When it comes to writing, the number one aim of an author is communication. That often translates into “simpler is better”. One way to undermine effective writing is to take perfectly good clear words and make them into gobbledygook by adding unnecessary suffixes, seemingly making them sound more erudite.
Here’s an example. Instead of a book reviewer saying “as a writer, he is careful with his facts”, the reviewer may write, “as a writer, he shows carefulness with his facts”. “Careful” is a nice two-syllable word, which has now become a muddy three-syllable word.
These extra syllables make the reader have to work harder. Instead of speed reading through the text, the reader may have to pause to actually read the word instead of the sentence, and maybe even have to say it aloud. You might as well, like Demosthenes, put stones or marbles into your readers’ mouths. This is ineffective communication.
Other words like this include: courageousness, mindlessness, and preciousness. You can use your imagination to make the list longer. But goodness knows, not all “-ness” words are bad.
Then there are the “-ize” words, such as: categorize, conceptualize, fantasize, and finalize. In these words, the “-ize” suffix gets attached as a shortcut, but like many government agencies, they never go away. As an example, when police read an arrested person his or her Miranda rights statement, they may ask fellow officers if others were treated accordingly. Thus, “Did you statementize them?” Is this English?
However, like “-ness” words, not all “-ize” words are bad. Examples: The local police brutalized the prisoner. He finalized his report on the incident.
Another irksome suffix results from adding “-ly” to words ending in “-ing”. A comical example comes from the Tom Swifty books (1910-date) , such as:
“I’d like to stop by the mausoleum“, Tom said cryptically.
“I don’t know which groceries to buy”, Tom said listlessly.
In these sentences, the punchline is created in the final word, an adverb. However, if you do something like this in your writing, while humorous, it may distract your readers.
As with the other suffixes above, some “-ingly” words have a place in effective writing. So, annoyingly, surprisingly, and swimmingly may be used sparingly. However, when they become tongue twisters, effective communication is, once again, sacrificed. Examples: angeringly, groundbreakingly, harrowingly, and startlingly. So, go caringly.
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