Monday 2 February 2015

Grammar: Don't Waste Words II

The bird had been stolen and him murdered!

I came across a letter written in the way that people sometimes use when they’re dressing up their words to be more impressive—a tuxedo of prose comprising an “indeed” here, an extra adverb there, not to mention words like
comprising. (Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me?)

The Greeks had a word for it: perissologia. They had another: laconic, meaning terse, concise, the opposite of verbose. The Spartans came from Laconia, and they were not known for wasting words. If you write concisely, your readers will know exactly what you mean – which may not be what you want.

Don't make the subject of your sentence “It”. 

It was not that the hardy, blue-eyed teenager from East Anglia was particularly bloodthirsty: X was not etc. (You can insert “blue-eyed teenager from East Anglia” elsewhere.)

a deep pit-like feature: a pit (Time Team)
an ever-more limited range: a shrinking range
be a reassurance to: reassure 
bring down: lower
conventionalities: conventions
functionality: function
fall down: collapse

gave him the encouragement to: encouraged him to
get back: retrieve
get better: improve
get longer: lengthen
get in: insert
get out: leave, extract
get worse: worsen
go down: descend, fall
go up: ascend, rise
greatest and most prestigious: top

His father was none other than Darth Vader: His father was Darth Vader.
I should have been sorry to have missed: to miss
in the first place: initially
instantaneous: instant
it hasn’t got a: it lacks a
It would have been familiar to anyone who had been involved: who was involved

look like:
make clear: clarify
not had any: had no
once again: again
ornamentation: ornament

present a threat to: threaten
put off: deter
put up: raise
putting a stress on: stressing
served as inspiration for: inspired
Skepticism persists even as sea-level rise increases (Delmarva Daily Times): as sea level rises

Some people are “besieged by loneliness” at Christmas: They’re lonely.

subject to close scrutiny:
that had come to be regarded as: was now regarded as
the thing I’m most worried about: my main worry
way to do this: method
whether it is or is not: whether it is

But you can't just cut words at random. You may end up making one word work too hard. I don't like "has been" and "had been" and try to use them as little as possible. But sometimes you need them.

Yet if he had the gift of composing eloquent hogwash, had been to art school instead of looking after the mail, and sold to the programme editor as an Artist, it would have been different. (Times, May 14, 2012)

You can’t use the “had been” from “had been to art school” for “had been sold”. In “If he had been to art school”, been is an active verb (he went to art school); “if he had been sold” is passive (somebody else sold him).

And it really should be “if he had had the gift”!

This is called the past perfect continuous, and if the writer had chosen a different approach, this sentence would have been easier to read.

If he had had the gift,
If he had been to art school,
If he had been sold to the editor as an Artist
It would have been different.

And forget that advice about not putting more than one and in a sentence. Sometimes you need lots.

The Garden Bridge will be inaccessible to unregistered groups, cyclists and closed at night. (Guardian Jan 2015)

It will be inaccessible to unregistered groups and cyclists,
and will be closed at night.

(The Bridge won’t be inaccessible to “closed at night”.)

And watch the switch between a singular and a plural subject, or vice versa:

The church somehow was kept open and even marriage ceremonies performed:
The church was somehow kept open, and marriage ceremonies were even performed.

There's no reason why you can't split up the parts of a verb (was kept open) with an adverb.

More wordiness here.

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