Watch your words

towerofbabel

Construction of the Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

 

I have a small stack of reference materials (and a copy of “The Imperfectionists“) on my desk: The Manila Times Style Guide, The Rules of the Senate, The Elements of Editing, The Collins Dictionary for Writers & Editors, and The Elements of Style.

I do not own a thesaurus and have hardly ever needed one. It helps that I spent most of my life as a student in the library, but, really, you don’t need a huge vocabulary to write (to write news, at least). In most cases, words will just get in your way anyway.

Take “said”, for example. In close to seven years of writing and editing news, I have hardly ever used anything other than “said” when attributing a quote or statement.*

Some writers use “noted” or “shared” or “opined”, and these are all fine words. Nothing quite says “said” like “said”, though.

Sometimes writers, as people who work with words often do, try to be cute and creative with their words and it gets distracting.

An excerpt to illustrate:

 

Beyond the health advisories, the report added that no travel restrictions have been raised on the Arabian peninsula because no advisory from the World Health Organization has popped up yet.

The report provided an update on the health of the Etihad flight passengers, whereupon it remarked that only 4 out of the 414 are without contact numbers. On Monday, 100 passengers of the flight carrying the Filipino nurse initially diagnosed with MERS-CoV have tested negative for the same.

 

There is so much style and art and cleverness here that my mind got stuck on “whereupon” and I just forgot about the rest of the story.

*Sometimes I use “made clear” or “pointed out”, but only when something is actually made clear or pointed out. I dislike “clarifying” because it sounds like something that should only be done to butter, but that is just a preference.

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