye . . .


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