Page images
PDF
EPUB

many considerations. It is perhaps a greater error to use too few words than too many; yet the use of too many is the more common error, and so serious as to

It has already been noted that an unnecessary word prevents clearness by the useless burden put upon sense-perception. Still greater is the burden imposed on memory; for there is not only the unnecessary act of associating the word with its idea, but the memory is required to carry the useless idea, only to puzzle the imagination and judgment in their effort to organize it in with the other ideas. Thus, too many words interfere with all the interpreting acts, but chiefly with memory.

The general fault of wordiness is called Verbosity. Verbosity arises generally from either a diffused or confused mode of thinking, or the desire to seem to be saying more than the concise expression would convey. It has its origin, therefore, in the condition of clearness, stated at the outset; namely, in moral habit and in discipline of mind. The lack of precision in the expression is the natural result of a lack in the precision of thought, or of regard for the truth expressed. Verbosity is an overgrowth of words from an untamed thought, nourished by the care of expression for the sake of expression as distinct from thought. Says Phelps: “Diffuseness, repetition, bombast, result inevitably from the study of expression as distinct from thought.” When there is no self-consciousness involved, the excessive care for expression as something in itself is a leading source of looseness in style.

Those who expect to cultivate conciseness in style need hope for little from the mere study of language.

Verbosity is often so diffused throughout the expression that it cannot be located in any definite form of language. So far as the different ways have been classified and named there are three: Tautology, Redundancy, and Circumlocution.

Tautology is saying in other words exactly what has just been said; as, --

“A writer should not waste his words for nothing." —“ He revises all the while.” — “ It lacked the power of engaging attention and of alluring curiosity.” — “ Pupils should obey the rules and regulations."

Tautology is the form of wordiness most easily detected and, therefore, the least excusable.

Redundancy is the addition of ideas not necessary to the sense. Redundancy does not repeat the idea, but adds that which the idea already expressed renders unnecessary; thus, —

“ The laws of nature are uniform and invariable." — “I wrote to you a letter yestrday.” — “I went home full of a great many serious reflections.” — “ There is no writer so concise in style as not sometimes to use a redundant expression." -- " There is nothing that disgusts us sooner than the empty pomp of language.” — “ There can be no doubt but that newspapers at present are read altogether too much.” — “ Being content with deserving a triumph, he refused to receive the triumph that was offered him.”

Circumlocution is a much more subtile form of verbosity than tautology or redundancy, and hence is a fault more easily committed and less easily detected. It is an unnecessary multiplication of words by some roundabout mode of statement. When there is a purpose in such indirect statement, it becomes an allowable figure of speech, called Periphrasis; but when resulting from carelessness or affectation, it becomes a serious and inexcusable fault. Circumlocution is characteristic of “fine writing,” the dressing out in high-sounding terms commonplace ideas; as, —

“ The shining leather which encased the limb," – a boot. The explosion of “ the leveled tube," – a gun.

Lowell, in his introduction to the Biglow papers, gives some good examples:

“Called into requisition the services of the family physician,” -“Sent for the doctor.”

“I shall, with your permission, beg leave to offer some brief observations," " I shall say a few words.”

“ The progress of the devouring element was arrested,” – “ The fire was got under.”

“ The conflagration spread its devastating career,” — The fire spread.”

Circumlocution is usually more difficult to detect than appears in these examples. It is hidden from the first view in this often-quoted sentence:

“ Among the eminent men who figured in the eventful history of the French Revolution was M. Talleyrand; and whether in that scene, or in any portion of modern annals, we shall in vain look for one who represents a more interesting subject of history.

D. J. Hill, in commenting on this, says: “In addition to beating out the sense to the thinnest possible film, his lordship makes Talleyrand figure in the history instead of the scene, then confounds scene and annals, and finally tells us that Talleyrand represents an interesting subject of history. The idea may be more clearly expressed in twenty-four instead of fortyfour words: Among the eminent characters of the French Revolution was M. Talleyrand, and, in modern times, we shall find no more interesting subject of history."

The remedy for tautology and redundancy is to cut off the superfluous part, — in the first, the useless expression; in the second, the useless idea. Circumlocution is remedied, not by leaving out parts, but by reforming the sentence in terser language. In the following exercises, used by Swinton and Kellogg, let the verbosities be classified and removed:

1. Every man on the face of the earth has duties to perform.

2. Another old veteran has departed.

3. Thought and language act and react mutually on each other.

4. Emma writes very well for a new beginner.
5. The time for learning is in the period of youth.
6. Whenever he calls, he always inquires for you.

7. The ocean is the great reservoir for receiving the waters of the rivers.

8. The world is fitly compared to a stage, and its inhabitants to the actors who perform their parts.

9. “ Pope professed to have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an opportunity presented itself, he praised through the whole period of his existence with a liberality which never varied; and perhaps his character may receive some illustration, if a comparison be instituted between him and the man whose pupil he was.”

10. Redundancy sometimes arises from a want of thought, which leads the author to repeat over and over again his little modicum of sense at his command.

11. He received divine help from God.

12. The annual anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, celebrated yearly, took place a few days since.

Prune to concise language the following quotation:

“ Importance of Habits of Attention. — The importance of habits of attention cannot be overrated. The power of controlling one's own mental faculties, of directing them at will into whatever channel the occasion may demand, of excluding from the mind all irrelevant ideas, and concentrating the mind on the one object of thought, is a power of the highest value. It is in this that we find the principal difference between one mind and another in the realm of thought and knowledge. Mental power is, to a great extent, the power of attention.

“ One of the principal elements of genius is strength of will to control the mind and command the mental energies.

“ To all the Faculties. — Attention is of great value to all the faculties. It is involved in and inseparably connected with the exercise of these faculties, giving them their direction and increasing their power. It conditions their activity, and is a measure of their strength and attainments. Its value in relation to each one of the different faculties will be briefly noticed.

"To Perception. — The power of perception is mainly due to the power of attention. In an act of perception we need not only the open senses, but also the attentive mind. Mere gazing is not sufficient ; we need the concentration of mind in order to perceive. Too many persons have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, fingers that touch and yet communicate no knowledge. A large share of the perception of the world is inattentive and careless.

“ Attention, in relation to perception, is like a microscope to the eye. I look at a flower and perceive many things concerning it; I place a microscope to my eye, and thus see points of interest I

« PreviousContinue »