Pleonasm Spasm

by Steed Dropout
Sept. 26, 2015


“Black darkness, burning fire, and malignant cancer.” Perhaps you can spot the unnecessary words. String enough of these redundancies together and, brother, you’ve got a bloated sentence.

Here at Reporter, we live by the sword, whacking unnecessary words, like a Hemingway.

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t lean–a trend in fiction and prose since Hemingway. There’s even software to turn your prose into Hemingway’s.

I had an editor once who asked me to write features like Hemingway, then this editor began adding words to my copy (awkwardly), ruining my rhythm and rime.

I made a supreme sacrifice. I quit.

Recently I saw some pleonastic sentences in the newspaper I left and blew a fifty amp fuse. My friend said he thought the pleonasms “good writing.” I told him his his own sentences were even worse, adding “Never fool with writing teachers.”

It seems like yesterday (late 50s) I was assigned Albert Strunk’s 1917 Elements of style, still the scripture of style. Strunk says sternly, “make every word tell”; hence, the 17th principle of composition is the simple instruction: “Omit needless words.”—wiki

Elements of Style is still assigned. It was re-issued yet again in 2009 for its 50 year anniversary in revised form by the New Yorker’s E.B. White (“Charlotte’s Web”). The book is nearly a century old and still the gospel for reporters and essayists.

I have other tricks up my writer’s sleeve. Sleek prose can only take you so far.

But a funny thing happened on the way to self-righteous excision.

Wiki’s discussion on pleonasm concluded that too much conciseness could be considered, “haughty, and awkward.”

This observation makes crisp prose sound snooty, even vain. Unnecessary words seem worse.

Wiki editors note that reporters often add words, perhaps as explication, if not space-grabbing. The more the words, the bigger the story.

Perhaps I was not the good writer everyone said I was. If good writing were this simple anyone—with or without the Hemingway software—could prune his own prunes, I mean prose!

Emerson–whose prose veered from epigrammatic to dense–notes that “foolish consistency,” [as in deleting all unnecessary words] …”is the hobgoblin of petty minds, of philosophers and divines.”

Now I’m looking for ways to get some unnecessary words in my copy. And if I can’t help pruning, so be it. I can’t quit my own blog.

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