Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Un-words: Attack Of The Moans.


The EconomistImage via Wikipedia

I literally had to put down my cup of tea in disbelief just moments ago. Stumbling around the web, as I do, I came across this inner party spiel. In short it is a style guide for journalists at The Economist. And what a read it makes in itself.

Without wanting to fuel an Orwellian debate, (I don't need to) it is not so much a case of what is there in black and white, It is to do with what is not. I could pick this apart all day long, but specifically I must raise a query with the subsection linked above, referring directly to "un-necessary" words.

George Orwell: Image by surfstyle via Flickr

First I must give a crash course on the relevance for those unfamiliar with the book '1984'. A key theme throughout the book is control of the masses through government influence in terms of what citizens are able to read. Specifically the party in power are redefining the English language by narrowing its terms, the purpose of which is to ultimately stop the masses thinking (as termed in the book as "thought crime"). English literature lesson over.

I find the following paragraphs from the Economist disturbing by the very nature of its purpose, to discontinue the use of certain words. It serves little other (in my opinion) to reduce the emphasis, and whilst a word may not be regarded as an adjective, it does not by default make it defunct on the say so of an editor;

Some words add nothing but length to your prose. Use adjectives to make your meaning more precise and be cautious of those you find yourself using to make it more emphatic. The word very is a case in point. If it occurs in a sentence you have written, try leaving it out and see whether the meaning is changed. The omens were good may have more force than The omens were very good.

Avoid strike action (strike will do), cutbacks (cuts), track record (record), wilderness area (usually either a wilderness or a wild area), large-scale (big), the policymaking process (policymaking), weather conditions (weather), etc. This time around just means This time.

The American cover for ''The Book of General I...Image via Wikipedia

Whilst I understand that the sentence may retain its meaning minus a word such as very, I feel that is completely missing the point! It is a matter of emphasis and a tool with which to place more value on something than had it not been there. Take weather; on its own it is a word that encompasses an entire subject. Weather conditions is specific, more precise within that subject. Surely it is better practice to be wanting to be thorough when writing as opposed to increasing vagueness in an attempt to adhere to some imaginary restriction upon length. Surely it would serve nothing other than to leave the reader ignorant?

For example; If I were to host you for dinner, and at the end of the meal I asked you if you enjoyed it - and you nodded and said "Yes, nice thank you!" as opposed to "Yes, very nice thank you." There is a difference, and whilst subtle I do not think we should be encouraging our journalists to cut out words for the sake of bringing into question the length of their prose! What words do we choose to remove next?

I know we are in harder times, but it comes to something when we start Economising on words. And whilst I am no romantic with regards to literature beyond the scope of the average man, I do appreciate that what I have read to date has not been bound by such negative and restrictive guidelines.

Day 121 :: i will no longer censor myself for ...Image by Meredith_Farmer via Flickr

Here's to hoping you have a very nice day.

Or when the guidelines are rolled out the above sentence with probably just read;


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