On Writing, Again

Susan Scharfman

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Have you ever found yourself reading or writing a word followed by a word that has the same meaning? Close proximity comes to mind. Don’t beat yourself up. Some best selling authors and the venerable New York Times are guilty of the same redundant evil. It just happens to drive me crazy.

I’m always interested in the origin of words and phrases so I asked Jeeves about it; he shrugged and sent me to Google which sent me to www.closeproximity.net/index1.htm. Trust me, that website is the only place where you are going to see those two words in suitable proximity to one another. If you go there now, you must promise to return to finish reading my article.

The Angle of the dangle is another slippery slope. I discovered early on that dangling phrases are death to bleary-eyed proofreaders. When the descriptive phrase with which you begin a sentence does not modify or describe the rest of the sentence you are in writer’s hell and the editor’s slush pile. For example, “A short distance from Paris, I return often. ” What or who is a short distance from Paris? “Since I live a short distance from Paris, I return often. ” Oh.

I’m reminded of my first article “On Writing, " vis-à-vis gross meister (my word) Stephen King. What King writes sometimes can be revolting. How he writes harkens to my own penchant for clarity of expression. He never uses a euphemism in place of a direct expression. For example, “abuser of controlled substances” vs. “drug addict. ” Which is more dynamic? Conversely, business and government use language that is more politically correct. A liar is someone who suffers from FDS (fabricated disorder syndrome). Ugh! The writer’s own sensibilities decide when and where to cross this fuzzy line. Journalism, however, has its own set of ideals.

For example, The Washington Post’s Desk Book On Style says, “Profanities and obscenities should not be used in a story unless something significant would otherwise be lost. ” In other words, the journalist should ask, “why use it?” rather than “why not use it?” Judging from the profanities emanating from the halls of Congress and other hallowed institutions, the handbook should probably be updated. The doublespeak debate goes on.

Meanwhile, my final word on words for the text-challenged. Symbols and truncated words are my nemeses. Can you believe that six exasperating symbols are required to create a bullet? Would you rather read Shakespeare like this: “2b? Nt2b? ???” Or like this: “To be or not to be, that is the question?” Or maybe you would rather not read him at all. Never mind. If you were visiting in the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, the eccentric American author and mentor to Ernest Hemingway during the golden age of American writers in Paris, her answer would be: “There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer. "

I think the innovative Gertrude would probably love html. Check out some of the witticisms she’s famous for like, “a rose is a rose is a rose. ” I’m unrenowned for, “a book is a book is a book. ”

Susan Scharfman is a writer/editor at http://www.susanscharfman.com


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