Omit Needless Words!

Abby Zimet

Having arrived at a new era of political literacy – ie: a president who can formulate a full sentence – let us duly mark the 50th anniversary of those masters of clarity, Strunk and White, and their timeless The
Elements of Style.
They gave us vital ground rules – use the active voice, use nouns and
verbs – and taught us that "writing is one way to go about thinking."

Along with offering concise, useful rules, White was eloquent, and witty as hell. Avoid adjectives because "the adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or innacurate noun out of a tight place." Avoid adverbs like 'thusly': "Do not dress up words by adding 'ly' to them, as though putting a hat on a horse." Do not "be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy." Rich ornate prose "is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating."

Avoid qualifiers: "The constant use of the adjective 'little' (except to indicate
size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little
better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather
important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then."

Above all, White cites Strunk's rule: "Omit needless words! Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words...for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his (sic) sentences short...but that every word tell."


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Though he has labored for many years, White writes, "there are still many words that cry for omission and the huge task will never be accomplished." Still, he relishes revisiting Strunk's celebration of "the clear, the brief, the bold."

We do too.


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