Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cutting to the Quick

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cutting to the Quick

Article excerpt

Most of us here in the Pacific Northwest have seen a skilled woodsman fell a tree the old way.

The axman takes one smooth, flat stroke. Then another elegant, economical arc on the down cut, and a wedge the size of a logger's lunch pail falls from the trunk. A few more efficient strokes and a sizable tree topples exactly where the woodsman wants it.

Contrast the city slicker who thrashes the tree with a dull blade, scattering tiny chips. If the tree gives up before the exhausted fool hacking at it, it falls randomly, threatening any bored by-standers still in the vicinity.

Skilled writers cut through their material with the easy athleticism of a skilled logger. Writers who clog their prose with redundancy thrash around like an amateur with an ax. They may batter their way to their destination eventually, but by then nobody cares.

Such redundancy falls into several predictable forms, and careful writers will be on the alert for them.

Surely no one who was concentrating could have referred to a rap singer who performed "a sexually explicit song about sex" as a pop-music writer recently did. And surely copy editors were dozing when the Knight-Ridder wire dispatched a reference to a "random lottery" and AP reported the "random chance" discovery of a shipwreck. Surely we were pondering weightier matters when my own paper published the assertions that things were "joined together," "merged together" and "gathered together."

Some redundancies are so well-known that they've become code phrases that astute readers recognize immediately as a sign of carelessness or amateurism. They write to complain when newspapers use such common phrases as "the reason why," "the final destination," "the final resolution," "the end result," and "final results."

A little thought would have kept one newspaper from publishing references to "150-room palaces gilded with golden walls," for what do you gild with if not gold?

Sometimes we simply fail to think about the meanings of words. So we pile on adjectives and adverbs when the meaning is already in the noun or verb. We write of "a broad array" even though arrays are broad by nature. Or we write about things that "share a common denominator," as though sharing involved something other than common experience.

We journalists blithely pass along silly redundancies originated by others, as when we dutifully reported that a county commissioner pondering the purchase of a building wondered whether taxpayers could "afford it financially. …

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