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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to create wickedly effective prose (cont)

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 Bones:

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).

The Flesh:

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'?"

Cardinal Sins:

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.

Carnal Pleasures:

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"


Liz A. said...

Oh, but I love fog and euphemism. Sometimes it's nice to talk around a subject to open up ideas that one wouldn't get if one were to just out and say it. Of course not all the time, but in small doses...

Lidy said...

I'm all about searching for the right word. Although I do admit, I can be gluttonous. But I make it my mission to cut out unnecessary words when possible.