In this SIXTH and last post on Essential Strategies For Revising Problems In Grammar And Standard Usage, my focus is on PROBLEMS OF CONCISENESS with special interest on:
- Context-Driven Meanings
- Slang And Idiomatic Expressions
The previous FIVE posts focused on:
- PROBLEMS OF READABILITY – 5
- PROBLEMS WITH INCORRECT WORDS or PHRASES – 4
- PROBLEMS OF CONSISTENCY – 3
- PROBLEMS OF CLARITY AND COHERENCE – 2
- PROBLEMS OF SENTENCE STRUCTURE – 1
It is really important that focusing on things such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting doesn’t inhibit the creative flow. When I was at school there was a huge focus on copying and testing and it put me off words and stories for years. – Michael Morpurgo
Diction is one’s choice of words in the expression of ideas. It is the choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness.
On all levels of speech and writing, faulty diction appears – in wordiness, redundancy, in trite expressions and in faulty idiom.
This is taking more words than are necessary to express an idea correctly and clearly. Many sentences may be greatly improved by reducing the number of words.
WORDY: There is a man in our neighborhood, and he has written three novels.
BETTER: A neighbor of ours has written three novels.
Some students’ writing tend to have the frequent use of AND and BUT – a common type of wordiness called excessive predication. It may usually be remedied by proper subordination.
WORDY: The test was hard, and the students were resentful, and their instructor was irritated.
BETTER: Because the students resented the hard test, their instructor was irritated.
Another kind of wordiness originates in the desire to impress but ends in pretentious nonsense.
It is the language of those persons who refer to
- “inclemency of the elements” as bad weather.
- “blessed events” as birth.
- “Passing away” as death.
Sometimes expressions like these are used facetiously but don’t make the habit of such usage.
Jargon is also a kind of wordiness, popular among people of specialized professions.
This has now spread to everyday writing and speaking probably because it is believed to make its users sound and appear knowledgeable. Its basic principle seem to be:
- Never use one word where two or more will do the work.
- Never use a concrete expression if it is possible to use an abstract one.
- Never be plain if you can be fancy.
Such examples as seen in the repeated use of phrases: a frame of reference, in terms of, point in time, and compound formed with the suffix “-wise”.
- They don’t look at the budget but they “consider the status budgetwise”
- They don’t study crime among the young; they “examine social conditions in terms of juvenile delinquency”
They “critique,” they “utilize,” they speak of the “culturally deprived,” the “classroom learning environment” and “meaningful experiences.”
These expressions reflect a desire to be part of the “in-group” by picking up catch-words that seem to show a certain sophistication; but what they really show is a failure to use precise language and a lack of judgment.
It is the unnecessary repetition of an idea due to carelessness or ignorance of the meanings of certain words. It makes writing heavy and dull.
- Repeat that again, please [Why again?]
- His solution was equally as good as hers. [Why equally?]
- The location is more preferable to that one. It should read The location is preferable to that one.
Consistent elimination of wordiness results in a stronger, more concise writing style that is easier to read and provides fewer opportunities for misinterpretation. In contrast, a wordy style makes reading laborious and, thus, encourages skimming and leads to inattention.
Do you wish the reader to carefully consider your message? If so, reduce wordiness to the extent possible.
A general impression of vague thinking is given by the too frequent use of abstract words instead of concrete words.
The vagueness of such words as asset, factor, phase, case, nature, character, line and field – all these words have a basic meaning and should be used cautiously in any other sense.
The best way to treat these words is to get rid of them.
The course is of a difficult nature (The course is difficult)
Industry and intelligence are important assets in business success. (Omit assets and the sense remains the same)
John was aware of the fact that he was risking his savings. [John was aware that he was risking his savings.]
Whenever you are tempted to use such words, stop and ask yourself just what you are trying to say. Then find the exact words to say it, cutting out all the “deadwood.”
Trite means worn; lacking in freshness or effectiveness because of constant use or excessive repetition; hackneyed; or stale. Certain phrases have been used so often that they have lost their original freshness.
Speeches in the form of oratory and sermons; newspaper headlines and captions and pretentious writing in general are frequently marred by such diction. Expressions of such kind are often called clichés.
Cliché can be two things:
- An overused expression, something that is said a lot that has become some common, it no longer really has any relevance or is even noticed in conversation.
- An idea with a different meaning from its literal meaning. For example, the phrases “sweaty palms” have come to mean more than the fact that your palms are just sweaty. When you say someone has sweaty palms, everyone knows you mean “he is nervous” because the expression has become a cliché.
Clichés that Describe Time
Some clichés that refer to time include:
- Time will tell: This means that something will revealed or become clear over time
- In the nick of time: This means something happened just in time
- Lost track of time: This means you stopped paying attention to the time or to how long something was taking
Clichés that Describe People
Some clichés that describe people include:
- As old as the hills: This describes someone very old.
- Fit as a fiddle: This describes someone in great shape.
- Without a care in the world: This describes someone who is not plagued by problems or worries.
- A diamond in the rough: This describes someone who has a great future.
Clichés About Life, Love and Emotions
- Opposites attract: This means that people who like different things and have different views are likely to fall in love or to become friends.
- Scared out of my wits: This describes being very frightened.
- Frightened to death: This also describes being very frightened.
- All is fair in love and war: This cliché stands for the premise that you can do whatever you have to in order to capture the heart of your lover.
- All’s well that ends well: This means that even if there were problems along the way, it doesn’t matter as long as there is a happy ending.
Hidden Meanings in Clichés
Many of them have meanings that you can obviously see, but some have meanings that are only clear if you know the context. For example, the cliché, “any port in a storm” has a hidden meaning. The obvious meaning is that, in a bad situation, anything will do. However this cliché can also be used to say that a man has many friends or lovers.
Some clichés can be interpreted differently based on the context.
- “Do you think I am made of money?” implies that you don’t have any money.
- “I feel as if I am made of money” suggests just the opposite.
Not all clichés are necessarily true either. Some are a matter of interpretation.
- “In experience comes wisdom and with wisdom comes experience” is not necessarily accurate in every case.
- “Tis better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all” is a commonly used cliché, but you might disagree and say its better to not have loved and lost.
Although clichés are often forgivable in conversation, they should be avoided when writing.
Avoid also quotation of trite phrases from literature and proverbs. Expressions like the following have already served their purpose:
- A lean and hungry look . . . ; the best laid plans of mice and men . . .
- A rolling stone . . . ; where angels fear to tread . . .
- Those who live in glass houses . . . ; to be or not to be . . .
GUIDE FOR REVISING: Intensifiers such as really, very, truly, of course should be used to strengthen statements. Overuse of these words may weaken a sentence.
Avoid using words such as really, very, quite, extremely, severely when they are not necessary.
Euphemism describes a polite, agreeable, or inoffensive word or expression that is used in place of one that is harsh, rude, or offensive.
For example, “kick the bucket” is a euphemism that describes the death of a person. In addition, many organizations use the term “downsizing” for the distressing act of “firing” its employees.
Techniques for Creating Euphemism
Euphemism masks a rude or impolite expression but conveys the concept clearly and politely. Several techniques are employed to create euphemism.
- It may be in the form of abbreviations e.g. B.O. (body odor), W.C. (toilet).
- Foreign words may be used to replace an impolite expression e.g. faux (fake), or faux pas (foolish error).
- Sometimes, they are abstractions e.g. before I go (before I die).
- They may also be indirect expressions replacing direct ones which may sound offensive e.g. rear-end, unmentionables.
- Using longer words or phrases can also mask unpleasant words e.g. flatulence for farting, perspiration for sweat, mentally challenged for stupid.
- Using technical terms may reduce the rudeness exhibited by words e.g. gluteus maximus.
- Deliberately mispronouncing an offensive word may reduce its severity e.g. darn, shoot etc.
Unless your use of euphemism is inspired by the necessity to soften a blow or to avoid offensiveness, use the more factual terms. Ordinarily, avoid euphemisms – or change the subject.
Slang and Idiomatic Expressions
You should avoid using slang (words like y’all, yinz, cool) or idiomatic expressions (“pull someone’s leg,” “spill the beans,” and “something smells fishy”) in formal academic writing. These words make your writing sound informal, and hence, less credible.
Furthermore, for non-native speakers of English, these expressions may prove more difficult to understand because of their non-literal nature.
|a blessing in disguise||a good thing you do not recognize at first|
|a piece of cake||easy to do|
|better late than never||it is better to do something late than not at all|
|get over it||recover from something (like a perceived insult)|
|I have no idea||I don’t know|
|not a chance||it will definitely not happen|
|on pins and needles||very nervous about something that is happening|
|on top of the world||feeling great|
|pulling your leg||making a joke by tricking another person|
|the sky is the limit||the possibilities are endless|
Times do exist, however, when the use of slang and idiomatic expressions are appropriate. Think about who your audience is, what they expect, and how the use of these words may help or hinder your purpose.
If you are writing a very informal or humorous piece, slang or idiomatic expressions may be appropriate.
Thus, choose the appropriate level of diction based on your subject, audience, and writing occasion.
This is the last post on ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES FOR REVISING PROBLEMS IN GRAMMAR AND STANDARD USAGE. They were six posts! I hope and trust that the journey has been well worth the effort. Good luck in all your endeavors.
As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL