Write in Style: A Guide to Good English

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

7

FIGHT THE FLAB

All our life is crushed by the weight of words: the weight of the dead.

Luigi Pirandello

When in doubt strike it out.

Mark Twain

Why begin in such a negative way? Why focus on what not to do instead of addressing what is desirable?

Well, bad style and bad writing usually stem from things which should have been jettisoned rather than the absence of things which should have been included. This does not just apply to those times when your writing will improve by being edited and honed down; it also takes in a catalogue of practices which should be avoided on principle and as a matter of course. One of the soundest ways of arriving at your own 'voice'-your individual style-is first to be aware of all the accumulated junk that disfigures our language.

Hamlet speaks of 'the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to.' The afflictions that can impair the 'flesh' of your style may be fewer in number, but they are still considerable. Firstly, a group of ailments characterized by obesity.


7.1

WAFFLE AND PADDING

Waffle: to talk or speak ignorantly or aimlessly. (OED)

We all waffle sometimes-in speech at least. We have all known occasions when we drivel vacuously on, through ignorance, embarrassment or love of the sound of our own voice. It is not something to encourage, naturally; but it will inevitably happen from time to time, especially when we're 'put on the spot' or caught unprepared.

Written waffle is another thing altogether and must always be avoided. The diagnosis is simple and the remedy brutal. Writers waffle when they have nothing to say and/or no control over their material: this is the result of pure ignorance, and the only cure is to stop writing, go back to one's books and do some more preparatory work. If you waffle in an exam, I'm afraid the condition is likely to be terminal. All you can hope for is an indulgent marker!

-70-

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Write in Style: A Guide to Good English
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • From the Reviews: vi
  • Contents vii
  • List of Exercises xi
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Engage Brain and Ear Before Writing 1
  • 1 - Disasters 3
  • 2 - Triumphs 9
  • Part Two - Foundations 13
  • 3 - Introduction 15
  • 4 - Bone Structure 16
  • 5 - Joints 28
  • Part Three - Style 65
  • 6 - Introduction: Style Versus Fashion 67
  • 7 - Fight the Flab 70
  • 8 - Voice 109
  • Part Four - Tailor-Made 139
  • 9 - Introduction 141
  • 10 - Letters 142
  • 11 - Essays 161
  • 12 - Articles 189
  • 13 - Reviews 192
  • 14 - Reports 194
  • 15 - Minutes 199
  • 16 - Précis and Summary 203
  • 17 - Reportage 225
  • Part Five - Grammar Primer 229
  • 18 - Grammar Primer 231
  • 19 - Inflections 274
  • 20 - Syntax 286
  • 21 - Parts of Speech (Advanced) 294
  • 22 - Punctuation in Speech and Quotation 315
  • 23 - Spelling and Confusibles 327
  • Appendix: Answers to Exercises 343
  • Further Reading 355
  • Authors, Sources and Named References 359
  • Subject Index 361
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