Monday, August 16, 2010

Going the Extra Word

I'm not one of those strident Strunk & White purists (neither was White, for that matter) who believe that all good writing comes in spare, simple prose. There's plenty of room for more baroque styles of expression, if you ask me. But there is complex, playful or engaging wordiness, and then there is sloppy, banal prolixity. The important thing, as S&W command, is that "every word tell."

"Green in color," for instance, is always redundant, since something can't very well be green in height. And "different" is one of those words that always needs to be asked for its ID before gaining admittance to a sentence. Consider phrasings such as "I attended three different schools" and ask yourself what different brings to the party.

Today in Slate, I was checking out the recent TV Club Mad Men discussion, and came upon this sentence, describing the scene where Don's departing secretary heaves a paperweight at him:
But how cool would it have been if Don, ice water pumping through his veins, had unblinkingly caught the orb in his hand and gently placed it on the credenza?
I know these recaps are written, edited, and posted on the fly, so it's churlish to expect polished prose, but I can't help imagining how satisfying it would feel, as a copy editor, to drag a red pencil through "in his hand."

Meanwhile, over in another corner of Slate, advice columnist Prudence (yeah, like you don't read it, too) is dispensing counsel to a new husband who says that:
my wife was the DEFINITION of a bridezilla when planning out our wedding, and I felt bad for her attendants.
Unless there is an important difference between planning and planning out when it comes to weddings, that sentence would stand stronger if it were one word lighter. And yes, it should be badly, not bad, but let's leave that for another day. Poor guy has enough on his mind, what with having married an insufferable harpy.