Revising Wordy Prose

  By far the biggest problem in writing these days is too many words per thought. Sometimes the wordiness is intentional, but often it’s simply due to a lack of skill. Revising wordy prose is a little like translating. The following are passages from actual documents. Try revising them to reduce the wordiness, and compare … More Revising Wordy Prose

George Orwell: Clarity and Obfuscation

George Orwell was a strong advocate of clarity in language. To demonstrate how simple ideas can be swallowed up in a sea of verbiage, he constructed the following sentence: Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that … More George Orwell: Clarity and Obfuscation

Impact or Affect?

Several years ago when I wrote a grammar column for The Edmonton Journal, I objected to the use of “impact” as a verb, not because I objected to turning nouns into verbs—it happens quite naturally in English all the time—but because “impact” was being used inappropriately as a synonym for “affect: How will smaller paper … More Impact or Affect?

New Year’s Resolutions

Here are twenty grammar and language resolutions you might want to consider for 2016: I resolve to learn the difference between “lay” and “lie” or avoid using them: “The cat is not standing up on the couch.” I resolve to use “lay” and “lie” interchangeably with abandon. I resolve to start using the object pronoun “me” … More New Year’s Resolutions

Good Writing

What makes good writing good? I suppose it depends on the purpose of the writing. Language is used mostly to communicate ideas and information. But that’s not all it’s used for. In the case of poetry, for example, language is the medium of an art, so it is conveying much more than ideas and information. … More Good Writing

The Islamic State, Donald Trump, and Grammatical Ambiguity

A curious ambiguity arises when a negative main clause is followed by a ‘because” subordinate clause. Look at the following sentence: Leaders of the Islamic State don’t want Donald Trump to lose because they like him. Do you see the ambiguity? Take a minute to think about it and say the sentence out loud.  The ambiguity … More The Islamic State, Donald Trump, and Grammatical Ambiguity