Magazine article Editor & Publisher

How's That Again?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

How's That Again?

Article excerpt

You'd have to jail all but the terminally dull before they'd eat the same lunch every day. Hardly anyone watches summer reruns. And you wouldn't draw many paying customers on a second visit to a zoo populated with nothing but hippos.

So what makes some writers think they can get away with ladling out the same old words, sentence after sentence?

One of the reasons readers keep moving through news copy is the same impulse that sends the lunch crowd wandering in search of new restaurants, sets TV viewers to channel surfing and propels zoo-goers from cage to cage.

Each new word sparks a mental response. The more constant and intense that stimulation, the more likely the readers' continued attention. In that sense, words are addictive. We all know that instinctively.

Even grade-school kids struggle to find synonyms when repeated words dull up their homework. They may write about hippopotamuses on the first reference, but they'll refer to hippos on the second. They'll probably reach even further on the third. The kid who grew up to be Walt Disney charmed a huge public by turning his hippos into ballerinas.

We're seldom that creative, of course, and sometimes we slip into the kind of deadening repetition that cuts readers free from their addiction.

We repeat ourselves in lots of ways, however, which at least demonstrates that we can be creative about being dull.

* "But the remarks by Hershiser ... seemed directed directly at the Dodgers."

Let's be charitable and assume that a tight deadline accounted for this monstrosity. This particular repetition raises a point, however. Lots of adverbs repeat meanings already contained in the verbs they modify. "Climbed up." "Ambled slowly." "Eased effortlessly." And so on.

* "Since his death, Francke's family has raised questions that his death may be linked to corruption ...."

Well, we wouldn't expect it to raise such questions before his death. So the repetition was unnecessary in the first place. Still, we could have substituted killing" for the second reference to death. English, an overlay of Romance and Germanic languages, is rife with synonyms. Let's use 'em.

* ". . . Organizers continue to attempt to line up television contracts."

The problem here is a repetition of form as much as it is a repetition of words. One infinitive directly follows another. Remember that participles almost always can substitute for infinitives. …

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