Ever heard of the book On Writing Well, by William Zinsser? Subtitled “the classic guide to writing nonfiction,” the book has sold over a million copies and gone through 30 editions in its 36 years of life. Zinsser’s schtick boils down to “less is more” – or in the more confrontational vernacular of our times, Keep It Simple, Stupid. In other words, there is no earthly reason to say “I’m curious as to why you regard it in these terms” when you can just as easily say “I’m curious why you think this way.” Ditto for “at this point in time” versus “now.”

I find the word “utilize” particularly grating in this respect. It adds nothing to the word “use” except a couple of pompous-sounding syllables. An editor once changed the word “use” to “utilize” in one of my articles. I changed it back. She changed it back again. I let it pass, because, well, I had a mortgage to pay. But it annoyed me to no end to have my byline and the word “utilize” on the same page.

The word “methodology” isn’t quite as irritating, because it differs subtly from “method,” but it still reeks of officiousness.  Far more abrasive, and distressingly common in the corporate meetings I attend, are such coined verbs as “incentivize” or “synergize.” If an editor ever sneaks one of these ear-sores into my copy I’ll fight to the death to get it removed – perhaps because I no longer have a mortgage.

Anyway, check out Zinsser’s book if you feel your writing needs an infusion of clarity and sparkle. In the meantime, feel free to let me know about any logorrheic effusions that drive you around the bend.

This entry was posted in Grammar, Language, Punctuation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to K.I.S.S.

  1. icelandpenny says:

    I’ve long loved my copy of the Zinnser. Here’s another favourite, equally old but, given today’s craze for vampires, perhaps due to be trendy again: “The Transitive Vampire: a Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed,” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.

    • Transitive Vampire! The title alone makes me want to run to the bookstore and get it. Sounds like a must-have for a grammar geek’s collection. Thanks for letting us know about it.

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