Simplify

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon…

“Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating considerable precipitation wouldn’t dream of saying that it may rain. The sentence is too simple – there must be something wrong with it.

“But the secret of good writing is too strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur, ironically, in proportion to our education and rank.

“During the late 1960s the president of a major university wrote a letter to mollify the alumni after a spell of campus unrest. ‘You are probably aware,’ he began, ‘that we have been experiencing very considerable potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction on issues only partially related.’ He meant that the students’ had been hassling them about different things. I was far more upset by the president’s English than by the students’ potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction. I would have preferred the presidential approach taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he tried to convert into English his own government’s memos, such as this blackout order of 1942:

Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.

“‘Tell them,’ Roosevelt said, ‘that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows.'”

~ William  Zinsser, On Writing Well, 4th Edition (pp. 7-8)

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