John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
What, me wordy?
There is a commenter — I can’t say who, since the s.o.b. writes anonymously — who has come to this blog repeatedly to advise me to cut the posts by thirty to forty percent.
Such advice is not helpful. First off, these posts tend to run plus or minus 350 words, a length that does not suggest logorrhea. And second, the question is always which words should be cut, and the Anonymous One has never troubled himself to offer specifics about his objections.
I have suggested that Twitter might be a better fit for his capacity, and most recently he responded:
Length is not at issue. It's word choice, usage, and diction.
The text can be pared by 30%. Try it. Think less like a panjandrum and more like someone I'd want to talk to over a beer.
Damn, he wants a chum, and I disappoint him. But I’m disappointed, too, because now that it’s apparently tone and diction that he objects to, I still don’t have any details. Usage? Usage? So, patience snapped, and I have cut him off.
For the rest of you, if you find my digressions tedious, or my diction florid and affected, your comments will be welcome and approved, so long as there is any substance to them. You know, the sort of comment an editor or an informed reader would make.
Along the same line, Michael Kinsley has come in for a bit of smirking over his recent article in The Atlantic arguing that newspaper stories are too long: his essay runs to 1,800 words.
I have read multi-page articles in The Baltimore Sun that were like cruising down an interstate highway — no stoplights. And I have read stories with single paragraphs that would make Job curse God.* It’s worth looking at what Mr. Kinsley has to say about the latter category, the solid-mahogany paragraph that buries the focus under non-idiomatic newspaperese lumber.
For I have known them all already, known them all:— not just the hopelessly clotted opening paragraph, but also the introduction that runs for a dozen paragraphs before the writer bothers to indicate what the story is actually about, the article whose only organizing principle is randomness, the article that rehashes background information interminably, the article that thinks that the writer is more interesting than the subject.
Perhaps you, like America’s publishing executives, think that these deficiencies will be remedied by reducing the number of editors.
* Women’s rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday took the first step toward appealing a ruling that overturned a landmark law denying city liquor licenses to private clubs that discriminate.