I consider three mistakes of writing to be my unholy trinity: incorrect grammar, clumsy sentence structure, and verbosity. Don’t criticize my title for this last mistake; I’m making a point. Bad writers as well as bad speakers clutter their communication with too many words.
Redundancies and Extraneous Words
“Killed dead” – if you’re killed your dead.
“I have the ability to run fast.” – I can run fast.
“Older phones have become obsolete and outmoded.” – two words that mean the same thing.
“Due to the fact that” – although
“I was thinking in my mind.” – where else do you think?
“Verbal diarrhea” – logorrhea: it really is a word and only one instead of two.
Logorrhea means “excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness.” It is a social media disease but just as much in legalese, academic writing, and government brochures. Each is notorious for overwhelming us with a barrage of incoherent words. Our rhetoric needs some tuning up and trimming down.
Don’t resist rhetoric. An older educational model used the trivium as the foundation of education: logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Logic is the art of thinking; grammar is the art of inventing and combining words; rhetoric is the art of communication or using words to develop coherent thought. Aristotle considered rhetoric to be the art observing every available means of persuasion, but even if we aren’t trying to persuade someone, when we speak or write, we seek to communicate our ideas. That’s rhetoric.
Let’s set aside the notion that “empty rhetoric” is merely a redundancy. Many people think that, but we use rhetoric every day by combining our words to pass on our ideas. Rhetoric demands that we choose the right words. By definition, choosing means we pick some words and leave others to fend for themselves.
Drowning in Words
Today is not the only generation drowning in a sea of words. Three-thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote “Of the making of books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes 12:12. He also warned us that “many words mark the speech of a fool,” Ecclesiastes 5:3, and “much dreaming and many words are meaningless,” Ecclesiastes 5:7. Although he wasn’t just referring to writing that had not been appropriately trimmed of excess verbiage, his thoughts are still worth considering.
Communication isn’t just a notion left to writers and professional speakers. All of us write and speak to one degree or another. A good practice is to find a way not to overwhelm others, waste their time, or obscure a good idea with too many words.
© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC