Some 40 years ago, state Rep. A.J. “Mick” Spano delivered a prayer in the Colorado House, calling on the Almighty to help end to the 1976 legislative session.
“Oh Lord,” Spano prayed. “Help us to adjourn, and when we have nothing to say, help us not to come to the microphone and say it.”
It was a call to the Divine that should be in every writer’s catechism.
The newspaper industry is in enough trouble without adding “verbosity” to its list of sins.
Part of the job of a copy editor is to eliminate words that waste time. Readers are busy enough.
We’re not talking Proust or Hemmingway here. This is not literature.
I’ve long campaigned for the elimination of most adverbs. Words like “very” or “extremely” are not worth their keystrokes. They don’t add enough information to pay for the space they occupy in a sentence.
Adjectives can be just as dangerous. True, skilled writers can use them to craft handsome narratives. But in the wrong hands, they can overpopulate sentences with agonizing detail.
Consider what most wordsmiths regard as the greatest sentence ever written:
No adverbs. No adjectives. Two words that say more than most paragraphs.
I’m not advocating for two-word sentences here, but there is something elegant about economy.
This is not to say that words should be judged solely by their relevance. Sometimes, a word can add value by its mere existence in a sentence. It can provide the keystone for a perfect cadence in a poem or narrative.
By and large though, life is too short to put up with redundancy. Eliminate excess, I say.
I can spot redundancy everywhere: in books, newspapers, in television programs – in my own work.
I strive to eliminate redundancy every time I encounter it.
True story: The other evening, my wife asked whether we needed to buy more life insurance.
“One of us doesn’t,” I replied.
That didn’t go over well.
All the same, wouldn’t our lives be easier if we removed all the clutter? We can start simple, eliminating words we don’t need.
Here are some examples:
New record – How often do we hear of athletes setting a “new record” in the 100-meter freestyle or the long jump? When one sets a record, it is inherently “new.”
Roach bug – I don’t hear this quite as often, but it still creeps into conversation from time to time. Unless I miss my guess, a roach is a bug.
Tuna fish – Oh, this is a favorite of mine, because there’s nothing I enjoyed more as a kid than a tuna fish sandwich. My mother made them with lettuce and tomato. The fish was already in the tuna.
Hot water heater – My plumber called me out on this one. It’s a “water heater.” When performing properly, it produces hot water.
You can probably come up with others. They’re out there, wasting our time, cluttering our conversations. Mark them, and vow to eliminate them.