This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.
Today I'm going to share with you the chapter on nouns...
The word noun derives from the Latin nomen, for name. This is why we have nouns, to name things like people, places, and things (both concrete things and intangible things).
Most books on style advise using strong nouns that are familiar or standard rather than unusual, and as Hale says, this makes sense. "Who wouldn't take a kiss, any day, over a 'demonstration of affection'?"
According to Hale, there are "Seven Deadly Sins committed with nouns: Sloth, Gluttony, Fog, Pretense, Gobbledygook, Jargon, and Euphemism." I'm only going to share the first two (because really, you should read this book), Sloth and Gluttony.
Sloth is for hacks who can't be bothered to pick up a thesaurus. Sloths use cliches ("trite phrases blanched of all meaning by overuse") and grab the closest noun at hand. If you don't want to be a sloth, "go on thoughtful
searches for the right words."
Gluttony you can probably guess. Gluttons are writers who "use five words when one would do." Sort of like when the weatherman gives you all these meteorological terms that pretty much result in the fact that it's going to rain. The weatherman can do that. The writer cannot, unless she or he is extraordinarily brilliant - like Charles Dickens.
Speaking of which, Charles Dickens could've just said Scrooge was a miserly old man. Lucky for us, he did not:
"Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a
squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old
sinner! Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck
out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an
oyster." - Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"